Operation Battle of Bataan

The 'Battle of Bataan' was fought on Luzon island of the Philippine islands group between Japanese and US-led forces as part of the Japanese 'M' (ii) conquest of Luzon (7 January/9 April 1942).

After their main landings in Lingayen Gulf in the 'Battle of Lingayen Gulf, Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma’s 14th Army advanced to the south toward Manila, the capital of the Philippine Republic, and General Douglas MacArthur, the commander-in-chief of the US and Filipino forces in the islands, consolidated all of his formations and units based in Luzon in the Bataan peninsula, to the west of Manila across Manila Bay, to continue fight against the Japanese army. By this time, the Japanese controlled nearly all of South-East Asia, and the Bataan peninsula and the island of Corregidor were the only remaining Allied strongholds in the region.

Despite their lack of supplies and other essentials, the US and Filipino forces managed to fight off the Japanese for three months, engaging them initially in a fighting retreat as they retired to the south. As the combined US and Filipino forces made a last stand, the delay cost the Japanese valuable time and helped to prevent an immediate and greater victory across the Pacific. The evential US surrender on Bataan, in which some 76,000 men were taken prisoner, was the single largest defeat in US and Filipino military history in the Pacific theatre, and also the largest US surrender since the Battle of Harpers Ferry in the American Civil War. Soon after the surrender, the US and Filipino prisoners were forced into the 'Bataan Death March'.

The capture of the Philippine islands group was crucial to Japan’s effort to control the South-West Pacific, seize the resource-rich Netherlands East Indies, and protect its South-East Asian flank. Late in the summer of 1941, the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt began a series of political and economic measures against Japan that could only conclude with war. The USA began to supply arms to the nationalist forces of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in China, embarked on a massive military build-up in the Philippine islands group, and imposed a series of embargoes, most importantly a refusal to sell Japan oil unless the latter evacuated all their forces from China including Manchukuo. This was seen as an ultimatum by Japan, which rejected it.

After Japanese carrierborne warplanes had made their 'Ai' attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December 1941, which was 8 December in the Philippine islands group on the other side of the international date line, warplanes based on the Japanese-occupied island of Formosa within seven hours bombed the main bases of Major General Lewis H. Brereton’s US Far East Air Force at Clark Field in Pampanga, Iba Field in Zambales, Nichols Field near Manila, and the Cavite headquarters of Admiral Thomas C. Hart’s US Asiatic Fleet in the Philippine islands group. Many American aircraft were caught on the ground and destroyed. In one day, the Japanese had gained air superiority over the Philippine islands group. This forced the Asiatic Fleet to withdraw its surface ships from the naval base at Cavite and retreat to the south, leaving only its submarine force to resist the Japanese with untested, faulty torpedoes.

From 8 and 10 December, scattered resistance by ground troops and the remnants of US air and naval forces failed to stop preliminary landings to seize airfields on Batan island and at Aparri and Vigan. Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress four-engined heavy bombers of the US Army Air Forces, generally without fighter escort, attacked Japanese ships as they unloaded at Vigan, Aparri and nearby Gonzaga on Luzon with no effect. Submarines of the Asiatic Fleet were also assigned to the effort.

In one last co-ordinated action by the Far East Air Force, US aircraft damaged two Japanese transports and one destroyer, and sank one minesweeper, but these air attacks and naval actions did not significantly delay the Japanese assault. The small-scale assaults on Luzon’s north-western and northern coasts were followed by the main assault on 22 December at Lingayen Gulf on the beaches of La Union from San Fernando to a point as far to the south as Santo Tomas, and also at Lamon Bay, Tayabas.

By effectively neutralising US air and naval power in the Philippines, the Japanese had gained a supremacy that effectively isolated the Philippine islands group from reinforcement and resupply, and provided itself with both airfields for the support of its invasion forces and staging bases for further operations in the Netherlands East Indies.

When MacArthur was recalled to active duty in July 1941, the latest revision of the plans for the defence of the Philippine islands group had been completed in April 1941 as War Plan Orange 3, which was based on the joint army/navy War Plan 'Orange' of 1938, which was concerned with war between the USA and Japan. Under WPO-3, the Philippine garrison was to hold the entrance to Manila Bay and deny its use to Japanese naval forces, and the US and Filipino ground forces were to prevent Japanese landings. If the Japanese prevailed, the ground forces were to withdraw into the Bataan peninsula, which was recognised as the key to the control of Manila Bay and was to be defended to the 'last extremity'. In addition to the US Army regular forces, the defenders could rely on the Philippine army, which had been organised and trained under the supervision of MacArthur in his earlier position as commander-in-chief of the Filipino forces.

