Operation Battle of Manila

The 'Battle of Manila' was a major battle fought by US and Japanese forces in the Philippine islands campaign (3 February/3 March 1945).

Fought within Manila, the capital of the Philippines, the battle pitted forces from both the USA and the 2nd Philippine Republic against Japanese navy and army troops, Lasting one month, the battle, which resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians and the complete devastation of the city, was the worst urban fighting in the Pacific theatre of World War II. Japanese forces committed mass murder against Filipino civilians during the battle, and US firepower also killed many people. Japanese resistance and US artillery also destroyed much of Manila’s architectural and cultural heritage, and Manila thus became one of the most devastated capital cities during the entire war alongside Berlin in Germany and Warsaw in Poland. The battle ended the Japanese military occupation, of almost three years' duration, of the Philippines.

On 9 January 1945, Lieutenant General Walter C. Krueger’s US 6th Army started to land in Lingayen Gulf in 'Mike I' and began a rapid drive to the south in the Battle of Luzon. On 12 January, General Douglas MacArthur, the commander-in-chief of the South-West Pacific Area and commanding general of the US Army Forces Far East, instructed Krueger to advance rapidly to Manila, and the 37th Division, under the command of Major General Robert S. Beightler, spearheaded the drive.

After landing at San Fabian on 27 January, the 1st Cavalry Division, under the command of Major General Verne D. Mudge, on 31 January received orders from MacArthur to 'Get to Manila! Free the internees at Santo Tomas. Take Malacanang Palace and the Legislative Building.'

On this same day, Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger’s US 8th Army, which included the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments of Colonel Robert H. Soule, and components of the 11th Airborne Division under the command of Major General Joseph M. Swing, landed unopposed at Nasugbu in southern Luzon and began moving to the north in the direction of Manila. Meanwhile, the 11th Airborne Division’s 511th Regimental Combat Team, commanded by Colonel Orin D. Haugen, parachuted onto Tagaytay Ridge on 4 February. On 10 February, the 11th Airborne Division came under the command of the 6th Army, and seized Fort William McKinley on 17 February.  Swing’s division was joined by the Filipino guerrillas of the Hunters ROTC under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel V. de Ocampo, and by 5 February had reached the outskirts of Manila.

As they converged on Manila from different directions, the US and Filipino forces found that most of the Imperial Japanese army troops defending the city had been withdrawn northward to Baguio on the orders of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander-in-chief of the Japanese army forces in the Philippine islands group and the 14th Area Army. Yamashita planned to engage the US and Filipino forces in the northern part of Luzon island in a co-ordinated campaign with the aim of buying time for the build-up of defences against the Allies' pending 'Olympic' invasion of the Japanese home islands. Yamashita had under his command three main groups: the 80,000-man 'Shimbu' Group in the mountains to the east of Manila, the 30,000-man 'Kembu' Group in the hills to the north of Manila, and the 152,000-man 'Shobu' Group in north-eastern Luzon.

Yamashita did not declare Manila an open city but had not intended to defend Manila, largely on the grounds that he believed that he could not feed the city’s one million inhabitants and at the same time defend a large area incorporating vast tracts of flammable wooden buildings.

Yamashita did order the commander of the 'Shimbu' Group, Lieutenant General Shizuo Yokoyama, to destroy all of the city’s bridges and other vital installations before evacuating the city as soon as any substantial US forces made their appearance. However, Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, commander of the Imperial Japanese navy’s 31st Naval Special Base Force, was determined to fight a last-ditch battle in Manila and, though nominally part of the 'Shimbu' Group, repeatedly ignored army orders to withdraw from the city. The naval staff in Japan agreed to Iwabuchi’s scheme, thereby largely frustrating Yamashita’s attempts to meet the US forces with a concerted, unified defence. Iwabuchi had under his command 12,500 men designated as the Manila Naval Defence Force, augmented by 4,500 army personnel under Colonel Katsuzo Noguchi and Captain Saburo Abe, and these built defensive positions within the city, including Intramuros, cut down the palm trees on Dewey Boulevard to create a runway, and established barricades across major streets. Iwabuchi formed the Northern Force under Noguchi and the Southern Force under Captain Takusue Furuse.

