Wendell Fertig and His Guerrilla Forces in the Phillippines

Wendell Fertig and His Guerrilla Forces in the Phillippines

Fighting the Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945

Kent Holmes

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2015, 244 pages

Book Review published on: January 19, 2017

Kent Holmes, retired Central Intelligence Agency officer and senior intelligence service member, gives an extensively researched account of an American commander’s activities and problems of command in Wendell Fertig and His Guerrilla Forces in the Philippines: Fighting the Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945. Holmes provides a sequential analysis of Fertig’s background, the operational environment, guerilla development, the enemy situation, the guerilla situation, logistics, intelligence, and Fertig’s leadership and responsibilities. He does so to evaluate Fertig’s leadership, ultimately asserting that Fertig’s guerillas were the largest and best-organized guerilla group, provided the best intelligence coverage, and were one of two groups whose major operational capabilities contributed to the liberation of the Philippines. Holmes points out that Fertig was later one of the architects of U.S. Army Special Forces. In addition to the special operations community, this book should appeal to intelligence professionals, Pacific theater aficionados, and anyone who seeks a better understanding of leadership in the complex environments of irregular, hybrid, or guerrilla warfare.

The book’s examination spans the gamut from the tactical to the strategic aspects of guerrilla warfare. It contains observations on network dynamics and the challenges of mediating among a complex system of sometimes-rival groups. Interwoven in early chapters are Fertig’s principles of guerrilla warfare, which Holmes then lists at the book’s end. While the book provides examples of the integration of tactics and operational-level psychological operations, the descriptions of tactical engagements are not extensively detailed. However, there are ample illustrations of unconventional logistics and communications and of the priority of intelligence over direct action in support of conventional operations. Regarding the latter, Holmes expertly conveys the strategic implications of guerrilla activities concerning the naval battles and the Allied counterattack to retake the Philippines. He notes the contribution that Fertig’s guerilla intelligence on Mindanao provided to the first battle of the Philippine Sea (a.k.a. the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”) and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He likewise considers the missed opportunities that arose because U.S. planners at General Headquarters Southwest Pacific Area neglected to include the guerilla movement in Allied intelligence and offensive plans. Although the book addresses both the tactical and strategic levels, it provides the greatest insight at the operational level of guerrilla warfare.

Holmes’ thorough research is a valuable resource for special operations planning, for case studies on special operations–conventional forces interdependence, or as part of a larger study of the differences in the evolution of guerrilla movements on the various islands of the Philippines in World War II. The casual reader might find the density of detail cumbersome at times, but researchers will appreciate the meticulous precision, including specific dates, troop numbers, and even packing lists. Despite an academic treatment that seems clinical at times, the book contains indispensable gems of wisdom that practitioners must consider when planning for unconventional or guerrilla warfare contingencies.

Book Review written by: Maj. Thomas R. Nypaver, Texas Army National Guard, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas