Ten days ago, on March 6, 2018, the number of downloads of this podcast reached 100,000! Yes, in the twenty months since the podcast was launched, people have listened to or downloaded episodes 100,000 times. Thanks a million for your support!
The latest episode finishes what we started in Episode 38, the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during World War II. Although the Japanese win again, as they have in other recent episodes, it takes them five months to conquer the islands, because both the Americans and Filipinos were united in resisting them.
(Transcript, added 08/15/2020.)
Episode 41: The Battle for the Philippines, Part 2
Greetings, dear listeners! If you have listened to this podcast before, you know that for the past few episodes we have been doing an ongoing series on World War II in the region. We started in Episode 36, by looking at the events leading up to the war, until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Next, in Episode 37 we saw the Japanese overrun Malaya and Singapore, and in Episode 38 they invaded the Philippines. Then because the Japanese conquered Indonesia before they were done in the Philippines, Episode 39 was devoted to the war in Indonesia. Now we will go back to the Philippines and watch the end of that campaign. Are you tired of the Japanese winning yet? Will their winning streak end here?
Uh-oh, that’s not a good sign. The Japanese sound as enthusiastic as ever. This is Part 2 of a two-part story, so if you haven’t listened to Part 1 yet, I urge you to take care of that by stopping here and going back to Episode 38.
Are you still here? If you can hear my voice, I am assuming you have listened to Part 1 by now. Before we begin Part 2, I need to warn you that while I have kept this podcast family-friendly from the start, a few of the stories I have to tell today are gruesome, so if you let your kids listen to episodes in the past, you may want to think twice before letting them listen to this one.
One more thing. A few days after the previous episode came out, this podcast reached the 100,000 download mark. Yes, the 40 episodes and the introduction have been played or downloaded 100,000 times! That deserves a round of applause.
I can’t thank you enough for getting the podcast this far. It took twenty months for this to happen, and I know some podcasts have gotten those downloads in less time than that, but we’re not in a race, after all. Now how long will it take for listeners to download the second hundred thousand?
All right, let’s get into the narrative, and learn how the campaign in the Philippines turns out!
The last time we talked about the Philippines, we saw that the invading Japanese force was much smaller than the American and Filipino defenders, but they won most of the clashes because they had better training and superior air power. Thus, on Luzon, the main island, by the end of 1941 the Allied troops were forced to retreat into one corner of the island, but General Douglas MacArthur was able to choose which corner it would be; the Bataan peninsula, at the entrance to Manila Bay, and the nearby island of Corregidor. Corregidor would become the headquarters for both MacArthur and the first Philippine president, Manuel Quezon. Quezon had just been re-elected through elections held in November, so on December 30, 1941, he and his vice president, Sergio Osmena, were sworn in for their second terms on Corregidor. I posted a map of Bataan and Corregidor on the podcast’s Facebook page in late January 2018, to go with Episode 38, and I also posted it on the Blubrry.com page for this episode; check it out if you need to keep track of where those places are.
The defenders on Corregidor were somewhat better off than those on Bataan – because MacArthur was there, they started out with enough supplies to equip ten thousand men for six months. The island was well protected with artillery, and had a large cavelike tunnel, the Malinta Tunnel, to store people and things in. It looked so secure that some called it America’s answer to Singapore. Since we have seen Singapore fall already, that was a bad comparison.
In the middle of January the defenders got a break when one of the Japanese divisions, the 48th, was transferred to one of the fleets going to conquer Indonesia. Transferring a Japanese division from the Philippines to Java in the middle of a campaign turned out to be a good strategic move, but it also halted the offensive on Luzon. The other division on the island, the 16th, was guarding Manila and the other cities already captured, and the only unit left facing the Americans and Filipinos, the 65th Brigade, could not finish off the Bataan garrison by itself. The two sides settled into a stalemate that lasted for the rest of January and February, and into early March. During this time there would be artillery duels, or skirmishes that could involve hand-to-hand combat as well as gunfire. After each round came a pause, as the two sides rested until one or both was ready for the next round. In this on-and-off conflict the Americans and Filipinos made excellent use of the local mountains, jungles and swamps to halt the Japanese advance, and General MacArthur sent more than a hundred communiques that talked about the successful defense. These reports made MacArthur the biggest American war hero to date.
