Battle of Bataan

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The Battle of Bataan was the invasion of the Philippines by Japan in 1941-42 and the defense of the islands by Filipino and United States forces. Although the result was a Japanese victory, the perseverance of the defenders delayed Japanese attacks on other areas and assisting in Allied counterattacks in the southwest Pacific Area, from late 1942 onwards.

Japan's Intention

After invading China and Indochina, the Japanese were looking to increase their Pacific empire. The Japanese intended to strike Indonesia and Malaysia, then territories of the Dutch and the British, to secure their natural resources. To accomplish this, they had to immobilize the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and cut off US communication lines in the Pacific by attacking the Philippines. The United States Forces in the Far East USAFFE under General Douglas MacArthur was greatly disturbed which eventually led to their surrender.


By the autumn of '41, American forces from the U.S. in the Philippines had grown to 30,000. In addition to these forces, President Roosevelt had ordered that the Philippine Army be incorporated into the U.S. Army. Filipino forces included 25,000 men of the Regular Army and about 100,000 Filipino volunteers. The Army, Navy, Army Air Corps, and Philippine Army were under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.

The battalion set up equipment and organized artillery groups. They built underground shelters to store shells and sent damaged guns to Manila, 75 miles south, for repair. Short on ammunition, they were ordered not to fire any live rounds.

To prepare for war, they set up the radar and practiced spotting planes. They practiced aiming spotlights at planes, so those anti-aircraft gunners could shoot the planes out of the sky if war came.


The Japanese 14th Army, under General Masaharu Homma, began its invasion with a landing on Batan Island, off the north coast of Luzon, on 8 December 1941. Just a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bomb Clark Field on the main island of Luzon. Because the Philippines is across the International Date Line, though, the attacks take place on December 8. Taiwan-based aircraft simultaneously pounded the main bases of the American Far East Air Force at Clark Field in Pampanga, Iba Field in Zambales, Nichols Field near Manila, and the headquarters of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines at Cavite.

Landings on the mainland followed two days later. From December 11 to 23, most of Luzon gradually fell to the Japanese, following landings on the southern tip of Luzon at Legazpi, as well as in Lingayen Gulf and on Mindanao. Most of the Allied forces gradually surrendered or were overrun. The US-Philippine Division moved into the field to cover the withdrawal of troops to Bataan and to resist Japanese advances in the Subic Bay area. On December 23, MacArthur notified his field commanders that he was reactivating an old prewar plan to defend only Bataan and Corregidor; both the military headquarters and the Philippines government were moved to Corregidor. Nevertheless, substantial forces remained in other areas for several months.

From December 7 to December 10, scattered resistance by ground troops and remaining American air and naval forces failed to stop diversionary landings at Batan Island, Aparri, Vigan, Legaspi, Davao, and Jolo. Army Air Force B-17s, often with fighter escort, attacked Japanese ships offloading at Gonzaga and the Vigan landings on Luzon. Units of the Asiatic Fleet also contributed to the effort.

In one last coordinated action by the Far East Air Force, U.S. planes damaged two Japanese transports, the flagship Naga, a destroyer and sank one minesweeper. These air attacks and naval actions, however, did not significantly delay the Japanese assault.

These small-scale landings preceded the main assault on December 21, 1941 at Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan and Lamon Bay, Tayabas by the 14th Japanese Imperial Army, led by Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma.

By effectively neutralizing U.S. air and naval power in the Philippines within the first crucial hours of the war, the Japanese had gained supremacy never anticipated by American planners. The defense of the islands now relied solely on its ground forces, which at the time had no lines of supply or escape.

War Plan Orange-3

After securing the beachheads, the Japanese launched a massive pincer attack, and the entire USAFFE was pushed back by the invading forces. In the face of this onslaught, Gen. MacArthur realized that the USAFFE defense plan had failed. On December 26, he notified his commanders that War Plan Orange-3 was now in effect, thereby reactivating the old prewar plan to defend only Bataan and Corregidor indefinitely. A fighting retreat by all USAFFE units to the Bataan peninsula, whereupon the defending forces, in accordance with WPO-3, would regroup and make an indefinite stand. They hoped that with this change in strategy, the Japanese invasion plans might be altered.

