Over the course of World War 2 there are many points in which soldiers have made imperative decisions for advancement through tactical knowledge. By usage of critical thinking and sensible judgement the course of the war changed immensely and effected the way the Army operates to this day. The Pacific Theater during World War 2 was no stranger to these concepts. The United States’ main adversaries in that region were the Japanese whom were merciless, persistent, and strategic in their agenda. They were feared as being an enemy that would never give up or retreat and would chose to die in battle over surrendering. In the late 1930s and early 1940s the Japanese were extremely interested in expanding their Empire to all of the Countries surrounding them, because of their resources and strategic locations for their Navy and ground forces. The Philippines had been among those countries, who at the time were occupied by United States Forces along with troops from the Philippine Army. When the Japanese invasion occurred, this led to an immense outcome of conflict between the two rivals. During World War II the Battle of Bataan was a prominent turning point in warfare history.
Key Preceding Events
Capture of the Philippine Islands was crucial to Japan’s effort to control the Southwest Pacific, seize the resource-rich Dutch East Indies, and protect its Southeast Asia flank (Jennifer L. Bailey, 1992). In order to achieve this goal the Japanese Empire incorporated and utilized the 9 Principles of War. This was accomplished by tactically and strategically outthinking their foes when developing their plan of attack for the Philippine Islands. From the beginning of the war the United States remained a neutral Country until early one Sunday morning on December 7th 1941. The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise air attack against the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Japan’s intent was to prevent the U.S. Pacific Fleet that was docked there from interfering with their plans in Southeast Asia. Only 13 hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the troops in the Philippines were ordered to their battle stations and all Commanders were notified that a state of War now existed with Japan (Morton, 1953). Despite this warning, when the Japanese pilots of the 11th Air Fleet attacked Clark Field nine hours later, they caught two squadrons of B-17s lined up on the field and a number of American fighters just preparing to take off (Jennifer L. Bailey, 1992). Simultaneously the Japanese attacked Iba Field in the Northwest of Luzon Island which was also very successful. The U.S. Air Force in the Philippines lost half its planes on the first day of the war. Over the next four days the Japanese also targeted and bombed various ground targets surrounding Manila, the capital of the Philippines, such as anti-aircraft sites, naval bases, and Government buildings. On December 10th 1941, the Japanese launched a full scale pincer invasion of the Philippine Islands under the command of Lt Gen. Masaharu Homma and the 14th Japanese Army with support from the air and sea, totaling of around 50,000 troops, 500 aircrafts, and 90 tanks, with the primary objective of capturing the Capital City, Manila. The Philippine Islands were now at war with Japan and defended by the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. General MacArthur reorganized his command into four separate groups. The North Luzon force, under Major General Jonathan M. Wainwright, The South Luzon force, under Brigadier General George M. Parker Jr, The Visayan-Mindanao force, under Brigadier General William F. Sharp, and The Reserve force of the Philippine Army, under General MacArthur’s direct command (Connaughton, 2001). In total General MacArthur’s forces including the forces from the Philippine Army, was about 75,000 to 100,000 troops, 100 tanks, and only 277 aircraft due to the Japanese bombings. General MacArthur also planned a 5 Phase-line withdrawal plan to be incorporated in their defense which he called War Plan Orange, which called all his forces from the north and south to continuously pull back upon overwhelming Japanese attacks to new lines of defense until they reached Bataan and Corregidor. As the invasion began General MacArthur decided to change the plan to holding the Japanese to the beaches and not letting them gain any ground. By December 23rd 1941, the Japanese had pushed back the U.S. and Philippine forces, due to their poorly trained and poorly equipped units, and were now 10 miles inland. General MacArthur soon realized that the USAFFE defense plan had failed and on December 26th 1941 he notified his commanders that he reactivated the old prewar plan, War Plan Orange, moving all of his men and supplies back to the Bataan Peninsula.
