Mindoro Island, Philippines December 15, 1944

On October 17, 1944, the naval, air, and land forces of Gen. Douglas Mac­Arthur, Supreme Com­mander, South­west Pacific Area, began their assault on the Japa­nese-held Philip­pine island of Leyte. Three days later Mac­Arthur and his staff, accom­panied by Philip­pine presi­dent Sergio Osmeña, waded onto Palo Beach (Red Beach), where the general famously fulfilled his promise to the Philip­pine people: “I shall return.” But, of course, in Mac­Arthur’s mind, his pledge would not really be realized until he reentered Manila, the Philip­pines’ capital on Luzon, the largest, most popu­lous, and most impor­tant island in the Philip­pine archi­pelago (see map), from which he and a small party of Americans and Filipinos had escaped on March 11, 1942.

As the battle of Leyte Island was reaching its declared climax a day after Christ­mas, Mac­Arthur opened prepar­a­tory moves for the assault on Luzon by unleashing amphib­ious landings on Min­doro Island, which occurred on this date, Decem­ber 15, 1944. The battle for Min­doro, which ended the next day, captured air­fields that were much better posi­tioned than those on Leyte for fighter strikes on Luzon Island and B‑24 Liberator attacks on Japa­nese shipping off Luzon’s coast and in the South China Sea; two bases were ready for their new assign­ments within 13 days. Min­doro was also seen as an advanced base for U.S. troops being primed for an assault on Manila, less than 100 miles to the north.

The initial Mindoro landing was unopposed by the 1,000‑man Japa­nese garri­son aug­mented by 200 ship­wreck sur­vivors, largely because Japa­nese general Tomo­yuki Yamashita, in charge of the defense of the Philip­pine archi­pelago, was caught by off guard: he had poured men and resources into the defense of Leyte less than three months before and was gearing up to do the same on Luzon. For a loss of 18 Amer­i­cans and 81 wounded, the outnum­bered and out­gunned Min­doro defenders suffered around 200 killed, 375 wounded, and 15 captured. Enemy survi­vors fled into the island’s jungle-covered hills and mountains, where they stayed through the end of the war.

In early January 1945 an armada of nearly 1,000 U.S. and Aus­tra­lian war­ships and landing craft were taking up posi­tions in Lin­gayen Gulf on the south­western side of Luzon Island. Over three years before the same gulf had provided the land­fall for Lt. Gen. Masa­haru Homma’s Japa­nese 14th Army, which went on to seize the Philip­pines and capture the last Ameri­can out­post, Correg­i­dor, on May 6, 1942. Now on Janu­ary 9, 1945, after devas­ta­ting naval and carrier bom­bard­ments, roughly 68,000 sol­diers of Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger’s U.S. 6th Army, plus Mac­Arthur and four senior mem­bers of his staff, landed on the same coast, followed by 135,000 more over the next few days, estab­lishing a 20‑mile beach­head 5 miles deep and a huge supply depot for the rest of the war. Three weeks later U.S. and Fili­pino forces stood at the gates of Manila. The city’s libera­tion after a month­long struggle in which an esti­mated 100,000 resi­dents were killed by both sides (Febru­ary 3 to March 3, 1945) was the key­stone in MacArthur’s victory over the Japanese invaders.

The Philippines and the Chief Areas of Conflict in 1944–1945: Leyte, Mindoro, and Luzon Islands

Map of the Philippines

Above: Map of the Philippines showing the loca­tion of Leyte Island on the eastern side of the Philip­pine archi­pel­ago, close to its middle, and the islands of Mindoro (seized on Decem­ber 15–16, 1944) and Luzon north­west of Leyte. Lingayen Gulf is on the south­western side of Luzon, where on Janu­ary 9, 1945, Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger’s U.S. 6th Army landed (see photos below) to confront 287,000 island defenders. The landings had been preceded by a three-day naval and air bom­bard­ment. By July 1, almost 6 months later, the 6th Army reported 173,000 Luzon defenders dead.

U.S. 6th Army approach Lingayen landing beach, Luzon, January 9, 1945A U.S. 6th Army unit passes passes ammo up a Lingayen beach, Luzon, January 9, 1945

Left: While naval units raked the shore with intense covering fire, landing craft loaded with U.S. 6th Army assault troops begin moving in toward Luzon’s Lingayen Gulf beaches, Janu­ary 9, 1945. A total of 203,608 soldiers even­tu­ally landed over the next few days and quickly captured the coastal towns. Theirs was the largest amphib­ious invasion ever under­taken in the Pacific Theater until Okinawa (April 1 to June 22, 1945). With ancillary landings near Manila in late January, the Luzon campaign was the largest deployment of U.S. forces in the Pacific War.

Right: Men of a U.S. 6th Army unit line up in the surf, passing ammu­ni­tion onto a Lingayen beach, Luzon, Janu­ary 9, 1945, three days after the appearance of the first Allied naval elements in Lingayen Gulf.

Aerial view of U.S. landing forces during Lingayen Gulf invasion, Luzon, January 1945 Luzon: Lingayen Gulf landing beaches and supply dumps, January 1945

Left: An aerial view of American landing ships and forces during the inva­sion of the Lin­ga­yen Gulf, Luzon, Janu­ary 1945. On the 13th MacArthur estab­lished his first field head­quarters on Luzon in a school building at Dagupan, a town near one of the gulf invasion beachheads, before moving it inland on January 25.

Right: A view of the landing beaches and supply dumps, Lin­ga­yen Gulf, January 1945. Lin­ga­yen’s wide beaches were turned into a huge logistics depot for equip­ment and supplies for the rest of the war to support the Battle of Luzon (January 9 to August 15, 1945). Indeed, MacArthur viewed the entire archi­pel­ago as a gigan­tic base for anti-Japa­nese opera­tions, partic­ul­arly to the south into Borneo, with its Balik­papan oil fields, the second-largest oil center in the East Indies, and further south into the Dutch East Indies.

Newsreel Footage of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Forces Liberating Luzon Island and Philippine Capital Manila, January–March 1945