Battle for the Liberation of Manila

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Battle for Manila
Part of World War II, Pacific theater
Manila attack.jpg
37th Infantry Division troops crossing the Pasig River in Manila, 4 February 1945. U.S. National Archives
Date 3 February3 March 1945
Location Manila, Philippines
Result Allied victory
44px 44px
United States and Philippines
Oscar W. Griswold
Robert S. Beightler
Verne D. Mudge
Joseph M. Swing
Iwabuchi Sanji
35,000 U.S. troops
3,000 Filipino guerrillas
16,000 Japanese sailors and marines
2,000 Army troops
Casualties and losses
1,010 killed
5,565 wounded
100,000 Filipino civilians killed
16,000 killed

The Battle for Manila from 3 February to 3 March 1945, fought by U.S. and Japanese forces, was part of the Philippines' 1945 campaign. The one-month battle which culminated in a terrible bloodbath and total devastation of the city was the scene of the worst urban fighting in the Pacific War|Pacific theater, ended almost three years, 1942-1945 of Japanese military occupation in the Philippines. The city's capture was marked as General Douglas MacArthur's key to victory in the campaign of reconquest.


Pincer drive to the capital

On 9 January 1945, the U.S. Sixth Army under Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger waded ashore on Lingayen Gulf and began a rapid drive south.

Three weeks later on 31 January, the U.S. Eighth Army of Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, consisting of the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments of Col. Robert H. Soule, components of the U.S. 11th Airborne Division under Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Swing landed unopposed at Nasugbu in southern Luzon, and began moving toward Manila. Meanwhile, the 11th A/B Division's 511th Regimental Combat Team of Col. Orin D. "Hardrock" Haugen parachuted into Tagaytay Ridge on February 4th and spearheaded the northern advance.

By 4 February, the rapid drive to Manila by U.S. forces began. Using intelligence provided by Filipino guerrillas, American units were able to find intact bridges and shallow rivers everywhere they went.

Santo Tomas internees liberated

Next day, 3 February, elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division under Maj.Gen. Verne D. Mudge pushed into the northern outskirts of Manila, and seized a vital bridge across the Tuliahan River, which separated them from the city proper. A squadron of Brig. Gen. William C. Chase's 8th Cavalry Brigade, the first unit to arrive in the city, began a drive towards the sprawling campus of the University of Santo Tomas which had been turned into an internment camp.

U.S. 1st Cavalry troops on the outskirts of Manila

Since 4 January 1942, a total of thirty-seven months, the university’s main building was used to hold civilian POWs and classrooms for sleeping quarters. Out of 4,255 prisoners, 466 died in captivity, three were killed while attempting to escape on 15 February 1942, but one made a successful breakout in early January, 1945.

At 9:00 p.m., a lead jeep crashed into the main gate, triggering a firefight, and its driver, Capt. Manuel Colayco, a USAFFE guerrilla officer, became the first known allied casualty for the city's liberation. Simultaneously, a single M4 Sherman tank of the 44th Tank Battalion, named "Battlin' Basic," rammed through the university walls, while four others entered through the Calle España entrance. American troops and Filipino guerrillas immediately followed and after a brief skirmish, freed many of the internees.

The Japanese, commanded by Lt. Col. Toshio Hayashi gathered the remaining internees together in the Education Building, as hostages, exchanging pot shots with the Americans. The next day, 4 February, they negotiated with the Americans to allow them to rejoin Japanese troops to the south of the city. The Americans agreed, but only allowed them to carry their rifles, pistols and swords. That same day, a patrol from the 37th Infantry Division came upon more than 1,000 prisoners of war, mostly former defenders of Bataan and Corregidor held at Bilibid Prison, which was abandoned by the Japanese.

On the morning of 5 February, forty-seven Japanese were escorted out of the university to the spot they requested. Each group saluted each other and departed. The Japanese were unaware the area they requested was near the American-occupied Malacañang Palace, and soon afterwards were fired upon and several were killed including Hayashi. Later in the afternoon, the survivors of the same group returned to Santo Tomas, captured as prisoners in the same day.

In total, 3,785 prisoners: 2,870 Americans, 745 British, 100 Australians, 61 Canadians, 50 Dutch, 25 Poles, 7 French, 2 Egyptians, 2, Spanish, one Swiss, one German, and one Slovak were freed.