The concept of WPO-3 was to delay invading Japanese forces until the US Pacific Fleet could be mustered at full strength and fight its way to the Philippines. At the Bataan peninsula, with its defensive terrain, and backed by artillery from the harbor defenses in Manila Bay and the nearby island fortress of Corregidor, the defenders were expected to hold out until reinforcements arrived. But with the Pacific Fleet having been crippled at Pearl Harbor, no aid would be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, Manuel L. Quezon, the president of the Philippine Commonwealth, together with his family and government staff were evacuated to Corregidor along with MacArthur's USAFFE headquarters on the night of December 24, 1941, while all USAFFE military personnel were removed from the major urban areas. That same day, Manila was declared an open city, and Japanese forces occupied it on January 2, 1942.

The Fighting Retreat

Gen. MacArthur intended to move his men with their equipment and supplies in good order to their defensive positions. He charged the North Luzon Force under Maj. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright with holding back the main Japanese assault and keeping the road to Bataan open for use by the South Luzon Force of Maj. Gen. George Parker, which proceeded quickly and in remarkably good order, given the chaotic situation. To achieve this, Wainwright deployed his forces in a series of defensive lines.

Porac-Guagua Line

From January 1-January 5, 1942, as the entire USAFFE converged from south and north, delaying actions were fought to allow the struggling withdrawal to Bataan. The bloodiest occurred at the hastily emplaced Porac-Guagua line, where the 11th Division and 21st Division, respectively led by Brig. Generals William E. Brougher and Mateo Capinpin with the 26th Cavalry Regiment of Col. Clinton A. Pierce in reserve, held the line, mostly on open and unprepared ground, against massive aerial and artillery bombardment, strong tank assaults, and infantry banzai attacks by the Takahashi and Tanaka Detachments. Both sides suffered heavy casualties.

Dinalupihan-Layac Junction

On January 6, at the first major defensive line from Dinalupihan to Layac Junction, the only approach to Bataan, the 31st Infantry Regiment of Col. Charles A. Steel, the 71st Division led by Brig. Gen. Clyde A. Selleck and the 26th Cavalry Regiment stood fast against relentless artillery fire and assaults of the pursuing Imai Detachment. In this action, Medal of Honor awardee Sgt. Jose Calugas of the Philippine Scouts voluntarily and without orders, dashed about one thousand yards across the shell-swept ground, and organized a volunteer squad to man a knocked-out 75mm gun, which they kept firing on the onrushing enemy.

Abucay-Mauban Line

The plan for Bataan called for two defensive lines. The first extended across the peninsula from Mauban in the west to Mabatang, Abucay in the east. Gen. Wainwright's North Luzon Force, renamed the I Philippine Corps held the eastern sector. His command included the 1st, 31st, and 91st Infantry Divisions, the 26th Cavalry, and a battery of field artillery and self-propelled guns. Gen. Parker's former South Luzon Force, redesignated as the II Philippine Corps, included the 11th, 21st, 41st, and 51st Divisions and the 57th Infantry, and numbering some 25,000 men, commanded the western sector. The Philippine Division was made the reserve force. Mount Natib, a 4,222-foot-high mountain that split the peninsula, served as the boundary line between the two corps. The commanders anchored their lines on the mountain, but, since they considered the rugged terrain impassable, they did not extend their forces far up its slopes. The two corps were therefore not in direct contact with each other, leaving a serious gap in the defense line. With the fighting withdrawal completed, the Abucay-Mauban line, the USAFFE's main battle position was now finally in place.

