Military history of the Philippines during World War II

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In September 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan had allied under the Tripartite Pact. In July 1940 the US banned the shipment of aviation gasoline to Japan, and by 1941 shipments of scrap iron, steel, gasoline, and other materials had practically ceased. Meanwhile American economic support to China began to increase.

In April 1941 Japan and the USSR signed a neutrality pact and Japan increased pressure on the French and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia to cooperate in economic matters. On July 22, 1941, Japanese forces occupied the naval and air bases of southern Indochina. The Philippines were almost completely surrounded.

US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall stated, "Adequate reinforcements for the Philippines, at this time, would have left the United States in a position of great peril, should there be a break in the defense of Great Britain."


The Far Eastern Command

On July 25 US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson requested that US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issue orders calling the military forces of the Commonwealth into active service for the United States. Stimson explained, "All practical steps should be taken to increase the defensive strength of the Philippine Islands."

The following day President Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets within the United States and issued orders to absorb the forces of the Philippine Army. That same day the War Department created the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) command, with jurisdiction over the Philippine Department and the military forces of the Commonwealth. At the same time MacArthur was recalled to active duty and designated as the commander of USAFFE.

Naval Forces

At the outbreak of war the United States Navy's Asiatic Fleet was stationed at Cavite Naval Base in Manila Bay. Also stationed there was the Offshore Patrol.

Mobilization and Reinforcement

In July 1941 MacArthur was informed that it was now the policy of the United States to defend the Philippines; the goal had formerly been to merely train the Philippine Army. According to Secretary of War Stimson, the success of the B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber in the European Theatre of Operations had convinced the War Department that a striking force of such bombers could be used against the Japanese from bases within the Philippines.

MacArthur ordered the mobilization of the Philippine Army beginning on September 1. Elements of 10 Filipino reserve divisions were to be called into the service of the United States Army by December 15. It was also necessary to quickly construct housing for 50,000. To each of these divisions were assigned 40 US Army officers and 20 American or Philippine Scout noncommissioned officers who served as instructors.

The reinforcement of US troops was expected to be completed by April 1942 and the reinforcement of Filipino troops was expected to be completed by July. Mobilization and assimilation of Filipino forces into the US Army was incomplete (and none of the antitank battalions were ever organized) by the time of the Japanese invasion in December. However, a force of 100,000+ Filipinos was raised.

On August 14 Brigadier General Leonard T. Gerow argued that the Philippine Department could not resist a Japanese attack. He thus recommended that the Philippines be reinforced with anti-aircraft artillery, modern aircraft and tanks. On August 16, MacArthur was informed that by September 5 he could expect the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment (AA), the 194th Tank Battalion (less Company B) and a company of the 17th Ordnance Battalion.

On September 5 Army Chief of Staff General Marshall asked MacArthur if he wanted a National Guard Division, probably the 41st. MacArthur replied that he did not need any additional divisions. MacArthur stated, "Equipment and supplies are essential. If these steps are taken, I am confident that no further major reinforcements will be necessary." MacArthur was promised more aircraft, guns and equipment. Marshall said, "I have directed that the forces in the Philippines be placed in highest priority for equipment." MacArthur responded, "With such backing, the development of a completely adequate defense force will be rapid."

During September and October, in addition to the above-mentioned reinforcements, MacArthur received the 192nd Tank Battalion and 75 self-propelled 75 mm gun mounts.

MacArthur strove to reorganize the Philippine Division from a square formation into a triangular formation. This plan involved shipping an American infantry regiment and 2 artillery battalions to the Philippines. This would free Philippine Scouts for other positions (such as Harbor Defenses or complementing forces at Forts McKinley and Stotsenburg) and allow USAFFE control of 2 American combat teams. These plans also involved the formation of 4 tactical commands, each of corps level, along with various additional support units.

By November the War Department had approved additional reinforcements of 1,312 officers, 25 nurses and 18,047 enlisted soldiers. The 34th Infantry Regiment was scheduled to ship out on December 8, 1941.

By December 5 there were 55 ships carrying 100,000 ship-tons of cargo onroute to the Philippines. General Marshall informed Lt. General MacArthur, "You will soon receive all your supporting light artillery (130 75 mm guns). You will also receive 72 155 mm howitzers."

When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place, there were 52 dive bombers of the 27th Bombardment Group (L), 18 P-40s, 340 vehicles, 48 75 mm guns, 3,500,000 rounds of .30 and .50 caliber ammunition, 600 tons of bombs, 9,000 drums of aviation fuel, 2 light field artillery battalions, the ground echelon of the 7th Bombardment Group (H), and various other supplies; all enroute.

(See also: National Defense Act of 1935)

Material and Training Deficiencies

The Philippine Army received clothing that was of poor quality. Their rubber shoes would wear out within 2 weeks. There were shortages of nearly every kind of equipment. There were shortages of blankets, mosquito bars, shelter halves, entrenching tools, gas masks, and helmets.

During August, MacArthur had requested 84,500 Garand rifles, 330 .30-caliber machine guns, 326 .50-caliber machine-guns, 450 37 mm guns, 217 81 mm mortars, 288 75 mm guns, and over 8,000 vehicles. On September 18, he was informed that, because of lend-lease commitments, he would not receive most of these items. As a result, the Philippine Army was forced to continue using Lee-Enfield and Springfield Rifles.

The shipment of supplies depended upon the US Navy's limited cargo capacity. In September, the Navy announced its intentions to convert three transports into escort carriers, but this was not done after MacArthur observed that the loss of three transports would delay his reinforcements by more than two months.

Then the army approved requests for 105 mm howitzers, 75 mm pack howitzers, 75 mm guns, .30-caliber machine guns, 37 mm guns, 10 250 ft station hospitals, 180 sets of regimental infirmary equipment, jeeps, ambulances, trucks and sedans. By November, there were 1,100,000 tons of equipment, intended for the Philippines, piled up in US ports. Most of this never reached its destination. Meanwhile, the Navy did manage to transport 1,000,000 gallons of gasoline to the island. Much of this fuel would be stored on the Bataan Peninsula.

In 1941, many Filipino units went into battle without ever having fired their weapons. Many of the troops had never even seen an artillery piece fired. The 31st Infantry Division (PA) signal officer was unable to establish radio communication with units in the same camp. Commander of the Philippine 31st Infantry Division, Colonel Bluemel states, "The enlisted men are proficient in only two things, one, when an officer appears, to yell attention in a loud voice, jump up, and salute; two, to demand 3 meals per day."

Training and coordination were further complicated by language barriers. Enlisted Filipinos often spoke one language (such as Bikol or a Visayan language), their officers would speak another (such as Tagalog), and the Americans would speak English. There were some first sergeants and company clerks who could neither read nor write.

The Japanese Decide to Attack

The economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands were weakening the Japanese economy. The leaders of Japan were faced with a choice: End the war in China and southeast Asia, so as to end the sanctions, or obtain additional resources by some other means.

The Japanese government decided to seize resources under the control of Britain and the Netherlands. As the United States was their ally, it was decided to attack the American territory of the Philippines as well. Japanese military planners argued that the British (and the USSR should they decide to declare war) would be unable to effectively respond to a Japanese attack, given the threat posed by the Third Reich.

(See Battle of the Philippines (1941-42) for details of successive events.)

List of conflicts

See also

Original Source

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