The Japanese defense

Map of the capture of Manila

As the Americans converged on Manila from different directions, the bulk of the defending enemy troops had earlier engaged on a tactical move to the outskirts on orders of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander in chief of Japanese forces in the Philippines. Yamashita had withdrawn his main forces to Baguio City, where he planned to hold back U.S. forces in northern Luzon, poised for the invasion of Japan.

In 1942, President Manuel L. Quezon had declared Manila an open city before its capture. Although Yamashita had not done so in 1945, he had not intended to defend Manila; he did not think that he could not feed about a million city residents, and defend a large area with vast tracts of flammable wooden buildings. Gen. Yamashita had originally ordered the commander of Shimbu Group, Gen. Yokoyama Shizuo, to evacuate the city and destroy all bridges and other vital installations as soon as any large American forces made their appearance.

However, Rear Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji was entrusted with the holding of the city, and he was committed to defending it to the last man. Disobeying Yamashita, he ordered his Manila Naval Defense Forces, a motley assembly of sailors, marines and Army troops, into the city. They discovered several good defensive positions, including Intramuros and other nearby buildings. After blowing up every outline facility with even marginal value, like bridges and footpaths, Iwabuchi had set up minefields, barbed wire, interlocking trenches, and hulks of trucks and trolleys, to create bottlenecks and traps. He then ordered his ragtag troops into the defensive zone.

Encirclement and massacres

Manila residents fleeing the fighting

Earlier on 4 February 1945, General MacArthur had announced the imminent recapture of the capital while his staff planned a victory parade. But the battle for Manila had barely begun. Almost at once the 1st Cavalry Division in the north and the 11th Airborne Division in the south reported stiffening Japanese resistance to further advances into the city.

Following the initial American breakthrough on the fourth, fighting raged throughout the city for almost a month. The battle quickly came down to a series of bitter street-to-street and house-to-house struggles. In the north, General Griswold continued to push elements of the XIV Corps south from Santo Tomas University toward the Pasig River . Late on the afternoon of February 4, he ordered the 2nd Squadron, 5th Cavalry, to seize Quezon Bridge, the only crossing over the Pasig that the Japanese had not destroyed. As the squadron approached the bridge, enemy heavy machine guns opened fire from a formidable roadblock thrown up across Quezon Boulevard, forcing the cavalry to stop its advance and withdraw until nightfall. As the Americans pulled back, the Japanese blew up the bridge.

On 5 February, the 37th Infantry Division began to move into Manila and Griswold divided the northern section of the city into two sectors, with the 37th responsible for the western half and the 1st Cavalry responsible for the eastern sector. By the afternoon of the 8th, 37th Division units had cleared most of the Japanese from their sector, although the damage done to the residential districts was extensive. The Japanese added to the destruction by demolishing buildings and military installations as they withdrew.

The most bitter fighting for Manila, which proved costliest to the 37th occurred on Provisor Island, a small industrial center on the Pasig River. The Japanese garrison, probably less than a battalion, managed to hold off Beightler's infantrymen until 11 February.

Mudge's 1st Cavalry Division had an easier time, encountering little opposition in the suburbs east of Manila. Although the 7th and 8th Cavalry fought pitched battles near two water supply installations north of the city, by 10 February, the cavalrymen had extended their control south of the river. That night, the XIV Corps established for the first time separate bridgeheads on both banks of the Pasig River.

The final attack on the outer Japanese defenses came from the 11th Airborne Division, under XIV Corps control since 10 February. The division had been halted at Nichols Field on the 4th and since then had been battling firmly entrenched Japanese naval troops, backed up by heavy fire from concealed artillery. The airfield finally fell to the paratroopers the next day, and the acquisition allowed Maj. Gen. Swing's division to complete the U.S. encirclement of Manila on the night of 12 February.

In an attempt to protect the city and its civilians, MacArthur had placed stringent restrictions on U.S. artillery and air support. But massive devastation to the urban area could not be avoided. Iwabuchi's sailors, marines and Army reinforcements, having initially successfully resisted American infantrymen armed with flamethrowers, grenades and bazookas - now faced direct fire from tanks, tank destroyers, and howitzers, who attacked one building after another and killed the Japanese -and often the trapped civilians- inside the structures.

Subjected to incessant pounding - and facing certain death, the beleaguered Japanese troops took out their anger and frustration on the civilians caught in the crossfire, committing multiple acts of severe brutality, which later would be known as the Manila Massacre. Violent mutilations, rapes, and massacres on the populace accompanied the battle for control of the city, which now lay practically in ruins.