In April 1941, however, the US Navy estimated that it would require at least two years for the Pacific Fleet to fight its way across the Pacific for the relief of the Philippine islands group. Early in 1941, US Army planners believed that supplies would be exhausted within six months and the garrison must then necessarily surrender. MacArthur assumed command of the US and Filipino forces in July 1941 and rejected WPO-3 as defeatist, preferring a more aggressive course of action. He recommended, among other things, a coastal defence strategy that would include the entire archipelago. MacArthur’s recommendations were followed in the plan that was eventually approved. As a result of MacArthur’s decision, with tacit approval from Washington, in order to change the plan under WPO-5 it was ordered that the entire archipelago would be defended, with the necessary supplies dispersed behind likely beach-heads for the defending forces to use while holding the landings. With the return to WPO-3, the supplies to support the defenders for the anticipated six-month defensive position were not available in the necessary quantities for the defenders, who would withdraw to the Bataan peninsula.

When the Japanese made their first landings on 10 and 12 December at the northern and southern extremities of Luzon, MacArthur made no disposition to contest them as he had correctly surmised that these landings were designed to secure advance air bases and that the Japanese had no intention of driving on Manila from any of these beach-heads. He did not regard the situation as serious enough to warrant a change in his plan to oppose the main attack, when it came, with an all-out defense at the beaches. The 'MacArthur Plan' thus remained in effect.

On 20 December the US submarine Stingray spotted a large convoy of troop ships with escorts. This was Homma’s landing force, and included 85 troop transports, two battleships, six cruisers and a substantial number of destroyers. The convoy was engaged by the submarines Stingray, Saury and Salmon, but of the many torpedoes fired at the convoy most failed to explode as a result of problems with the Mk 14 torpedo’s detonators. In all, just two troop ships were sunk before Japanese destroyers chased off the submarines.

MacArthur intended to move his men, together with their equipment and supplies, in good order to their defensive positions. He charged Major General Jonathan M. Wainwright’s North Luzon Force to hold back the main Japanese assault and keep open the road to the Bataan peninsula for use by Major General George Parker’s South Luzon Force, which moved quickly and in remarkably good order, given the chaotic situation. To achieve this, Wainwright deployed his forces in a series of five defensive lines outlined in the WPO-3: these lines were D1 between Aguilar via San Carlos to Urdaneta, D2 on the Agno river, D3 between Santa Ignacia via Gerona and Guimba to San Jose, D4 between Tarlac and Cabanatuan, and D5 between Bamban and Sibul Springs.

The main force of Homma’s 14th Army came ashore on the eastern side of Lingayen Gulf during the morning of 22 December, and the defenders could not hold the Japanese on the landing beaches. By the end of the day, the Japanese had secured most of their objectives and were in position to emerge southward onto the central plain. Facing Homma’s forces were the Philippine 21st, 71st, 11th and 91st Divisions, as well as a battalion of Philippine Scouts backed by a few tanks. Along Route 3, which was a cobblestone road leading straight to Manila, the Japanese soon made contact with the Philippine 71st Division. At this point the action of the US artillery stalled the Japanese attack, but the arrival of Japanese warplanes and tanks routed the Filipino infantry, leaving the artillery uncovered.

A second Japanese division landed at Lamon Bay, to the south of Manila, on 23 December, and started to advance to the north.

It was now clear to Wainwright that his forces could not check the Japanese advance and, late in the afternoon of 23 December he telephoned MacArthur’s headquarters in Manila and informed the commander-in-chief that any further defense of the Lingayen Gulf beach area was 'impracticable', and requested and was given permission to withdraw behind the Agno river. MacArthur weighed two choices: either to make a firm stand on the line of the Agno river and give Wainwright his best unit, Brigadier General Maxon S. Lough’s Philippine Division, for a counterattack; or to withdraw all the way into the Bataan peninsula in planned stages. MacArthur decided on the latter, thus abandoning his own defence plan and reverting to the old 'Orange' plan. Having made his decision to withdraw into the Bataan peninsula, MacArthur notified all force commanders on the night of 23 December that 'WPO-3 is in effect'.

Meanwhile, Manuel L. Quezon, the president of the Philippine Commonwealth, together with his family and government staff, were evacuated to Corregidor island in the mouth of Manila Bay, together with the headquarters of MacArthur’s US Army Forces in the Far East, on the night of 24 December, while all USAFFE military personnel were removed from the major urban areas. On 28 December Manila was declared an open city and MacArthur’s proclamation was published in the newspapers and broadcast over the radio. The Japanese were not notified officially of the proclamation but learned of it through radio broadcasts. On the following day, and thereafter, the Japanese bombed the port area, from which supplies were being shipped to the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor island.

