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Coast Artillery Journal

(Page 54)

The USAMP "General George Harrison" in the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bay
By Arnold A. Bocksel, CWO

During the campaign in the Philippines, from the period of 7 December 1941 to 6 May 1942, the personnel of the U.S. Army Mine Planter General George Harrison were engaged in the planting and maintenance of the various groups of mines, comprising the mine field, protecting the entrance to Manila Bay. There were approximately 35 groups of mines in all.

In addition, the mine planter laid and maintained communication cables between Corregidor and other points. Food, water, and other necessary supplies were also transported by the mine planter to the various outposts in Manila Bay and on various occasions troops were transported to Bataan Peninsula.

The mine planter operated daily in the mine fields renewing and repairing defective mines, cables, firing devices, etc. During actual enemy air attacks and artillery bombardments, operations were carried on whenever possible. There never was an instance when any mine equipment was ever cut loose from the planter to enable the mine planter to leave the mine field during enemy air attacks and artillery bombardments. The mine planter was equipped with two 50 cal. And two 30 cal. Machine guns which were manned by mine planter personnel during enemy air attacks and upon other warranted occasions.

The utmost economy in the operation of all machinery was rigidly adhered to in order to conserve the rapidly diminishing supply of fuel oil. Due to the tight blockade of the Philippines at this time by the enemy, the prospects of securing fuel oil from outside sources were very slim.

During the latter part of February 1942, the mine planter's fuel oil supply was almost exhausted, and, operations necessarily became limited. The following members of the mine planter, Edgar Hosenstock, Captain, CAC, Commanding; Arnold A. 'Bocksel, CWO, Chief Engineer, AMPS and Stanley Dee, T-3; with the use of a mine yawl searched through the bombed and abandoned ships in and around Manila Bay in an attempt to locate any fuel oil that might still be contained in the tanks of these vessels. After one week of searching through these ships fuel oil was finally located on board the S.S. San Jose in several of the double bottom fuel oil tanks. This vessel had been bombed by the enemy early in the war and was completely burned out. The fuel oil obtained from this vessel was sufficient to refuel the Harrison, as well as several of the Navy Mine Layers, in Manila Bay at that time. Full operations in the mine field continued as a result.

On 8 April 1942 the mine planter received orders at approximately 2300, to weigh anchor and proceed into Mariveles, Bataan, and there to await further orders. The Mine Planter arrived in Mariveles shortly thereafter. At 0530 the following morning, orders were received to proceed back to the North Dock, Corregidor. Survivors from Bataan were sighted in the Bay swimming, floating on bits of debris, in bancas, and boats. Approximately fifty men were picked up and set ashore at the North Dock, Corregidor.

(illegible last line on page) artillery in bataan commenced firing on the remaining ships anchored off the North Dock, Corregidor, presumably an attempt to prevent the further evacuation of troops from Bataan to Corregidor. Several of the ships received direct hits and commenced to burn or sink. The remaining ships weighed anchor and proceeded. Into the North Channel around the east end of Corregidor and anchored in the South Bay where they were defiladed from the enemy artilery from Bataan. However, in order to do this, they had come directly into the enemy line of fire while rounding the east end of Corregidor, and several of the ships were hit performing this maneuver. The Mme Planter Harrison maneuvered about, and proceeded west, directly into the mine field, utilizing a secret channel in the mine field, and hid under cover of the west end of Corregidor until dusk that evening. At this time orders were received via radio to attempt to locate a sailboat from Mariveles, Bataan, containing survivors from Bataan. With all possible lights blacked out, due to the fact that Bataan had already been surrendered, the mine planter proceeded back to Mariveles Harbor and searched throughout the harbor for the sail boat. The sailboat could not be located there so the planter set out to sea in further search. After searching some miles out, the planter was suddenly picked up by the searchlight of an enemy naval vessel. The search had to be abandon and the planter returned safely to Corregidor and anchor in the South Bay.

In order to conserve again the rapidly diminishing supply of fuel oil at this time, all machinery of the mine plant was kept idle except when some mission had to be performed. Most of the work done by the planter after the fall of Bataan was accomplished at night. The personnel would leave the mine planter at dawn and spend the day on Corregidor, returning to the planter at dusk. Machinery would be tested and necessary adjustments and repairs made at the time, to insure that the planter was in proper operational condition.

On 1 May 1942, a skeleton crew was ordered to be left aboard due to the lack of fuel oil. The remaining personnel were assigned to various gun batteries and to the beach defenses of Corregidor.

On 3 May 1942, at approximately 1100, in the South Bay of Corregidor, the Harrison was divebombed by enemy planes. Two bombs struck the planter, on the starboard side amidships; passing through the starboard lifeboat, through the boatdeck, and exploded in the tool-room, blowing the steel bulkhead to the engine room. Ship's superstructure on the starboard side was completely destroyed and four the men aboard killed.

The General George Harrison is reported to have sunk on either the 4 May 1942 or 5 May 1942 by further enemy bombings.

The surviving personnel of the Harrison were taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army on 6 May 1942. The Harrison received three Presidential Unit Citation for her gallant deeds.

The Rest of the Story

The author of the story above, Arnold A. Bocksel, was featured in an Inside the Wire article by Martin C. Evans titled "One of America’s Oldest POWs Dies" posted March 2, 2011 with this introduction:

One of America’s oldest former prisoners of war died Sunday at a nursing home at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport. Arnold Bocksel, a Syosset resident and former Army Chief Warrant Officer who survived the Bataan Death March, was 98, and suffered from dementia.

He was born in 1913, the year before World War I began, and enlisted in February, 1941, when he was 27. Having earlier graduated from State University of New York Maritime College, he was stationed in the Philippines aboard the USAMP Harrison, a mine planter assigned to defend Manila Harbor from Japanese attack. He was captured when the nearby isle of Corregidor fell in May, 1942.

He survived the infamous 60-mile forced evacuation to Bataan that claimed the lives of as many as one in four prisoners. Often, those who could not keep pace or who were considered insubordinate were summarily beheaded.

The article goes on to note he was transported to Manchuria and liberated by Soviet troops "on May 17, 1945, his mother’s birthday" and further notes he was a salesman for a pump manufacturing company and used Japanese he had picked up in the camps for sales in Japan.

The Harrison was salvaged by the Japanese and renamed the Harushima Maru and used for cable work. Later the vessel was taken over by the Imperial Japanese Navy as IJN Harushima. The website Imperial Japanese Navy Page contains references (HARUSHIMA Class Cable-Minelaying Vessel & Tabular Record of Movement) to the ship until sunk by planes of Task Force 38 in Yokosuka harbor during that force's strikes in the Tokyo area.

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