The Stand

On January 9, Japanese forces under Lt. Gen. Susumu Morioka assaulted the eastern flank of the Abucay-Mauban line and were repulsed by the 91st Division of Brig. Gen. Luther Stevens and Col. George S. Clark's 57th Infantry held out ferociously. On January 12, amid fierce fighting, 2nd Lt. Alexander Nininger Jr., with uncommon valor, sacrificed his life and earned the Medal of Honor when, armed with only a rifle and hand grenades, he forced his way into enemy foxholes during hand-to-hand fighting, permitting his unit to retake Abucay Hacienda. One other extreme act of bravery was put forth by a Filipino named Narcisco Salbadin. He was on a heavy water-cooled machine gun when the Japanese burst out of a canebreak in a banzai attack. He shot down dozens of the Japanese with his machine gun, then when it jammed he pulled out his Colt .45 shot down five Japanese, then when one Japanese stabbed at him with a bayonet, he desperately tried to grab the gun but got his thumb cut off. But he still held on, and then with a sudden burst of adrenaline, he turned the gun on the Japanese and stabbed him in the chest. When another Japanese soldier swung a bayonet at him, he turned his rifle on the soldier and shot him dead. Narcisco received the Silver Cross. Another attack on January 14 at the boundary of positions held by the 41st Division and 51st Divisions of Brig. Generals Vicente Lim and Albert M. Jones, respectively, aided by the 43rd and 23rd Infantry, stubbornly refused the Japanese their left flank. The Japanese advanced to the Salian River valley through a gap made by the 51st Infantry's withdrawal. But a patrol discovered the infiltration, and units of the 21st Division rushed to the valley and repulsed the attackers after a savage encounter.

At another engagement farther to the west, a Japanese force surprised and routed the 53rd Infantry of Col. John R. Boatwright. This force also penetrated deep behind the Abucay-Mauban line along the Abo-Abo river valley. But their advance was held up by combined units of the 21st and 51st Divisions, the 31st Division of Brig. Gen. Clifford Bluemel, and Col. John H. Rodman's 92nd Infantry at the Bani-Guirol forest area. The 31st Infantry and the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts of Col. Thomas W. Doyle partially restored the abandoned line of the 51st Division.

On January 15, the reinforced 1st Regular Division of Brig. Gen. Fidel Segundo, defending the Morong sector came under heavy bombardment but held the line. The Japanese penetrated through a huge gap in the Silangan-Natib area, established a roadblock on Mauban ridge, threatening to cut off the division's rear. Repeated attacks by the 91st Division and 71st Division and 92nd Infantry failed to dislodge the Japanese. The attackers' nightly raids and infiltration tactics became more frequent. Previously, Gen. Parker's II Corps had prevented a similar encirclement at the Salian River battle, but the position of Gen. Wainwright's I Corps was deemed indefensible, and the Abucay-Mauban line had to be abandoned on January 22.

Battles of Trail 2

Within four days, the Orion-Bagac line was formed. But the defenders had yet to complete their withdrawal to the reserve battle position when the Japanese struck again, through a gap held by I Corps. General Bluemel hastily organized a defense along Trail 2, consisting of 32nd Infantry, 41st Infantry, and 51st Division reinforcements, in time to stop a major offensive and plugged the gap.

Battles of the Pockets

The remaining Japanese troops managed to get through, however, and held out at some rear sectors of the Orion-Bagac line at the Tuol River valley behind the 11th Division, and in the Gogo-Cotar River behind the 1st Regular Division. From January 23 - February 17, coordinated action by the defenders, to eliminate these salients of resistance, became known as the Battles of the Pockets. Fierce fighting marked the action. On February 3, 1942, 1st Lt. Willibald Bianchi of the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts voluntarily led a reinforced platoon forward against two enemies machine-gun nests, silenced them with grenades and then manned an antiaircraft machine gun until his wounds disabled him. His Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously. Of the 2,000 Japanese soldiers engaged, only 377 were reported to have escaped.

Battles of the Points

In an attempt to outflank the I Corps and isolate the Service Command sector of Brig. Gen. Allan C. McBride, crack Japanese marines were landed on the west coast of southern Bataan. Battles were fought ferociously at the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 - January 29, at the Quinawan-Aglaloma, points from January 22 - February 8, and at the Silalim-Anyasan points from January 27 - February 13. Out of the 2,000 Japanese troops committed to these battles, only 34 wounded returned to their lines. These engagements were named the Battles of the Points.

The Fall

On the night of 12 March, General MacArthur, his family, and several USAFFE staff officers left Corregidor on four PT boats for Mindanao, and were eventually flown to Australia where he broadcast to the Filipino people his famous "I Shall Return" promise. MacArthur's departure marked the end of the USAFFE and by 22 March, the defending army was renamed United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP) and Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright IV was placed in command.