It is worth noting that Iwabuchi had been in command of the battleship Kirishima when she was sunk by a US Navy task force off Guadalcanal in 1942, a blot on his honour which may have inspired his determination to fight to the death.

On 3 February, elements of Mudge’s 1st Cavalry Division pushed into the northern outskirts of Manila and seized a vital bridge across the Tullahan river, which separated them from the city proper, and quickly captured the Malacanang Palace. One squadron of Brigadier General William C. Chase’s 8th Cavalry, the first unit to arrive in the city, began a drive toward the sprawling campus of the University of Santo Tomas, which had been turned into the Santo Tomas Internment Camp for civilians and the US Army and Navy nurses captured in the Bataan peninsula early in 1942. In the 37 months since 4 January 1942, the university’s main building had been used to hold civilians. Out of 4,255 prisoners, 466 died in captivity, three were killed while attempting to escape on 15 February 1942, and one made a successful break-out early in January 1945.

Captain Manuel Colayco, a US Army Forces in the Far East guerrilla officer, became a casualty of the city’s liberation, after he and Lieutenant Diosdado Guytingco, had guided the 1st Cavalry to the front gate of Santo Tomas. Struck by Japanese bullets, Colayco died seven days later in Legarda Elementary School, which had become a field hospital. At 21.00, five tanks of the 44th Tank Battalion headed into the compound.

The Japanese, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Toshio Hayashi, gathered the remaining internees together in the Education Building as hostages, and exchanged fire with the US and Filipino forces. On the following day, 5 February, the Japanese negotiated with the US forces to allow them to rejoin Japanese troops to the south of the city, carrying only individual arms. The Japanese were unaware that the area they requested was the now the US-occupied Malacañan Palace, and soon after this were engaged, losing several men including Hayashi killed. 

On 4 February, the 37th Division freed more than 1,000 prisoners of war, mostly former defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, held at Bilibid Prison, which had been abandoned by the Japanese.

Early on 6 February, MacArthur announced that 'Manila had fallen', but in fact the battle for Manila had barely begun. Almost at once the 1st Cavalry Division in the north and the 11th Airborne Division in the south reported stiffening Japanese resistance against advances farther into the city.

Major General Oscar W. Griswold continued to push elements of his XIV Corps to the south from Santo Tomas University toward the Pasig river. Late in the afternoon on 4 February, he ordered the 2nd Squadron, 5th Cavalry, to seize Quezon Bridge, the only crossing over the Pasig river that the Japanese had not destroyed. As the squadron approached the bridge, Japanese heavy machine guns opened fire from a formidable roadblock thrown up across Quezon Boulevard, halting the cavalry and forcing it to withdraw until the fall of night. As the US and Filipino forces pulled back, the Japanese blew up the bridge.

On 5 February, the 37th Infantry Division began to move into Manila, and Griswold divided the northern section of the city into two sectors: the 37th Division was responsible for advancing to the south, and the 1st Cavalry Division for an envelopment to the east. The Americans had secured the northern bank of the Pasig river by 6 February, and had captured the city’s water supply at the Novaliches Dam, Balara Water Filters and San Juan Reservoir. 

On 7 February, Beightler ordered the 148th Infantry to cross the Pasig river and clear Paco and Pandacan. The bitterest fighting for Manila, which proved costliest to the 129th Infantry, was in capturing the steam-driven power plant on Provisor island, where the Japanese held out until 11 February. By the afternoon of 8 February, units of the 37th Division had cleared most of the Japanese from their sector, but the residential districts had been damaged extensively in the process. The Japanese added to the destruction by demolishing buildings and military installations as they withdrew. Japanese resistance in Tondo and Malabon continued until 9 February.

Attempting to protect the city and its civilians, MacArthur had stringently restricted US artillery and air support. Yet by 9 February, US shelling had set fire to a number of districts, and if the city was to be secured without the destruction of the 37th Division and the 1st Cavalry Divisions, no further effort should be made to save buildings, so everything checking advance was to be shelled. Iwabuchi’s sailors, naval infantry and army reinforcements, having initially had some success in resisting US infantry armed with flamethrowers, grenades and bazookas, soon faced direct fire from tanks, tank destroyers and howitzers, which blasted holes in one building after another, often killing both Japanese and civilians trapped inside with the Japanese.