But without supplies from the outside world, they could not hold off the Japanese forever. To get supplies to them a ship would need to go through the Japanese blockade around the war zone, and the US government could not find any merchant captain willing to take the risk, even when they offered $10 million dollars. On Bataan the defenders could forage for bananas, coconuts and edible roots in the jungle, and any edible animal they could find was hunted: chickens, pigs, deer, dogs, cats, lizards, snakes, pack mules, monkeys and even the valuable water buffalo, the carabao. Still, with tens of thousands of mouths to feed, this could only help a little. At the beginning of the siege, the rations fed to each man were reduced to 2,000 calories a day. A healthy man in a jungle environment needs 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day, so this left the troops weak, and hurt morale. By the end of March the rations were cut again, to 1,000 calories a day. After the war one of the generals on the spot, Jonathan Wainwright, had this to say about the Bataan experience. Quote: “If we had something in our bellies, things would have been a little more endurable.” Unquote.
Though the defenders were holding the line in Bataan, the final outcome was never in doubt; they were suffering from hunger, sickness, and a shortage of everything. Back in Washington the US government decided MacArthur was too valuable to be kept in a place where he might be killed or captured, so he had to leave. And that wasn’t the only reason; Washington also wanted MacArthur to deal with a new Japanese threat, this time to Australia. In the second half of February the Indonesian campaign was approaching its climax, and Japanese planes got close enough to northern Australia to bomb the city of Darwin. Consequently the Australian prime minister, John Curtin, demanded that the other Allies make the defense of Australia a top priority. In the past the British had protected Australia with their ships and men, but now all available British forces were tied down with other missions, most of them in or near Europe, so now the United States would have to fill the protector role that Britain used to fill. If the Americans did not come to the rescue, Australia would call home the troops it currently had fighting alongside the British and New Zealanders in North Africa, in the famous Eighth Army.
US President Franklin Roosevelt agreed with the prime minister, and the decision was made to put all American and Australian soldiers in the Southwest Pacific under MacArthur’s command. On February 22, Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to escape from the Philippines. MacArthur put it off for a couple weeks, knowing that his departure would be bad for the morale of those left behind. Finally on March 12, MacArthur and his family left on PT boats. General Wainwright took his place as commander, and MacArthur’s final order to him was compressed into one word. Quote: “Hold.” Unquote. The PT boats dodged the Japanese and made it to the big southern island in the Philippines, Mindanao, from which MacArthur flew by plane to Australia. A week later, MacArthur was riding in a train across Australia, and at Terowie, a small town in South Australia, he had to stop and switch trains. While there, he gave the reporters a speech about what he planned to do next. Quote:
“The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed from Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing the American offensive against Japan, a primary object of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return!” Unquote.
Those words had been written down for MacArthur before he left Corregidor by Carlos Romulo, his Filipino aide-de-camp, and they were intended for Filipinos to hear, not Americans. Sure enough, MacArthur’s speech was broadcast by radio to the Philippines, and the Filipinos, who had come to see the general as a big brother of sorts, understood the words as a promise to them. Henceforth they believed that even if other Americans did not care about the Philippines, MacArthur would come back to save them.
President Quezon escaped with MacArthur, but instead of staying in Australia, he made his way to the United States and in Washington he formed a Philippine government in exile. Because he was now sick with tuberculosis, he ended up spending the rest of his life in the states. He would die of the illness in New York, in August 1944.
Back in the Philippines, the Japanese commander, Masaharu Homma, was growing desperate. The longer the battle went on, the worse he looked in the eyes of his superiors, but the unit that was supposed to get the job done, the 65th brigade, was composed of overaged veterans who had only been trained for occupation duty. At least twice he requested additional troops, and Tokyo finally sent them in the second half of March. By this time the Dutch had surrendered on Java, and the winding down of the Indonesian campaign meant Japan now had more troops available for the Philippines. These reinforcements built up the strength of the force in Bataan to three divisions.