After MacArthur had withdrawn his army down the island of Luzon’s central plain into the Bataan peninsula, one last line existed before the Japanese invaders reached the main line of resistance. The US-led forces attempted to slow the Japanese entry into the Bataan peninsula by fighting a delaying action at Layac, thus gaining time and deceiving the Japanese as to the location of the main defensive positions. For the first time in World War II, US troops now faced Japanese soldiers on the ground.

Between 1 and 5 January 1942, as the entirety of the USAFFE converged from the south and north, delaying actions were fought to facilitate the withdrawal into the Bataan peninsula. The fiercest fighting occurred at the hastily created Porac-Guagua Line, where the Philippine 11th and 21st Divisions, commanded by Brigadier General William E. Brougher and Brigadier General Mateo Capinpin respectively, with Colonel Clinton A. Pierce’s 26th Cavalry in reserve, held the line, mostly on open and unprepared ground, against considerable air and artillery bombardment, strong tank assaults, and infantry banzai attacks by the men of the 'Takahashi' Detachment and 'Tanaka' Detachment. Both sides suffered heavy casualties.

Colonel Wallace A. Mead’s Philippine 23rd Regiment established the defensive line at Porac-Pampanga on or around 2 January, andthe 23rd Regiment’s defence allowed Capinpin’s forces to withdraw and establish new defensive positions.

WPO-3 called for the creation and retention of two defensive lines across the northern part of the Bataan peninsula. The first extended across the peninsula from Mauban in the west to Mabatang, Abucay in the east. Wainwright commanded the western sector with his newly created Philippine I Corps, which included the Philippine army’s 1st Regular, 31st and 91st Divisions, Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce’s 26th Cavalry (Philippine Scouts) and one battery of field artillery and self-propelled guns. Parker commanded the eastern sector with his newly created Philippine II Corps, which included the Philippine army’s 11th, 21st, 41st, and 51st Divisions and the 57th Infantry (PS), totalling 25,000 men. All the divisions, each under strength at the onset of war, had already suffered serious combat losses, particularly to desertion. The US Army’s Philippine Division, comprising the 31st Infantry, the 45th Infantry (PS) and supporting units became the Bataan Defense Force Reserve. Mt Natib, a 4,222-foot (1287-m) mountain that splits the peninsula, served as the boundary between the two corps. The commanders anchored their lines on the mountain but, as they considered the mountain’s rugged terrain to be impassable, did not extend their forces far up its slopes. The two corps were therefore not in direct contact with each other, leaving a serious gap in the defence line. With the fighting withdrawal completed, the Abucay-Mauban Line was now in place as the USAFFE’s main battle position.

On 9 January, elements of Lieutenant General Susumu Morioka’s 16th Division assaulted the eastern flank of the Abucay-Mauban Line, and were repulsed by Brigadier General Luther R. Stevens’s 91st Division and Colonel George S. Clark’s 57th Infantry (PS). Another attack, on 14 January, at the boundary of positions held by Brigadier General Vicente Lim’s 41st Division and Brigadier General Albert M. Jones’s 51st Divisions, aided by the 43rd Division and Mead’s 23rd Infantry, stubbornly refused the Japanese their left flank. The Japanese advanced to the Salian river valley through a gap made by the 51st Infantry’s withdrawal, but a patrol discovered the infiltration, and units of the 21st Division rushed to the valley and repulsed the attackers after a savage encounter. In another engagement farther to the west, a Japanese force surprised and routed Colonel John R. Boatwright’s 53rd Infantry. This Japanese force also penetrated deep behind the Abucay-Mauban Line along the Abo-Abo river valley, but its advance was held by combined units of the 21st and 51st Divisions, Brigadier General Clifford Bluemel’s 31st Division and Colonel John H. Rodman’s 92nd Infantry in the area of the Bani-Guirol forest. The 31st Infantry and the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts of Colonel Thomas W. Doyle, partially restored the abandoned line of the 51st Division.

On 15 January, Brigadier General Fidel Segundo’s reinforced 1st Regular Division, defending the Morong sector, came under heavy bombardment but nonetheless held its line. The Japanese penetrated through a huge gap in the Silangan-Natib area and established a roadblock on Mauban Ridge, threatening to cut off the division’s rear, and repeated attacks by the 91st Division and 71st Division, and 92nd Infantry failed to dislodge the Japanese. The attackers' nightly raids and infiltration tactics became more frequent. Previously, Parker’s II Corps had prevented a similar encirclement at the Salian river, but the position of Wainwright’s I Corps was deemed indefensible, and the Abucay-Mauban Line was abandoned on 22 January.

