Manila, Philippines · January 2, 1942

Japan intended to occupy the Philippine Islands as part of its plan for a “Greater East Asia War.” The nation’s Southern Expeditionary Army Group was tasked with seizing the islands, British Malaya (today’s Malaysia), and the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) simul­taneously with the Japanese Navy’s assault on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

On the same day (Tokyo time) the Japa­nese attacked Pearl Harbor, their forces assaulted the Philip­pine island of Luzon, where the U.S. Common­wealth’s capital of Ma­nila was situated. The island’s defenders out­numbered the Japa­nese in­vaders by 3-to-2, but they were a mixed force of non­combat-experi­enced regulars, national guards­men, police, and newly created Common­wealth units under the com­mand of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The 59-year-old ex-Army Chief of Staff had been called out of retire­ment and named com­mander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East on July 26, 1941.

On this date in 1942 Japa­nese forces cap­tured Manila, the nearby Cavite naval base, and Clark Field air­base. More than 25,000 frightened, des­per­ate civil­ians joined nearly 12,000 Amer­i­can and more than 65,000 Filipino de­fend­ers who escaped onto the Ba­taan Penin­sula, a 200‑square- mile thumb of hills and jungle thrusting south into Ma­nila Bay, to await re­in­force­ments.

The Amer­i­can and Fili­pino regi­ments had little to fight with and had limited sup­plies of food and pot­able water: some half-mil­lion rounds of ammu­ni­tion and 4,500 tons of rice—enough to feed the 105,000 soldiers and refugees on Ba­taan for five months. The plan was for the de­fend­ers to hold out until relief came from the Amer­i­can main­land. But relief never came and the in­vaders ushered the hold­outs into brutal cap­tivity.

MacArthur and his family fled their for­tress on Cor­regi­dor Is­land on March 11, 1942, on Presi­dent Frank­lin D. Roose­velt’s orders. Mac­Arthur laid plans for his return to the Philip­pines, which he did famously on Octo­ber 20, 1944. By the time the Allies had recaptured Manila after a month-long battle in early March 1945, most of the Japa­nese garri­son had died or been killed along with 100,000 helpless non­com­ba­tants. Many were victims of Japa­nese looting, rape, and mur­der. How­ever, with over 230,000 Japanese troops still on the islands, months of bitter fighting lay ahead.

Some of the most vicious fighting anywhere in World War II was waged across the Philip­pines. Nearly 80,000 Amer­i­cans and Fili­pinos were taken pri­soner on Bataan, the name of which is for­ever linked with the noto­rious “death march.” During the three years that Japan occu­pied the archi­pe­lago, 130,000 Amer­i­can and Fili­pinos died. POWs in Japa­nese prison camps were 10 times more likely to die in cap­tivity as those in Ger­man camps. When U.S. troops returned to retake the islands begin­ning in Octo­ber 1944, they pre­ferred not to take any pri­soners at all. Drawing hea­vily on first­hand accounts, Gerald Astor gives voice to the Marines, soldiers, sailors, and air­men who parti­ci­pated in this grue­some period of mili­tary history in Crisis in the Pacific: The Battles for the Philippine Islands by the Men Who Fought Them. Astor’s dra­matic nar­ra­tive brought home to me that the physi­cal and emo­tional costs of defeating the Japa­nese in the Pacific were as high, and pro­bably higher, as those incur­red in defeating Nazism in Europe.—Norm Haskett

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Philippines Campaign, December 1941 to May 1942

Map of Luzon Island

Above: Map of Luzon Island, showing the Philippine capital, Manila, Cavite naval base, Bataan Peninsula, and Corregidor Island, the last stronghold in the Philippines to fall to the Japanese invaders, May 6, 1942. The six-month campaign cost the Allies 140,000 lives.

Generals Wainwright and MacArthur, Philippines, Oct. 1941Manila declared "open city"

Left: Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United States Army Forces in the Far East, and, to his right, Maj. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright, October 10, 1941. The USAFFE comprised four tactical commands. Wainwright commanded the North Luzon Force, which defended both the most likely sites for Japanese amphibious attacks and the central plains of Luzon.

Right: On December 23, 1941, MacArthur ordered 130,000 U.S. and Filipino troops on Luzon Island to begin withdrawing to the Bataan Peninsula in an effort to avoid Japanese encirclement of Manila, which he declared an open city. All newspapers published the text of the proclamation and radio stations broadcast the news throughout the day. A huge banner bearing the words “Open City” and “No Shooting” was strung across the front of the city hall.

Bataan POWs following surrender, April 9, 1942Corregidor POWs following surrender, May 6, 1942

Left: U.S. and Filipino POWs after their surrender on Bataan Penin­sula on April 9, 1942. The Japa­nese victory following the Battle of Bataan (Janu­ary 7 to April 9, 1942) hastened the fall of the island bas­tion of Cor­reg­i­dor, 2 miles away, a month later. More than 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 Amer­i­can prisoners of war were forced into the infamous Bataan Death March.

Right: Surrender of U.S. forces at the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor, May 6, 1942. The Battle of Corregidor (May 5–6, 1942) was the culmination of the Japanese campaign for the conquest of the Philippines. Corregidor, with its network of tunnels and formidable array of defensive armament, along with the fortifications across the entrance to Manila Bay, was the remaining obstacle to Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma’s 14th Japanese Army. Corregidor and the neighboring islets denied the Japanese the use of Manila Bay, but the Japanese Army brought heavy artillery to the southern end of Bataan and proceeded to block Corregidor from any sources of food and fresh water. Japanese troops forced the surrender of the remaining American and Filipino forces on May 6, 1942, under the command of MacArthur’s man-on-the-spot in the Philippines, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright.

Japanese Conquest of Philippines, 1941–1942