Manila, Philippines · February 3, 1945

On this date in 1945, 35,000 soldiers of the U.S. Sixth Army under Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, sup­ported by 3,000 Filipino guerril­las, began entering Manila, capital of the Philip­pines, and soon liber­ated nearly 6,000 Allied and Fili­pino pri­soners. Some of them, like the 64 U.S. Army nurses, were taken captive in 1942 when Ba­taan and Cor­regi­dor fell to Japa­nese in­vaders. Back then Manila had been quickly over­run after Gen. Douglas Mac­Arthur declared it an “open city” to pre­vent its destruc­tion and the mas­sacre of its one million resi­dents. But this year, 1945, the battle for Manila would stretch into a month, ending on March 3, when the city was declared totally secure.

Most of the city was de­stroyed, a thou­sand Amer­i­can sol­diers lost their lives, and over 5,500 were wounded. Killed too were more than 16,000 Japa­nese defenders (sailors, marines, sol­diers, and civil­ians) cobbled to­gether by Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, who vowed to defend the capi­tal to the last man. Worse yet were the huge num­ber of Manila’s resi­dents—100,000, or one-tenth of the city’s popu­la­tion—who lost their lives in the nastiest urban fighting in the Paci­fic Thea­ter. Many of them were killed in their homes or shelters as the Amer­i­cans fer­reted out the enemy, unfor­tunate vic­tims of U.S. in­fan­try­men armed with flame­throwers, gre­nades, and ba­zookas. Others were vic­tims of direct shelling from tanks and tank destroyers or killed in aerial bom­bard­ment. Some of the dead were among the 4,000 civil­ian hos­tages Iwa­buchi had taken or were vic­tims of Japa­nese looting, rape, and murder in what would later be called the Manila Massacre.

The city’s even­tual cap­ture, along with that of the jungle-covered Ba­taan Penin­sula oppo­site Manila and the island for­tress of Cor­reg­i­dor in Manila Bay, capped Mac­Arthur’s victory in the cam­paign to retake the Philip­pines. Oddly enough, as the Battle of Manila raged, the gene­ral’s staff was busy planning his vic­tory parade. With over 230,000 Japa­nese troops dis­persed on the islands, if no longer in Manila itself, months of hard and costly fighting lay ahead. Yet one thing was now crys­tal clear: the loss of the Philip­pines meant the end of the Japa­nese sea lifeline to the East In­dies—sources of food, oil, metals, and rubber. It was the final blow to the survival of Imperial Japan.

After my book No Time for Fear: Voices of Ameri­can Military Nurses in World War II was published, I had the privilege of speaking to many groups about these brave women who served in the Army Nurse Corps or the Navy Nurse Corps. One of the most inspiring nurses who joined me for these talks was Madeline Ullom, who was a cap­tive of the Japa­nese in the Santo Tomas intern­ment camp in Manila for three years. A second camp con­taining mili­tary nurses, Los Baños, was located 40 miles south of Manila. Ullom’s story and others are also in the col­lec­tion of books I own. Many of the books were written by the nurses them­selves; for example, Santo Tomas sur­vivor and Army nurse Denny Williams, author of To the Angels, whose hus­band died aboard the Japa­nese “hell ship” Enoura Maru, sunk while trans­porting POWs from the Philip­pines to prison camps in Japan, and Los Baños camp survivor and Navy nurse Dorothy Still Danner, author of What a Way to Spend a War. Two authors, Eliza­beth M. Nor­man in We Band of Angels and Mary Cronk Farrell in Pure Grit, used a combi­nation of inter­views and research to recount the hor­ren­dous experi­ences of military nurses behind barbed wire. His­torian author Gerald Astor, in his Crisis in the Pacific, describes the battles for the Philip­pines, including the intern­ment and rescue of military and civilian POWs, using a wealth of first-hand accounts.—Diane Burke Fessler

Scenes of Manila’s Liberation, February and March 1945

Destruction of Manila’s Intramuros, May 1945Manila city ruins, 1945

Left: Aerial view of the destruction of Manila’s Intramuros (“Walled City”) in May 1945. Intra­muros was the oldest district and the his­toric core of the city of Manila. The quarter-square-mile district was heavily damaged during the battle to retake Manila from the Japanese, which ended almost three years of Japa­nese mili­tary occu­pation of the Philip­pine capital. After Poland’s Warsaw, Manila was the most heavily damaged of all Allied capitals during the war.