The Battle of Bataan
Due to the excellent leadership and outstanding dedication from all the Soldiers, all of the U.S. and Philippine forces were successful in withdrawing to Bataan quickly and in remarkably good order (Whitman, 1990). The hasty withdrawal also brought its fair share of repercussions as well. In order to achieve what they did, the retreating units had to leave behind most of their vital medical supplies, ammunition and food. The dramatic shifts in the USAFFE’s defense plan also left little to no supplies in the Bataan Peninsula for it had all be reallocated in support of the North and South Luzon forces defending the entire island chain. Now with trucks in short supply, roads congested, and time short, resupply of the Bataan and Corregidor strongholds was impossible (Jennifer L. Bailey, 1992). With insufficient amounts of food, weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies, it was starting to become clear that the change to the defensive plan would prove to be the determining factor in the operations to follow. The plan to defer the inevitable Japanese attack on the Bataan Peninsula was two defensive lines. The forward line stretched from Mauban in the west to Mabatang in the east, General Wainwright’s forces held the eastern sector while General Parker’s forces held the western sector, and in the middle of the two was Mount Natib, 4,218 feet-high and considered by the Americans to be to rugged of terrain making it impassable. The two lines were therefore incapable of direct contact with one another, leaving a serious gap in the defensive line. Japanese attacks on the first defensive line started on January 9th 1942 directed towards the western sector. After eight days of intense combat, General Parker committed the Philippine Division, but even with the help of the reserve force he could not destroy the Japanese salient at Abucay Hacienda (Jennifer L. Bailey, 1992). General Wainwright’s forces in the east were also struck hard by Japanese attacks penetrating their line in several places. The Japanese attacks and their infiltration through what was supposed to be the impassable terrain of Mount Natib, forced the American defenses to evacuate their now compromised positions and bound back to the rear defensive line on January 22nd 1942. The rear line ran from Bagac on the western shore to Orion on the eastern shore. As for the Japanese, they decided to detour a big element of their troops around the rear defensive line by boat, to stage an assault along the shores on the southern edge of the peninsula behind the defensive line. Meanwhile the Americans health and confidence were rapidly eroding. The Bataan wilderness and the depleted food stockpiles began to foster disease among the ranks in the form of malaria causing extreme suffering (Ulanoff, 2000). In result 75 percent of all the American and Philippine forces were ineffective and unfit for duty. Between January 22nd and February 2nd the Americans managed to deny the Japanese of gaining a beachhead and in doing so the Japanese suffered heavy casualties (Young, 1992). The Japanese revamped their forward momentum against the rear defense line on January 26th but due to badly fatigued forces from continuous fight, failing to take advantage of the lines weak points, and the strengthened defensive positions of the Americans, the Japanese attack was short willed and the Americans for the first time managed to drive the enemy back, under remarkable circumstances. Completely isolated and with no chance of reinforcements or supplies the Americans directed their diminishing energy towards digging in and fortifying their positions for the next inevitable attack (Ulanoff, 2000). On March 12th General MacArthur departed the Bataan peninsula under President Roosevelt’s order to move to Australia, leaving General Wainwright in command. The Japanese attack finally began on April 3rd with a aerial and artillery bombardment, followed by the strongest enemy push up to that point. The exhausted, malnourished, and dispirited defenders soon gave ground, and the entire line began to crumble, and in thirty-six hours the Japanese succeeded in breaching the American line (Jennifer L. Bailey, 1992). On April 8th and 9th the remaining forces on Bataan surrendered to the overwhelming force of the Japanese. All those still alive were taken prisoner and forced to march north sixty-five miles on what became known as the Bataan Death March, about 600 Americans and around 10,000 Filipinos died during the march.
Significance and Lessons Learned from Bataan
The valiant defense of the Philippines by the Americans and Philippine forces against overwhelming waves of endless Japanese forces became a symbol of hope for the United States early in the war. Deemed the Battling Bastards of Bataan the Soldiers that fought and died in Bataan inspired the Allied troops, who honored such brave sacrifices by eventually retaking The Philippine Islands from the Japanese. The Philippine Island Campaign was the U.S. Army’s first prolonged conflict since World War 1, and the reports of new enemy tactics and weaponry along with the failure in General MacArthur’s defense plan provided important battlefield evidence of the enemy’s effectiveness in there newer weaponry, and future ways to combat their tactics by adjusting our own. Finally this battle is marked as the largest single battle defeat in U.S. Military History, and ultimately led to the Bataan Death March where thousands of Americans and Filipinos were killed during a 65 mile forced march to the newly established Japanese camp.
- Connaughton, R. (2001). MacArthur and the Defeat in the Philippinnes . New York : The Overlook Press.
- Jennifer L. Bailey, C. o. (1992). Philippine Islands, U.S. Army campaigns of World War II . U.S. Army Center of Military History.
- Morton, L. (1953). The Fall of the Philippines. Washington DC: U.S Army Center of Military history.
- Ulanoff, S. M. (2000). To the Shores of Iwo Jima; The Battling Bastards of Bataan . New York : GoodTimes Home Video Corp.
- Whitman, J. W. (1990). Bataan: Our Last Ditch: The Bataan Campaign, 1942. Hippocrene Books.
- Young, D. J. (1992). The Battle of Bataan: A History of the 90 Day Siege and Eventual Surrender of 75,000 Filipino and United States Troops to the Japanese in WW2 . McFarland & Company .