(Dec. 31, 2021) This week, 80 years ago, American and Filipino soldiers, under the command of American General and Philippine Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur, retreated into the Bataan Peninsula, on Luzon Island, while Manila was occupied by Japanese troops.
Within the week, the Bataan defenders were on half-rations, with further privations looming. By now, the defense forces were bereft of air power because the brass had allowed most of the available planes, consisting of 100 B-17 Flying Fortresses and 60 Curtis P-40 Interceptors, to be destroyed on the ground, in spite of advance warning of that contingency.
On Nov. 15, 1941, Army Chief Gen. George C. Marshall had described this force as, “...the greatest concentration of heavy bomber strength anywhere in the world.”
The Japanese Fourteenth Army, under the command of Masaharu Homma, began landing troops on Batan Island (not to be confused with Bataan Peninsula), located 120 miles north of the Island of Luzon on Dec. 8. Two days later, the invaders landed at Camiguin Island, also north of Luzon, and Vigan, Aparri and Gonzaga on the northwest coast of Luzon.
Vigan is located about three miles from the coast and 220 miles north of Manila, and currently has a population of 53,000. Aparri, with a population of 26,500, is a port located on the Cagayan River. Gonzaga has a population of 39,000, is bounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and is located 377 miles north of Manila and 28 miles from Aparri. The 2012 movie “The Mistress,” starring John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo, was filmed in Gonzaga.
On Dec. 12, 2500 Japanese soldiers from the 16th Division, commanded by Major Gen. Naoki Kamura, landed at Legazpi, on the southeast of the Island of Luzon. Legazpi is a seaport, on Albay Gulf, and a southern terminus of the Manila Railway, and has a current population of 196,000. The closest Allied forces on the morning of the landings were 150 miles distant.
The Japanese captured Davao on the island of Mindanao, on Dec. 20, 1941. Davao now has a population of 1,825,000, and is the third largest city in the Philippines.
Two days later, the 48th Division, commanded by Yuitsu Tsuchihashi, and a regiment from Gen. Kamura’s 16th Division, landed on the east coast of Lingayen Gulf, which borders northwestern Luzon. The landings occurred at: Agoo, which is located 146 miles from Manila; Caba which is 154 miles from Manila; Bauang, which is 161 miles from Manila; and Santiago, which is 206 miles from Manila.
Of the four, Santiago, with a population of 135,000 is easily the largest. The next day, 7,000 men from Gen. Kamura’s 16th Division landed at three locations on Lamon Bay in southern Luzon. That same day, Gen. MacArthur decided to collect all American and Filipino troops on the Bataan Peninsula — even though adequate provisions had not been stockpiled.
The Island of Jolo, located in the southwest Philippines, was occupied on Christmas Eve, giving the Japanese an airbase from which to attack Borneo. That same day, Manuel L. Quezon, the President of the Philippine Commonwealth, his family, government staff, and Gen. MacArthur, and his family and staff, were evacuated to Corregidor Island. The thinking was that holding the 30-mile-long Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island would deny the Japanese the use of Manila Harbor.
The Philippine capital of Manila was declared an “open city” on Dec. 26. However, the Japanese continued to bomb it. Three days later, Luisiana, now with a population of 19,000, on the Laguna Bay, was occupied by Gen. Kamura’s 16th Division.
Thinking that the battle was won, the Japanese withdrew Gen. Homma’s best division, Gen.Tsuchihashi’s 48th Division, in January. Not until April 9, 1942, did the 76,000 starving Filipino and American soldiers surrender themselves and the Bataan Peninsula to the Japanese. In the meantime, the 62-year-old MacArthur and his family had flown the coop, and evacuated to distant Australia — by order of the President — for which the general was awarded the Medal of Honor!
MacArthur departed Corregidor Island, on March 11, 1942, with his wife, son, his son’s nanny, and staff, and traveled to Mindanao by PT-Boat. The party departed the Philippines on March 17, bound for Australia, aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress. After an eight-hour flight, the general and his party arrived “down under.” The general then proclaimed, “I came through and I shall return.”
It fell to Maj. Gen. Edward P. King to surrender the “Battling Bastards of Bataan.” (“We’re the battling bastards of Bataan; No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces, No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces. And nobody gives a damn. Nobody gives a damn.”~ by Frank Hewlett, 1942.)
The surrender of Bataan led directly to the Bataan Death March, where the starving Allied soldiers were marched between 60 and 70 miles to Camp O’Donnell. Those that were unable to keep up were beaten or bayoneted. Between 5,000 and 18,000 Filipinos and 500 to 650 Americans died on the March.
The island of Corregidor, and its garrison, was surrendered by Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright IV on April 6, 1942. Gen. Wainwright was nominated for the Medal of Honor, but was denied because of MacArthur’s vehement opposition, which he communicated, in writing, to Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall.
Ultimately, after Gen. Wainwright was liberated from a Japanese POW camp in Manchuria by the Red Army, it was awarded to him on Sept.10, 1945, by President Truman, who sought, and received, no input from MacArthur.
As a result of the Battle for the Philippines, the United States and its Filipino ally lost 25,000 killed, 21,000 wounded and 100,000 captured. The invaders lost 4,130 killed, 6,808 wounded, and 10,000-12,000 dead from disease.
In 1943, the Second Philippine Republic was created with José P. Laurel as president. Laurel was a former Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. Although he received his law degree from Philippine institutions, he received a postgraduate law degree from Yale University.
The Chief Justice, José Abad Santos, had been shot, on May 2, 1942, for refusing to cooperate with the invaders. The chief justice had been educated at Santa Clara College, Northwestern University School of Law, and George Washington University School of Law. Once this government was created, the Philippines became a member of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”
Following the war, Gen. MacArthur convened a military court to try Gen. Homma for war crimes committed during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, who commanded the Japanese troops when the Americans returned in 1944.
Both generals were convicted and sentenced to death. Both decisions were quickly affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in Homma v. Patterson, 327 U.S. 759 (1946) and Yamashita v. Styer, 327 U.S. 1, (1946), and the defendants executed shortly thereafter. Gen. Homma’s defense team was led by Baltimore lawyer, Major John H. Skeen Jr., Esq.
Next week: The Third Battle of Changsha
Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.