Subjected to incessant pounding and facing certain death or capture, the Japanese vented their anger on the civilians caught in the crossfire, committing multiple acts of almost unbelievable brutality in what later became known as the Manila Massacre. Mutilations, rapes and massacres of the civilians accompanied the battle for control of the city. Massacres occurred in schools, hospitals and convents, including San Juan de Dios Hospital, Santa Rosa College, Santo Domingo Church, Manila Cathedral, Paco Church St. Paul’s Convent and St Vincent de Paul Church.

The Japanese also forced Filipino women and children into service as front-line human shields in order to protect Japanese positions. Those who survived were then murdered by the Japanese.

By 12 February, Iwabuchi’s artillery and heavy mortars had been destroyed, and with no plan for withdrawal or regrouping, 'each man had his meager supply of rations, barely sufficient arms and ammunition, and a building in which his life would end'. The 1st Cavalry Division reached Manila Bay on 12 February, but it was not until 18 February that it took the Rizal Stadium, which the Japanese had turned into an ammunition dump, and Fort San Antonio Abad. On 17 February, the 148th Infantry took the Philippine General Hospital, freeing 7,000 civilians, the University of the Philippines Padre Faura campus, and Assumption College San Lorenzo’s original Herran-Dakota campus.

Iwabuchi was ordered by Yokoyama, commander of the 'Shimbu' Group, to break out of Manila on the night of 17/18 February, in co-ordination with counterattacks on the Novaliches Dam and Grace Park.  The break-out failed and Iwabuchi’s remaining 6,000 men were trapped in Manila. 

By 20 February, the New Police Station, St Vincent de Paul Church, San Pablo Church, the Manila Club, City Hall and the General Post Office were in US hands. The Japanese retreated into Intramuros on the night of 19 February, and the Manila Hotel was liberated on 22 February. Only Intramuros, plus the Legislative, Finance and Agricultural Buildings, were no left in Japanese hands.

The assault on Intramuros started at 07.30 on 23 February, with a 140-gun artillery bombardment followed by the 148th Infantry’s attack through breaches made in the walls between the Quezon and Parian Gates, and the 129th Infantry crossing the Pasig river, then attacking near the location of the Government Mint. The fighting for Intramuros continued until 26 February, and three days earlier the Japanese released about 3,000 civilians held as hostages but only after killing most of the men in the group. Noguchi’s soldiers and sailors killed 1,000 men and women. Iwabuchi and his officers committed suicide at dawn on 26 February. The 5th Cavalry had taken the Agricultural Building by 1 March, and the 148th Infantry took the Legislative Building on 28 February and the Finance Building by 3 March.

US artillery and military operations may, it has been claimed, have caused 40% of total non-combatant Filipino deaths during the battle.

Before the fighting ended, MacArthur summoned a provisional assembly of prominent Filipinos to the Malacañan Palace and in their presence declared the Commonwealth of the Philippines to be permanently re-established. 'My country kept the faith,' he told the gathered assembly. 'Your capital city, cruelly punished though it be, has regained its rightful place – citadel of democracy in the East.'

For the rest of the month the US forces and Filipino guerrillas mopped up resistance throughout the city. With Intramuros secured on 4 March, Manila was officially liberated, albeit completely destroyed with large areas levelled by US shelling and bombing. The battle left 1,010 US soldiers dead and 5,565 wounded. An estimated 100,000 to 240,000 Filipinos civilians were killed, both deliberately by the Japanese in the Manila Massacre and from artillery and aerial bombardment by the US and Japanese forces. Some 16,665 Japanese dead were counted within Intramuros alone.

The 'Battle of Manila' had been the first and remained the fiercest urban fighting in the entire Pacific War. Few battles in the closing months of World War II exceeded the destruction and the brutality of the massacres and savagery of the fighting in Manila: in the city’s business district, for example, only two buildings were not damaged and those two had been looted of their plumbing.