Dobson_M

 

Pvt. Maxwell Stephan Dobson


    Pvt. Maxwell S. Dobson was born on September 6, 1915, in Otter Trial, Minnesota.  He was the son of William J. Dobson and Florence H. Eastman-Dobson.  With his three sisters and six brothers he was raised Irondale, Minnesota.   He did sewer construction for the Works Administration Program.

    On February 10, 1941, Maxwell's National Guard tank company was called to federal duty as A Company, 194th Tank Battalion, and sent to Fort Lewis in Washington for training.  What specific training he received is not known.
    On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots - who was flying at a l lower altitude - noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island hundred of miles away that had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan flying south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. 
    The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area, but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

     The 194th trained until September 1941, when it was pulled out of maneuvers and received orders to report to San Francisco, California.  At the same time, B Company was detached from the battalion and was sent to Alaska to build up American forces there. 
    The battalion boarded a special train at 7:30 A.M. on September 5th for Ft. Mason north of San Francisco.  From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, and taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island for inoculations and physicals from the battalion's medical detachment.  Those men with medical conditions were replaced. 

    The turrets of the tanks were removed so that the tanks would fit in the ships holds.  The soldiers boarded, on Monday, September 8th, the U.S.S. Calvin Coolidge at 3:00 P.M., and the ship sailed at 9:00 that night.  The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, at 7:00 A.M., on Saturday, September 13th, and many of the soldiers were allowed to go ashore for the day but had to be on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.

    After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer that were its escorts.  During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke.  Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.

    At the fort, the soldiers were greeted by General Edward P. King who apologized that they had to live in tents.  He made sure that they were settled in his bivouac before he left.  The soldiers spent the next few months taking part in maneuvers and maintaining their weapons. 
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard the field against Japanese paratroopers.  At all times, to members of each tank and half track crew remained with their vehicle and received their meals from food trucks.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, they thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runway did the tankers know the planes were Japanese.  C Company was sent to southern Luzon where the Japanese were landing troops.

    After the attack, the battalion was sent three kilometers north of Clark Field.  From there, HQ Company, A Company, and D Company, 192nd, were sent to the Barrio of San Joaquin on the Maolus Road. 

    The companies were moved again on the 12th to south of San Fernando near the  Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M.  On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts.  These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
    On December 22nd, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese.  The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).

    It is known that Max was a member of the tank crew of Sgt. Herbert Strobel.  The morning of December 26th, A Company was just west of Carmen and receiving heavy mortar and artillery fire.  The Japanese attempted to cross the river but were prevented from doing so by the tanks. 
    Max's tank was under a tree when a mortar shell hit the tree right above the tank's turret.  The turret of the tank was open, so shrapnel entered the tank killing the tank commander, Sgt. Strobel, and wounding two other crew members.  Max, the only crewman not wounded, was ordered by Lt. Col. Miller, to move the tank to a covered position.  
    On the same date, one platoon of A Company forced its way through Carmen to escape being trapped behind enemy lines.  The platoon lost two tanks resulting in A Company's commanding officer, Capt. Ed Burke, becoming a Prisoner of War.  One tank crew was rescued by another tank.
    The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line.  When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area.  One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
    At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's platoon lost a tank.  It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were suppose to cross had been destroyed.  The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan.  The sergeant of the one tank not abandoned found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
    The tank battalions held the Calumpit bridge the night of December 30/31, and covered the withdraw of the Philippine Army south on Route 3 at San Fernando.  On January 2nd, both battalions were ordered to Lyac Junction.  The 194th used Route 7 to reach the junction.  It was around this time that C Company rejoined the 194th, and the tanks held the Guagua-Poraline defensive line.
    On January 5th, C Company and A Company, 192nd, which was attached to the 194th, withdrew and formed a new defensive line between Sexmoan and Lubao.  At 1:50 the night of the 5th/6th, the Japanese attempted to infiltrate the area, but were easily spotted because of the bright moonlight and the tanks opened fire.  In an attempted to cover their advance, the Japanese laid down a smoke screen which blew back into them.  The Japanese broke off the attack at 3:00 A.M. having suffered 50 percent casualties.  The tanks dropped back to Remedios and established a line along a dried creek.
    The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.  At this time, the food rations were cut in half. 
    General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time. "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."