The Orion-Bagac Line was formed within four days, but the defenders had yet to complete their withdrawal to the reserve battle position when the Japanese struck again, through a gap held by I Corps. Bluemel rapidly organised a defence along Trail Two with the 32nd Infantry, 41st Infantry and 51st Division reinforcements in time to stop a major offensive and plug the gap. The remaining Japanese troops managed to get through, however, and held out at some rear sectors of the Orion-Bagac Line at the Tuol river valley behind the 11th Division, and in the Gogo-Cotar river valley bhind the 1st Regular Division. From 23 January to 17 February, co-ordinated action by the defenders to eliminate these Japanese salients became known as the 'Battle of the Pockets', which were characterised by fierce fighting. Captain Alfredo M. Santos, of the 1st Regular Division, outmaneuvered the Japanese during their attempt to tuen the area into pockets, and in both attempts his unit broke through the Gogo-Cotar and Tuol pockets. For his successes, Santos was promoted to major in the field, and then given the hazardous task of closing the gaps and destroying the Japanese units which had infiltrated the lines as the gap posed a serious threat to the positions and the security of the division. Santos led a counterattack against the strong and numerically superior Japanese forces positioned between the Main Line of Resistance and the Regimental Reserve Line. The fighting began at dawn on 29 January, and the Americans restored the defensive sector assigned to the 1st Regular Division. Of the 2,000 or so Japanese engaged, 377 were reported to have escaped.

On 8 February, Homma ordered the suspension of offensive operations in order to reorganise his forces. This could not be carried out immediately as the 16th Division remained engaged in seeking to extricate the encircled 3/20th Regiment. With further casualties, the battalion’s remnants, totalling 378 officers and men, were extricated on 15 February. On 22 February, the 14th Army's line was withdrawn a few miles to the north, with USAFFE forces re-occupying positions evacuated by the Japanese.

In an attempt to outflank the Philippine I Corps and isolate the service command area commanded by the USAFFE’s deputy commander, Brigadier General Allan C. McBride, Japanese of the 16th Division's 2/20th Regiment, were landed landed on the western coast of the Bataan peninsula’s southern coast during the night of January 22. Intercepted the US motor torpedo boat PT-34 on passage from Moron, two barges were sunk and the rest scattered in two groups, neither of which landed on its target beach. The Japanese were contained on their beach-heads at Point Anyasan, Point Quinauan and Point Longoskawan by men of Philippine Constabulary units, a hastily organised naval infantry battalion and personnel of several USAAF fighter squadrons fighting as infantry. The naval infantry comprised 150 ground crewmen from Patrol Wing 10, 80 sailors from the Cavite Naval Ammunition Depot and 130 sailors from the submarine tender Canopus, with 120 sailors from the base facilities at Cavite, Olongapo and Mariveles together with 120 marines from an anti-aircraft battery. Sailors used the machine shop of the Canopus to fabricate makeshift mountings for machine guns salvaged from Patrol Wing 10’s damaged aircraft. The marines were distributed through the ranks with the sailors told to 'watch them and do as they do'. The sailors attempted to make themselves more suited to jungle combat by staining the white uniforms with coffee grounds: the result was closer to yellow than khaki, and the diary of a dead Japanese officer described them as a suicide squad dressed in brightly coloured uniforms and talking loudly in an attempt to draw fire and so discover the Japanese positions.

Attempting to hold onto their lodgements, Japanese commanders reinforced the beach-heads on a piecemeal basis, but could not break out. Ferocious fighting took place against a company-sized Japanese group at Points Lapay and Longoskawayan from 23 to 29 January, at Points Quinawan and Aglaloma from 22 January to 8 February, and at Points Silalim and Anyasan points from 27 January to 13 February. The last two of these beach-heads had been taken on 26/27 January and 1/2 February by Japanese troops of the 1/20th Regiment delivered by barge from Olongapo in Subic Bay, to the north of Moron. Out of the 2,000 Japanese troops committed to these battles, only 43 wounded returned to their lines. These engagements came to be known collectively as the 'Battle of the Points'.

On the night of 12 March, MacArthur, his family and several USAFFE staff officers departed Corregidor island for Mindanao aboard four PT-boats commanded by Lieutenant Commander John D. Bulkeley. MacArthur was eventually delivered by air to Australia, from which he broadcast to the Filipino people his famous 'I Shall Return' promise. MacArthur’s departure marked the end of the USAFFE, and by 12 March 22 the defending force had been redesignated as the US Forces in the Philippines, under the command of Wainwright, now promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and with his erstwhile position at the head of the Philippine I Corps assumed by Major General Albert M. Jones.