Homma was ready to launch the final assault on April 3, and it began with a fierce bombardment by planes and artillery. Most of the defenders were afflicted with malaria and dysentery by now, and thus could not resist when the Japanese broke through the Orion-Bagac Line, the Allied defensive line that had held until now.
Since General Wainwright had moved to Corregidor when he replaced MacArthur, the general now overseeing the fighting on Bataan was Major General Edward P. King. Five days of Japanese attacks convinced King it was time to surrender, and he chose to do it without telling MacArthur or Wainwright first, so they would not be blamed for the fall of Bataan. On the morning of April 9, he drove with two aides to the current battle lines, to surrender to an aide of General Homma. King asked, quote: “Will my troops be well treated?”, unquote, and the offended Japanese replied, quote, “We are not barbarians.” Unquote. About 76,000 Americans and Filipinos were taken prisoner. This was the largest American army that has ever surrendered anywhere.
If the Americans on Bataan thought the worst part of their ordeal ended when they surrendered, they soon found out that their suffering had just begun. The prisoners were led on a 65-mile forced march north to Camp O’Donnell, a former Philippine Army camp. This became one of the most notorious atrocities of the war, the “Bataan Death March.” Some prisoners managed to escape, but a lot of them died on the way, due to exhaustion, extreme malnutrition, disease, and worst of all, the cruelty from some of the guards. Here is how one of my sources, a sixty-year-old American history textbook, described the Death March. Again I will apologize in advance, because the source refers to the Japanese as “Japs,” an ethnic slur used all the time during the war years.
<Death March quote>
Regarding the last line, American experience up to that point explains why the survivor felt that way. No other foreign army had treated them with such brutality. When the Americans fought the British, during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, they were going up against one of the most advanced, most civilized nations of the day, and thus the British treated captured Americans leniently. As for other foreigners, whether they were Barbary pirates, Mexicans, Spaniards, or the Germans in World War I, they did not get to mistreat Americans much, because they lost almost every time they fought the Americans. My sources cannot give exact figures for how many died on the Death March; usually they estimate about 600 Americans and 5,000 to 10,000 Filipinos were killed. They also give the following reasons for why the prisoners were treated so badly:
1. Bad planning. General Homma expected 25,000 defenders were left in Bataan, and suddenly found himself with more than three times that number. Therefore there wasn’t enough food, water and decent accommodations to go around.
2. The Japanese would not have surrendered in large numbers. They still followed the old samurai teaching that an honorable death matters more than a good life. Later on, when the Allies started winning battles, there would be a lot of Japanese killed and few taken prisoner, for that reason. Because of this heritage, the Japanese had contempt for those who did not fight to the last man, as they would have done if the roles had been reversed.
3. Japanese soldiers were used to being bullied by their superiors, so to them it seemed natural to treat captured enemies the same way – or worse.
4. Homma claimed afterwards that he was too busy directing the siege of Corregidor to keep track of what all his troops were doing. That allowed many Japanese soldiers to express their racial prejudice by torturing and killing white troops.
By the way, Filipino villagers who saw the prisoners tried to help by giving them food, water, and whatever else they had. Naturally this made them targets for punishment from the Japanese, too. For example, when the Japanese caught an old peasant and his wife passing out rice, they burned them alive and left their bodies on the stake to warn any other natives against acts of kindness. Any American soldiers who had been prejudiced against Filipinos got rid of those feelings at this point.
At the end of the march, some 60,000 prisoners arrived at Camp O’Donnell, which was only set up to handle 10,000, so here the hardship continued. The daily ration given out was a handful of rice gruel, and only two spigots were available to provide water to ten thousand Americans. Thus, the Americans spent several hours each day waiting to fill their canteens, and the area around the spigots was slimy with excrement from those afflicted with dysentery. General King was there, too, having marched on foot with his troops; when he pleaded with the camp commandant to reduce the hardship, the Japanese officer slapped him in the face and said, quote: “You are my enemies! I will shoot anyone who disobeys me!” Unquote. Nearly 2,000 Americans and an estimated 25,000 Filipinos died in the camp over the next three months.