     A composite tank company was created on January 8th under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa.  Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed.  The Japanese never lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed.  The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
    The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road.  While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month.  The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. 
It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon.  This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.

    The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw.  Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed.  The mission was abandoned the next day.  Gen. Segunda's forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment. 

    The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry's command post.  On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry, but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.

    The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26th with four self-propelled mounts.  At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road.  When they appeared the tanks opened up on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men.  This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.

    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land troops.  The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban.  During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy.  At bight they were pulled out onto the beaches.  The battalion's half-tracks had the job of patroling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver:  "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."

    In February, the tanks had the job of protecting beaches so that the Japanese could not land troops on them.  At the same time, the tank battalions took it upon themselves to protect three airfields from Japanese paratroopers. 
    For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanes had been fought to a standstill.  On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them.  While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area.  Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point blank range.  He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's fire.  The Japanese were wiped out.

    Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese lunched a major offensive on April 4th.  The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance.  On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew.  On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.

    It was at this time that the tank battalion commanders received this order, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
    When it became apparent to Gen. Edward King that the situation was hopeless and he wanted to prevent a massacre since he only 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight, while approximately 6,000 troops were hospitalized from wounds or disease.  In addition, there were approximately 40,000 civilians.  The night of April 8th, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms with the Japanese. 
    The morning of April 9, 1942, Filipino and American Forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.  When Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese, he became a Prisoner of War.  The POWs were ordered to the bivouac of the Provisional Tank Group.  It was from there that they were marched to join the main column of POWs on the march out of Bataan.
    On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road.  They quickly stripped the POWs of their watches, pens, and sun-glasses.  They were taken to a trail and found that walking on the gravel trail was difficult.  They immediately witnessed "Japanese Discipline" toward their own troops.  The Japanese apparently were marching for hours, and if a man fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt.  If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
    The trial the POWs were on ended when they reached the main road.  The first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men and counted them.  The POWs were left in the sun for the rest of the day wondering what was going to happen.  That night they were ordered north which was difficult, on the rocky road, in the dark since they could not see where they were walking.  Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
    The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks that was moving south.  At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before.  When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun rose it became hotter and they POWs began to feel the effects of thirst.  It was then that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese.  They realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.
    When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river.  The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank.  Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O'Donnell.
    At Limay on April 11th, the officers with the tank of lieutenant colonel or above, were put into a school yard.  The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march.  At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination.  They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection.  During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag.  As punishment the POWs were not fed.  They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset as punishment for the gun being in the bag.  They reached Orani on April 12th at three in the morning.
    At Orani, the officers were put into a bull pen where they were ordered to lay down.  In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen.  At noon, they received their first food.  It was a meal of rice and salt.  Later in the day, other enlisted POWs arrived in Orani.  One group was the enlisted members of the tank group who had walked the entire way to the barrio.
    At 6:30 or 7:00 that evening, they resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace.  The guards also seemed to be nervous about something.  The POWs made their way to just north of Hormosa. where the road went from gravel to concrete, and the change of surface made the march easier.  When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
    The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks.  At 4:30 PM on April 13th, they arrived at San Fernando.  The POWs put into a pen and remained there the rest of the day.
    At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station.  They were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights."  They were called this since each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and shut the doors.  The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died.  They could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall.  The POWs rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM.  There, the living disembarked from the cars and the dead fell to the floors.  The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell.

