Manila, Philippines · December 10, 1941

On this date in 1941, three days after the U.S. Pacific Fleet had been severely crippled at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 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” that same month), 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 1941 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 southern 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 on the sub­se­quent “death march” out of the Ba­taan cul-de-sac. 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 before photo­graphers and the news media on Octo­ber 20, 1944, striding con­fidently through knee-deep surf toward the beach on Leyte Island.

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 noncombat-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, the Philippines largest and most populous island.

Right: Japanese Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma, 14th Army Commander, coming ashore at Lin­ga­yen Gulf, Luzon Island, 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, like­wise formed on Novem­ber 6, 1941. The South­ern Expedi­tionary Army Group 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 a month later of the island bas­tion of Correg­idor, 2 miles away. 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 last Amer­i­can and Fili­pino hold­outs, 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 postwar 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. U.S. and Filipino prisoners of war who survived the death march suffered 41 months of unparal­leled cruelty and savagery before Japan’s uncon­ditional surrender on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.

Japanese Invasion of the Philippines, 1941–1942