After the failure of their first attack against the Bataan peninsula, the Japanese general headquarters sent strong artillery forces to the Philippine islands group in order to smash the US fortifications. These new forces had 190 pieces of artillery, which included larger-calibre weapons such as 150-mm (5.91-in) guns and the rare 240-mm (9.45-in) Type 45 howitzer. The 1st Artillery Headquarters, under the command of Major General Kineo Kitajima, who was a known authority on artillery, also moved to the Philippine islands group along with the main forces to command and control these artillery units. Also, the Japanese high command reinforced the 14th Army, and toward the end of March the Japanese forces prepared for the final assault.

On 3 April, the entire Orion-Bagac Line was subjected to incessant bombing by 100 aircraft and bombardment by 300 pieces of artillery from 09.00 to 15.00, which turned the Mt Samat stronghold into an inferno. Over the course of the next three days, Lieutenant General Akira Nara’s 65th Brigade and Lieutenant General Kenzo Kitano’s 4th Division spearheaded the main attack at the left flank of the Philippine II Corps. Everywhere along the line, the US and Filipino defenders were driven back by Japanese tanks and infantry.

Based on his two earlier efforts, Homma had estimated that the final offensive would require a week to breach the Orion-Bagac Line and a month to liquidate two final defence lines he believed had been prepared on the Bataan peninsula. When the opening attack required just three days, he pushed his forces on 6 April to meet expected counterattacks head-on. The Japanese launched a drive into the centre, penetrated into flanks held by the 22nd and 23rd Regiments of the 21st Division, captured Mt Samat and outflanked all of the Philippine II Corps. Counterattacks by US Army and Philippine Scout regulars held in reserve proved fruitless, only the 57th Infantry gaining ground, and that was soon lost once more.

All along the front, units of the Philippine I Corps, together with the devastated remnants of the Philippine II Corps, crumbled and straggled to the rear. Commanders on the Bataan peninsula lost all contact with their formations and units, except by runner in a few instances. In the last two days of the defence of the Bataan peninsula, the entire Allied effort progressively disintegrated and collapsed, clogging all roads with refugees and fleeing troops, of whom a few were evacuated by the auxiliary service craft YAG-4 from the Mariveles Naval Base. By 8 April, the senior US commander on the Bataan peninsula, Major General Edward P. King, saw the futility of further resistance, and proposed surrender. During the morning on 9 April, King met with Major General Kameichiro Nagano, commander of the 21st Division's infantry group, and after several hours of negotiations the remaining weary, starving and emaciated US and Filipino defenders surrendered.

The continued resistance of the force on the Bataan peninsula after Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies had fallen made heartening news among the peoples of the Allied powers. However, the extension of time gained by the defence was very largely a result of the transfer of the 48th Division from Homma’s army at a critical moment, and the exhaustion of the weakened force that remained. It cost a far stronger Japanese army as many days of actual combat to take Malaya and Singapore island as it cost Homma to take the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor island.

The surrender of Bataan hastened the fall of Corregidor a month later. There is a suggestion that without the stand, the Japanese might quickly have overrun all of the US bases in the Pacific and could even have invaded Australia. Major General Charles A. Willoughby, MacArthur’s intelligence officer, asserted after the war that the epic defence of the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor island became a decisive factor in the ultimate winning of the war inasmuch as it disrupted the Japanese timetable 'in a way that was to prove crucial' and that 'because of Bataan the Japanese never managed to detach enough men, planes, ships, and material to nail down Guadalcanal'. Rather than allowing the operations on Luzon to upset their general timetable, the Japanese acted in a manner which resulted in the prolongation of the resistance of Luzon in order to accelerate their conquest of the Netherlands East Indies. Between the time of their advance into the Solomon islands group and the US 'Watchtower' counter-landing on Guadalcanal in August, three months after the fall of Corregidor, they had ample troops available to build up their strength in the South Pacific area.

Ultimately, more than 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 US prisoners of war were forced into the 'Bataan Death March'. However, about 10,000 to 12,000 of these eventually escaped from the march to form guerrilla units in the mountains, tying down the occupying Japanese. On 7 September 1944, the Japanese ship Shinyo Maru was sunk by the US submarine Paddle: on board the ship were US prisoners, of whom 668 died and 82 survived.

After more than two years of fighting in the Pacific, MacArthur initiated the campaign for the liberation of the Philippine islands group. As part of the campaign, the 'Battle for the Recapture of the Bataan Peninsula, between 31 January and 21 February 1945, by Allied forces and Philippine guerrillas avenged the surrender of the defunct US Army Forces in the Far East to the Japanese forces.