    Max was held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell which was a death trap.  There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men literally died for a drink.  Since there was little to no medicine, disease ran wild among the POWs resulting in the death rate climbing to 55 men a day.
   After arriving in the camp, Max was selected for a work detail and sent to Lipa Batangas where he and the other POWs built runways.  When this detail ended, he was returned to Cabanatuan which had been opened to lower the death rate among the POWs.
    Max next went out on the work detail at Clark Field again to build runways and revetments.  He most likely was a replacement worker for a POW who had been sent to Bilibid because of illness. 
    While building the runway, the rock that was used for the base ran out.  To finish the far end of the runway, the Japanese engineers decided to use sand for the base.  The result of this decision was that the first time a Japanese bomber landed on the runway its landing gear sunk into the runway and the plane flipped over onto its back.  The POWs who witnessed this wanted to cheer, but remained silent.
    On July 26, 1944, Maxwell was sent to Bilibid Prison and admitted to the hospital ward suffering from amebiasis, which is a severe form of dysentery.  He remained at Bilibid until he was selected to be sent to Japan.

    In early October 1944, almost 1800 other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila.  When his POW group arrived at the pier, the ship they where scheduled to sail on, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in the detachment had not arrived at the pier.  Another POW detachment had completely arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail.  It was at that time that the Japanese made the decision that they switch POW detachments so the Hokusen Maru could sail.
    On October 11th the POWs boarded the Arisan Maru and 1775 prisoners were crammed into the first hold of the ship which could hold 400 men.  They were packed in so tightly that they could not move.  Those POWs who had lain down in the wooden bunks along the haul could not sit up because the bunks were so close together.  Eight large cans served as the washroom facilities for the POWs.
    Later in the day on October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa.  The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days.  The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp so during the night, the POWs were in total darkness.  Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died.  Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes, but the ship was attacked once by American planes while there.
    Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice.  Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the lights.  Some of the prisoners were able to hot-wire the ship's blowers into the light power lines.  This allowed fresh air into the hold, until the power was disconnected, two days later, when the Japanese discovered what had been done.
    After this was done, the POWs began to develop heat blisters.  The Japanese realized that if they did not do something many of the POWs would die.  To prevent this, they opened the ship's number two hold and transferred 600 POWs into it.  At this point, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.
    The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th, where it joined a twelve ship convoy.  On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea.  The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs making them targets for American submarines.  In addition, U.S. military intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast as the Japanese.  To protect this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines.  The POWs in the hold became so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by torpedoes.
    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's two holds.  The ship was, off the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel.  Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard.  The men inside the holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted and began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship.
    The waves were high since a storm had just passed.  At about 5:50 P.M., as the POWs watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and a torpedo passed in front of the ship.  Moments later, the Japanese ran to the ship's stern and watched as a second torpedo passed behind the ship.  There was a sudden jar and the ship stopped dead in the water.  It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships in its third hold where there were no POWs, but it still killed some POWs.  It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S. Snook.
    The Japanese guards took their guns and used them as clubs on the POWs who were on deck.  To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie them down.  They then abandoned the ship.
    Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and dropped them to the men in the holds.  The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship.  On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said,
"Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before.  Remember just one thing: We're American soldiers.  Let's play it that way to the very end of the script."  Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."  The ship sank lower into the water.
    According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the water.  At one point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but the halves remained afloat.  It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship.  When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs.  Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal, because they wanted to die with full stomachs.  Other POWs took to the water with anything that would float.  
    Five POWs found an abandoned life boat and managed to climb in but found it had no oars.  With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs.  According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark on Tuesday, October 24, 1944.  The men in the boat heard cries for help, which became fewer and fewer, until there was silence.  The next day they picked up two more survivors.  Four other survivors were picked up by a Japanese ship.

    In the end, only nine men out of the nearly 1775 POWs who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking.  Only eight of the POWs would survive the war.  Pvt. Maxwell S. Dobson was not one of them.  His mother would not learn of his death until June 20, 1945, and a memorial service was held at the Salvation Army on July 29, 1945, in Brainerd.

    Since Pvt. Maxwell S. Dobson was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila


 



 

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