After the failure of their first attack against Bataan, the Japanese General Headquarters sent strong artillery forces to the Philippines in order to smash the American fortifications. They had 190 artillery pieces, which included bigger guns like 150mm cannons or the rare Type 96 240mm field howitzer, with Bataan being its only known campaign. The 1st Artillery Headquarters under Maj. Gen. Kineo Kitajima, who was a known authority on IJA artillery, also moved to the Philippines along with the main forces to command and control these artillery units. Also, the Japanese High Command reinforced Gen. Homma's 14th Imperial Army and toward the end of March, the Japanese forces prepared for the final assault.

On 3 April, the entire Orion-Bagac line was subjected to incessant bombings by 100 aircraft and artillery bombardment by 300 artillery pieces from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., which turned the Mount Samat stronghold into an inferno. Thereafter, the Japanese 4th Division and 65th Brigade spearheaded the main attack at the left flank of II Corps. Everywhere along the line, the remaining American and Filipino defenders were driven back by masses of Japanese tanks and infantry. The enemy launched a drive into the center, penetrated into flanks held by the 22nd and 23rd Regiments of the 21st Division, and by 6 April, Mt. Samat was captured.

All along with the battlefront, units of I Corps together with devastating remnants of II Corps, crumbled and straggled to the rear. And as the lines of escape dwindled, other units disappeared into the jungle, never to be heard from again. In the last two days of the defense of Bataan, the entire Allied defense progressively disintegrated and collapsed. By 8 April, the senior US commander on Bataan, Maj. Gen. Edward P. King, saw the futility of further resistance and put forth proposals for capitulation.

The next morning, 9 April 1942, Gen. King met with Maj. Gen. Kameichiro Nagano and after several hours of negotiations surrendered the remaining weary, starving, and emaciated American and Filipino defenders on the battle-swept Bataan peninsula.

Radio Broadcast - Voice of Freedom -Malinta Tunnel - Corregidor - April 9, 1942 Bataan has fallen. The Philippine-American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy.

The world will long remember the epic struggle that Filipino and American soldiers put up in the jungle fastness and along the rugged coast of Bataan. They have stood up uncomplaining under the constant and grueling fire of the enemy for more than three months. Besieged on land and blockaded by sea, cut off from all sources of help in the Philippines and in America, the intrepid fighters have done all that human endurance could bear.

For what sustained them through all these months of incessant battle was a force that was more than merely physical. It was the force of an unconquerable faith--something in the heart and soul that physical hardship and adversity could not destroy! It was the thought of native land and all that it holds most dear, the thought of freedom and dignity and pride in these most priceless of all our human prerogatives.

The adversary, in the pride of his power and triumph, will credit our troops with nothing less than the courage and fortitude that his own troops have shown in battle. Our men have fought a brave and bitterly contested struggle. All the world will testify to the most superhuman endurance with which they stood up until the last in the face of overwhelming odds. But the decision had to come. Men fighting under the banner of unshakable faith are made of something more than flesh, but they are not made of impervious steel. The flesh must yield, at last, endurance melts away, and the end of the battle must come. Bataan has fallen, but the spirit that made it stand--a beacon to all the liberty-loving peoples of the world--cannot fall!

Outcome and Historical Significance

The surrender of Bataan would hasten the fall of Corregidor, a month later. However, without this stand, the Japanese might have quickly overrun all of the U.S. bases in the Pacific. Bataan forced them to slow down, giving the allies valuable time to prepare for conflicts such as the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway which followed closely thereafter. Ultimately, more than 15,000 American and 60,000 Filipino prisoners of war were forced into the infamous Bataan Death March.

American liberation forces finally retook the Bataan peninsula on 8 February, 1945.

Historical Commemoration

  • The Mount Samat Shrine or the Dambana ng Kagitingan ("Shrine of Valor") in Pilar, Bataan in the Philippines was erected as a war memorial featuring a colonnade that houses an altar, esplanade, and a museum. There is also a memorial cross standing about 311-ft or 90 meters high.
  • The Bataan Death March Memorial Monument, erected in April, 2001 is the only funded monument by the US Federal Government dedicated to the victims of the Bataan Death March during World War II. The Memorial was designed and sculpted by Las Cruces artist Kelley Hester and is located in Veterans Park along Roadrunner Parkway, New Mexico.


  • World War II in the Pacific: An Encyclopedia (Military History of the United States) by S. Sandler (2000) Routledge ISBN 0-8153-1883-9
  • Young, Donald J. 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 World War II / by Donald J. Young., 1992.

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