Right: Burned-out, battle-scarred Manila, as U.S. engineers and thou­sands of Filipinos begin the huge task of recon­struc­tion. This aerial view looks south­west across the Pasig River toward the hulks of sunken ships in the harbor. Buildings in the fore­ground are gutted. Across the river are the burned-out general post office and the Metro­politan Opera House in ruins. The battered walls of Intra­muros and the destroyed buildings inside occupy the rectan­gular area beyond the post office. The streets have already been cleared of rubble.

Santo Tomas camp internees cheering their release, February 5, 1945Emaciated survivors of Santo Tomas internment, February 1945

Left: Santo Tomas Internment Camp, on the campus of the Univer­sity of Santo Tomas in Manila, was the largest of sev­eral camps in the Philip­pines in which the Japa­nese interned more than 4,000 enemy civil­ians, mostly Amer­i­cans, from Janu­ary 1942 until Febru­ary 1945. This photo, taken on Febru­ary 5, 1945, shows hun­dreds of camp inter­nees in front of the univer­sity’s Main Building cheering their release. Evacua­tion of the inter­nees began on Febru­ary 11. Sixty-four U.S. Army nurses interned in Santo Tomas were the first to leave that day and board air­planes for the United States. Flights and ships to the States for most internees began on February 22.

Right: Emaciated internees at Santo Tomas Intern­ment Center, February 1945. Male internees lost an average of 53 pounds during the 37 months of their cap­tivity at Santo Tomas. Forty-eight people died in the camp in Febru­ary due to the lingering effects of near-star­vation for so many months. Most internees could not leave the camp because of a lack of housing in Manila, almost com­pletely destroyed in the battle to retake the city. In March and April 1945 the camp slowly emptied out, but it was not until Septem­ber that Santo Tomas finally closed and the last internees boarded a ship for the U.S. or found places in Manila to live.

Manila civilian survivors, 1945Manila civilian refugees-1, 1945

Left: Civilian survivors of the Battle for Manila, Febru­ary 3 to March 3, 1945. During lulls in the battle for con­trol of the city Japa­nese troops reputedly took out their anger and frus­tra­tion on the civil­ians caught in the cross­fire. An esti­mated 100,000 civil­ians died during the battle, but the propor­tion of casual­ties due to Allied artillery and heavy aerial bom­bard­ment versus Japanese troops is not known.

Right: Refugees from war-torn sections of Manila, particularly the Intra­muros section where heavy fighting still con­tinued, cross a pon­toon bridge over the Pasig River to safety. The fighting for Intra­muros, where Rear Admiral Sanji Iwa­buchi held around 4,000 civil­ian hos­tages, continued from Febru­ary 23 to Febru­ary 28. Already having deci­mated the Japa­nese forces by bombing, Amer­i­can forces used artil­lery to try to root out the Japa­nese defenders. How­ever, the centuries-old stone ram­parts, under­ground edi­fices, the Sta. Lucia Barracks, Fort Santiago, and villages within the city walls all provided excellent cover.

Manila civilian refugees-2, 1945Intramuros orphans, Manila, 1945

Left: Refuges from Manila’s Walled City stream out to the safety of Amer­i­can lines. Less than 3,000 civil­ians escaped the U.S. siege and assault of Intra­muros, mostly women and children whom the Japa­nese released on Febru­ary 23. Japa­nese sol­diers and sailors killed 1,000 men and women, while the other hos­tages, including approx­i­mately 600 Amer­i­can POWs being held in the dungeons at Fort Santiago, died during the American shelling.

Right: Bleeding, bruised, and half starved, this little Filipino boy sits on a box in the rubble of Manila’s Walled City with two friends who were also orphaned.

Asian Stalingrad: U.S. Army’s Battle of Manila, 1945