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Posted on Sep 8, 2010 in Books and Movies

American Guerrilla: Forgotten Heroics of Russell W. Volckmann – Book Review

By Robert Helmsing

American Guerrilla: The Forgotten Heroics of Russell W. Volckmann. Mike Guardia. Casemate Publishers, 2010. 240 pages, 26 Illustrations, 6 maps. Hardback. $32.95

In American Guerrilla: The Forgotten Heroics of Russell W. Volckmann, author Mike Guardia follows the life and career of Russell Volckmann, the American officer who escaped from Bataan and raised a guerrilla army of over 22,000 men in the Philippine jungles. While leading a guerrilla war against the Japanese occupation force, Volckmann made contact with the Allied Command in Australia, securing additional supplies for the resistance and directing American forces to key positions on the main island of Luzon.

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This book brings to light one of the forgotten areas in American military history. All too often, the guerrilla war in the Philippines has been overlooked in favor of the conventional battles under General Douglas MacArthur and the Sixth U.S. Army. Guardia, a serving Army officer, presents the story with an impressive blend of scholarship and expository prose. Much of the narrative is based on first-hand accounts including Volckmann’s own diary, archived documents, and oral histories.

The book does not offer much in the way of context regarding the larger resistance movement in the Philippine Islands. Rather, American Guerrilla focuses on Volckmann within the microcosm of North Luzon. Guardia uses this backdrop to show, convincingly, that Volckmann’s operations provided a critical link to the Allied cause. Following his escape from Bataan, Volckmann’s private war—including sabotage, raids, hit-and-run ambushes, espionage, and intelligence gathering—facilitated the relative ease and quickness with which the Philippine Campaign was brought to a close.

The final two chapters discuss Volckmann’s role in drafting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and the concepts for Special Forces. According to Guardia, Volckmann is the true “Father” of Army Special Forces—a title historically given to Colonel Aaron Bank, a former “Jedburgh” from the OSS during World War II. In making his case, Guardia points to Volckmann’s publication of two Army field manuals, Operations Against Guerrilla Forces and Organization and Conduct of Guerrilla Forces, both of which laid the foundation for Special Forces doctrine. While working for Brigadier General Robert A. McClure in the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare (the office responsible for creating the first Special Forces Group), Volckmann added the underlying concepts of guerrilla warfare to the framework of Army Special Operations.

Guardia may not convince all of his readers that Volckmann is the true “Father” of Special Forces but his argument shows, demonstrably, that Volckmann had the greatest impact on the program’s development. Although Bank created the organizational hierarchy and commanded the first Special Forces Group, Guardia points out that it was Volckmann who “designed the mission capabilities and operational framework” of the Special Forces program. Indeed, after reading Guardia’s book, it leaves little question that Volckmann provided the expertise necessary to define the Special Forces’ tactical and strategic capabilities.

That being said, American Guerrilla does have its shortcomings. First, his treatment of General MacArthur seems biased at best. MacArthur was ordered to vacate the Philippines by President Franklin Roosevelt who promised that a relief force was en route to Bataan. When the general arrived in Australia, however, he discovered that no such force existed. Thus, for Guardia to characterize this as “abandonment” by MacArthur is hardly fair. Second, although I commend Guardia for his use of oral histories, he did not interview any Filipino veterans. I am certain that gaining their perspective would have added a stronger dimension to the narrative. Third, despite numerous geographical references, I feel that the book lacks a sufficient number of maps to give the reader a clear picture of where the events take place.

Nevertheless, American Guerrilla is one of the finest military biographies I have read. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the guerrilla campaign in the Pacific and the complex history behind the creation of Special Forces.

Robert Helmsing is a freelance writer and military historian. A veteran of the U.S. Army, he is an avid scholar of guerrilla warfare and the history of World Wars I and II.

5 Comments

  1. ACG magazine will publish an article by Guardia on Volckmann in one of our upcoming 2011 issues. I met Guardia, an outstanding young US Army officer, at Historicon 2010 in Valley Forge, Pa, in July and he noted that he is now writing another book on the American Guerrilla experience, hopefully to be published in 2011-12.

  2. Hello,

    Attempting to locate list of American guerrillas that fought on the Philippine Islands against the Japanese during WWII.

    Errold T. Glew, serial number 11010492, USAAF was assigned to the 48th Material Squadron, 27th BG.

    He fled to the jungles before the Japanese captured him, and joined grerrilla forces. He was killed by an unknown source and unable to determine date. He body was never located.

    His home of record of the State of Maine reveals FOD, Finding of Death.

    Appreciate any information which may lead me to a list.

  3. Perhaps this book should be read after Volkman’s own book, a response to MacArthur’s words “We Will Return”. Volkman’s book is “We Remained”. It includes the locations and strategies of many locations.

  4. hello,

    our municipality celebrates annually at the Mayoyao ridge in commemoration to our heroes who fought during the WW11 here at th battle of mayoyao ridge. may we know the complete list of guerillas. and information too.thanks.

    • try to get. a hold of the book NE’ER SHALL INVADERS, by L Nuval. An appendix contains roster of USAFIP-NL, the guerilla division.

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