The prisoners who survived the Death March and Camp O’Donnell were transferred to various locations around the Japanese Empire. The lucky ones went to Cabanatuan, a camp in central Luzon, which was not as far away as the other destinations. I will be mentioning Cabanatuan again in a future episode of this podcast, so make a note of it. Those sent elsewhere faced even more horrors. There is one story of American prisoners transported to Japan who were sealed in an unventilated cargo hold. Crazed by thirst, some slashed the wrists or throats of other prisoners in an attempt to drink their blood. At least one thousand such prisoners were killed when American submarines and planes sank the ships carrying them, because the Japanese posted no warnings about which of their ships had P.O.W.s aboard. The prisoners who made it to the Japanese home islands, China, or wherever they were sent were worked like slaves for the rest of the war.
Now that the Japanese finally had all of Luzon, they could go after the other Philippine islands. We saw in Episode 38 that Davao City on Mindanao and Jolo in the Sulu Islands were captured in December, by a fleet on its way to Indonesia. Aside from an amphibious landing by the 32nd Special Base Force, which took Zamboanga City on March 2, the rest of the central and southern Philippines were ignored until early April. Then the 124th Regiment, a unit returning from Borneo, arrived in the central islands, the Visayas; it took Cebu on April 10. Two more units, the 41st and 61st Regiments, sailed from northern Luzon and landed on Negros and Panay on April 16. Next, the 124th Regiment headed for Mindanao, landing at Cotabato City on April 29. From there it moved inland, and the 56th Brigade, the force occupying Davao, advanced west to join it in the middle of the island. The 41st Regiment also moved on to Mindanao, landing at two cities on the north coast on May 5, Cagayan de Oro and Misamis, modern Ozamis City.
Podcast footnote: My wife is from northern Mindanao, the area taken by the 41st Regiment. She tells me that both of her parents and their families fled inland to escape the Japanese at this point. Some American soldiers also escaped to Mindanao’s interior, where they managed to hide from the Japanese for the rest of the war. Many of them continued to fight the Japanese as guerrillas, and were joined by the local Filipinos. My wife finished the story by saying that today one of the mountains of Mindanao is called Little America in memory of those Americans, and today there are some white Filipinos descended from them, who are called Oging in her language. End footnote.
Meanwhile in the north, there was one loose end – Corregidor. That island held out for 27 days after the fall of Bataan, and for most of that time the Japanese bombarded it, firing up to 12,000 artillery shells every day. By early May, the defenders’ supply of food, water and ammunition had gotten critically low, and on the night of May 5, two battalions from the 61st Infantry Division landed on Corregidor’s eastern tip, the “tail” of the island’s tadpole shape. Their casualties were heavy; some of the boats capsized in the surf, while others were destroyed by the defenders’ guns. 1,200 of the 2,000 Japanese soldiers in the assault were killed, but the rest were able to establish a beachhead, and bring in tanks and artillery. Eleven hours later, on the morning of May 6, they reached Malinta Tunnel, the big sheltering tunnel I had mentioned previously. Seeing his situation hopeless, General Wainwright surrendered at this point. He only wanted to surrender Corregidor and its garrison, but General Homma insisted that he surrender all Allied forces remaining in the Philippines, so he sent General William F. Sharp, the commander in the Visayas and Mindanao, an order to surrender. Sharp complied on May 10, but many of the soldiers under him, instead of giving up, became guerrillas, as we noted a minute ago. As for Wainwright, he would spend the next three years in a prison camp in Manchuria.
For the Americans and Filipinos, defeat was not as humiliating as it had been for the British at Singapore, because they had fought back for as long as humanly possible. Whereas all the other Japanese conquests had been achieved on time or ahead of schedule, it had taken five months for Japan to gain control over the Philippines. Did that keep the Japanese from sending enough troops, ships and planes to other battles, like the Coral Sea and New Guinea? If so, then the Americans and Filipinos killed here did not all die in vain.
On that sad note, today’s story is finished. There is one country left in Southeast Asia where we haven’t talked about World War II events yet. That country is Myanmar, or as it was called back in the day, Burma. So in the next episode we will cover the 1942 battles in Burma, a country that doesn’t get a lot of attention, both in the past and today. I hope you will come back here in a little more than two weeks, and join me for that story.
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