Intramuros devastated

Sherman tank at the Sta. Lucia gate, Intramuros, February 28, 1945

The fighting for Intramuros continued from 23-28 February. Already having decimated the Japanese forces by bombing, American forces now used artillery to try and 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.

The last pocket of Japanese resistance at the Finance Building, which was already reduced to rubble, was flushed out by heavy artillery on 3 March.

"That the artillery had almost razed the ancient Walled City could not be helped. To the XIV Corps and the 37th Division at this state of the battle for Manila, American lives were understandably far more valuable than historic landmarks. The destruction stemmed from the American decision to save lives in a battle against Japanese troops who had decided to sacrifice their lives as dearly as possible," a U.S. battle report stated.

Before the fighting ended, MacArthur summoned a provisional assembly of prominent Filipinos to Malacanang Palace and in their presence declared the Commonwealth of the Philippines to be permanently reestablished. "My country kept the faith," he told the gathered assembly. "Your capital city, cruelly punished though it be, has regained its rightful place - citadel of democracy in the East."


For the rest of the month the Americans and their Filipino allies mopped up resistance throughout the city. With Intramuros secured on 4 March, Manila was officially liberated, but large areas of the city had been leveled. The battle left 1,010 U.S. soldiers dead and 5,565 wounded. An estimated 100,000 Filipinos were killed, both deliberately by the Japanese and accidentally by crossfire. About 16,000 Japanese soldiers died, mostly sailors from the Japanese Manila Defense Force.

In the month-long battle, the Americans and Japanese inflicted worse destruction on Manila than the German Luftwaffe had visited upon London, which resulted not only in the destruction of the city, but in a death toll comparable to that of the Tokyo Firebombing or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Historical significance

Aerial view of Manila devastation, March 1945

The battle for Manila was the first and fiercest urban fighting in the entire Pacific War, from the time MacArthur started his leapfrogging campaign from New Guinea in 1942, leading to the invasion of Japan in 1945. Few battles in the closing months of World War II exceeded the destruction and the brutality of the massacres and savagery of the fighting in Manila.

A steel flagpole at the entrance to the old U.S. Embassy building in Intramuros, which was pockmarked by numerous bullet and shrapnel hits, and still stands today, a testament to the intense, bitter fighting for the walled city. In this category, Manila joined the company of Warsaw as the most devastated cities of World War II, as well as being the host to some of the fiercest urban fighting since Stalingrad.

Filipinos lost an irreplaceable cultural and historical treasure in the resulting carnage and devastation of Manila, remembered today as a national tragedy. Countless government buildings, universities and colleges, convents, monasteries and churches, and their accompanying treasures dating to the founding of the city, were decimated. The cultural patrimony (including art, literature, and especially architecture) of the Orient's first truly international melting pot - the confluence of Spanish, American and Asian culture - was eviscerated. Manila, once touted as the "Pearl of the Orient" and famed as a living monument to the meeting of Asian and European cultures, was virtually wiped out.

Historical commemoration

The Memorare Manila Monument at Intramuros, Manila.

On 18 February 1995, the Memorare Manila Monument was erected in dedication and memory to the war victims. This monument is located at the Plaza de Santa Isabel, also known as the Plaza Sinampalukan, located at the corner of General Luna and Anda Streets in Intramuros, Manila. The inscription reads:

"This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or even never knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruins."

"Let this monument be the gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, February 3 - March 3, 1945. We have not forgotten them, nor shall we ever forget."

"May they rest in peace as part now of the sacred ground of this city: the Manila of our affections."

See also


  • Battle of Manila Footnotes: Battle for Manila by Richard Connaughton, John Pimlott and Duncan Anderson (2002) Presidio Press ISBN 0-89141-771-0
  • World War II in the Pacific: An Encyclopedia (Military History of the United States) by S. Sandler (2000) Routledge ISBN 0-8153-1883-9
  • By sword and fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, 3 February-3 March 1945 (Unknown Binding) by Alphonso J. Aluit (1994) National Commission for Culture and the Arts ISBN 971-8521-10-0
  • History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 13: The Liberation of the Philippines--Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas, 1944-1945 by Samuel Eliot Morison (2002) University of Illinois Press ISBN 0-252-07064-X

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