Manila, Philippines · December 10, 1941

On this date in 1941, three days after the U.S. Pacific fleet had been crippled at Pearl Harbor, Japa­nese troops landed on the U.S.-held island of Guam in the west­ern Paci­fic Ocean and occu­pied it with­in hours. On the same day ele­ments of the Japa­nese 14th Area Army under Lt. Gen. Masa­haru Homma began swarming ashore at Lin­ga­yen Gulf on the large Philip­pine island of Luzon, over 100 miles north of Manila, the Philip­pine capi­tal; more followed on Decem­ber 22. (The largely self-governing Philip­pines was a U.S. pos­ses­sion from 1898 to 1946.) Gen. Douglas Mac­Arthur, whom Pre­si­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt had named com­mander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East on July 26, 1941, led a force of 140,000 mostly Fili­pino defenders (the Philip­pine Army had been “feder­alized” in July), who were dis­persed around the archi­pel­ago. Will­fully blind to the im­pending crisis, Mac­Arthur had boasted before Pearl Harbor that he was ready to meet any Japa­nese thrust. Sitting in his head­quarters in an his­toric old for­tress in Manila, the gene­ral found his forces un­pre­pared, under­equipped, and quickly shorn of air and naval sup­port as the end of Decem­ber approached. Out­matched by Japa­nese air and sea supe­ri­ority, Mac­Arthur aban­doned efforts to defend Manila on Christ­mas Eve, declaring the capital an “open city,” and ordered his troops to the moun­tainous, thickly forested Ba­taan Penin­sula, which forms the west­ern side of Manila Bay. This they reached in Janu­ary 1942. The out­num­bered troops held out until April 9, and those on the tad­pole-shaped “rock” of Cor­regi­dor in Manila Bay held out until May 6. It was the single-largest defeat in Ameri­can mili­tary history, matched only by the Brit­ish surren­der of their island for­tress, Singa­pore, on the tip of the Malay Penin­sula on February 15, 1942. Nearly 80,000 U.S. and Fili­pino troops were sent into a cruel cap­tivity, many of them dying in the sub­se­quent “death march” out of Ba­taan. Mac­Arthur, who was ordered by Roose­velt to leave Cor­regi­dor in mid-March to assume com­mand of Allied forces in Aus­tra­lia, promised the is­landers, “I shall return,” which he famously did for photo­graphers on October 20, 1944, striding con­fidently through knee-deep surf toward the beach on Leyte Island.

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Japanese Conquest of the Philippines, December 8, 1941, to May 6, 1942

Generals Wainwright and MacArthur, Philippines, October 1941Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma, Japanese 14th Army Commander

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 and were a mixed force of U.S. and Fili­pino non-combat-experi­enced regu­lar, national guard, constab­ulary, and newly created Common­wealth units. Wain­wright com­manded the North Luzon Force, which defended both the most likely sites for Japa­nese amphi­bious attacks and the central plains of Luzon.

Right: Japanese Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma, 14th Army Commander, coming ashore at Lin­ga­yen Gulf, Decem­ber 24, 1941. On Novem­ber 6, 1941—one month and a day before the Japa­nese sur­prise attack on Pearl Harbor—Homma’s 14th Army was formed for the specific task of in­vading and occupying the Philip­pines. The 14th Army was a part of Japan’s South­ern Expedi­tionary Army Group. (The South­ern Expedi­tionary Army Group, also formed on Novem­ber 6, 1941, was ordered to pre­pare for war in the event that negoti­a­tions with the United States did not suc­ceed in peace­fully meeting Japa­nese objectives.) Com­prised of four corps-equi­valent armies, the South­ern Expedi­tionary Army Group, led by former Minis­ter of War Gen. Count Hisaichi Terauchi, was respon­sible for all mili­tary opera­tions in the South­east Asian and South­west Pacific cam­paigns until its sur­render (680,000 Japa­nese soldiers strong) on September 12, 1945.

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. On May 6, 1942, Japa­nese troops forced the sur­ren­der of the remaining Amer­i­can and Fili­pino forces, which were under the com­mand of Mac­Arthur’s man-on-the-spot in the Philippines, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright.

Bataan Death March POWs, c. May 1942Bataan Death March dead

Above: U.S. prisoners of war on the “death march” from Bataan to their pri­son camp, c. May 1942 (left photo). Hom­ma’s 14th Area Army was respon­sible for the har­rowing 80‑mile forced march of U.S. and Fili­pino prisoners following Ba­taan’s sur­render. The Bataan Death March was char­ac­terized by wide­spread mis­treat­ment (lack of food and water), physi­cal abuse (beatings and bayoneting,) and mur­der by “clean­up crews” who killed those too exhausted to con­tinue (right photo). Approx­i­mately 2,500–10,000 Fili­pinos and 100–650 Americans died before they could reach their desti­nation. As a con­se­quence, Homma was exe­cuted by firing squad after being con­victed by the U.S. mili­tary tribunal for war crimes in the Philippines.

Anti-Japanese U.S. Army poster

Above: The Bataan Death March and other Japanese actions were used to arouse fury in the United States, as reflected in this U.S. Army poster. Inter­estingly, it wasn’t until January 27, 1944, that the U.S. government informed the public about the death march.

Japanese Forces Occupy the Philippines, 1941–1942 (Set to Martial Music)