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World War II: Battle of Bataan

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World War II: Battle of Bataan

Japanese forces on Bataan, 1942

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Bataan - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Bataan was fought January 7 to April 9, 1942, during World War II (1939-1945).

Forces & Commanders

Allies

  • General Douglas MacArthur
  • Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright
  • Major General Edward King
  • 79,500 men

    Japanese

  • Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma
  • 75,000 men

  • Battle of Bataan - Background:

    Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft began conducting an aerial assault on American forces in the Philippines. In addition, troops moved against Allied positions on Hong Kong and Wake Island. In the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur, commanding United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), began making preparations to defend the archipelago from the inevitable Japanese invasion. This included calling up numerous Filipino reserve divisions. Though MacArthur initially sought to defend the entire island of Luzon, prewar War Plan Orange 3 (WPO-3) called for USAFFE to withdraw to the highly defensible ground of the Bataan Peninsula, west of Manila, where it would hold out until relieved by the US Navy. Due to the losses sustained at Pearl Harbor, this was unlikely to occur.

    Battle of Bataan - The Japanese Land:

    On December 12, Japanese forces began landing at Legaspi in southern Luzon. This was followed by a larger effort in the north at Lingayen Gulf on December 22. Coming ashore, elements of Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma's 14th Army began driving south against Major General Jonathan Wainwright's Northern Luzon Force. Two days after the landings at Lingayen commenced, MacArthur invoked WPO-3 and began shifting supplies to Bataan while Major General George M. Parker prepared the peninsula's defenses. Steadily pushed back, Wainwright retreated through a succession of defensive lines over the next week. To the south, Major General Albert Jones' Southern Luzon Force fared little better. Concerned about Wainwright's ability to keep the road to Bataan open, MacArthur directed Jones to move around Manila, which had been declared an open city, on December 30. Crossing the Pampanga River on January 1, the SLF moved towards Bataan while Wainwright desperately held a line between Borac and Guagua. On January 4, Wainwright began retreating towards Bataan and three days later USAFFE forces were within the peninsula's defenses (Map).

    Battle of Bataan - The Allies Prepare:

    Stretching from north to south, the Bataan Peninsula is mountainous down its spine with Mount Natib in the north and the Mariveles Mountains in the south. Covered in jungle, the peninsula's lowlands stretch to cliffs overlooking the the South China Sea in west and beaches in the east along Manila Bay. Due to the topography, the peninsula's only natural harbor is Mariveles at its southern tip. As USAFFE forces assumed their defensive position, roads on the peninsula were limited a perimeter route that ran along the east coast from Abucay to Mariveles and then north up the west coast to Mauban and an east-west route between Pilar and Bagac. Defense of Bataan was divided between two new formations, Wainwright's I Corps in the west and Parker's II Corps in the east. These held a line stretching from Mauban east to Abucay. Due to the open nature of the ground around Abucay, fortifications were stronger in Parker's sector. Both corps commanders anchored their lines on Mount Natib, though the mountain's rugged terrain prevented them from being in direct contact forcing the gap to be covered by patrols.

    Battle of Bataan - The Japanese Attack:

    Though the USAFFE was supported by a large amount of artillery, its position was weakened due to a tenuous supply situation. The speed of the Japanese advance had prevented the large scale stockpiling of supplies and the number of troops and civilians on the peninsula exceeded prewar estimates. As Homma prepared to attack, MacArthur repeatedly lobbied leaders in Washington, DC for reinforcements and aid. On January 9, Lieutenant General Akira Nara opened the assault on Bataan when his troops advanced on Parker's lines. Turning back the enemy, II Corps endured heavy attacks for the next five days. By the 15th, Parker, who had committed his reserves, requested assistance from MacArthur. Anticipating this, MacArthur had already put the 31st Division (Philippine Army) and Philippine Division in motion towards II Corps' sector.

    The following day, Parker attempted to counterattack with the 51st Division (PA). Though initially successful, the division later broke allowing the Japanese to threaten II Corps' line. On January 17, Parker desperately attempted to restore his position. Mounting a series of attacks over the next five days, he managed to retake much of the lost ground. This success proved brief as intense Japanese air attacks and artillery forced II Corps back. By the 22nd, Parker's left was under threat as enemy forces moved through the rough terrain of Mount Natib. That night, he received orders to retreat south. To the west, Wainwright's corps fared somewhat better against troops led by Major General Naoki Kimura. Holding off the Japanese at first, the situation changed on January 19 when Japanese forces infiltrated behind his lines cutting off supplies to the 1st Regular Division (PA). When efforts to dislodge this force failed, the division was withdrawn and lost most of its artillery in the process.

    Battle of Bataan - Bagac-Orion Line:

    With the collapse of the Abucay-Mauban Line, USAFFE established a new position running from Bagac to Orion on January 26. A shorter line, it was dwarfed by the heights of Mount Samat which provided the Allies with an observation post overseeing the entire front. Though in a strong position, MacArthur's forces suffered from a lack of capable officers and reserve forces were minimal. As fighting had raged to the north, Kimura dispatched amphibious forces to land on the southwest coast of the peninsula. Coming ashore at Quinauan and Longoskayan Points on the night of January 23, the Japanese were contained but not defeated. Seeking to exploit this, Lieutenant General Susumu Morioka, who had superseded Kimura, dispatched reinforcements to Quinauan on the night of the 26th. Becoming lost, they instead established a foothold on Canas Point. Obtaining additional troops on January 27, Wainwright eliminated the Longoskayan and Quinauan threats. Tenaciously defending Canas Point, the Japanese were not expelled until February 13.

    As the Battle of the Points raged, Morioka and Nara continued assaults on the main USAFFE line. While attacks on Parker's corps were turned back in heavy fighting between January 27 and 31, Japanese forces succeeded in breaching Wainwright's line via the Toul River. Quickly closing this gap, he isolated the attackers into three pockets which were reduced by February 15. As Wainwright was dealing with this threat, a reluctant Homma accepted that he lacked the forces to break MacArthur's defenses. As a result, he ordered his men to fall back to a defensive line on February 8 to await reinforcements. Though a victory that boosted morale, USAFFE continued to suffer from a critical shortage of key supplies. With the situation temporarily stabilized efforts continued to relieve the forces on Bataan and the fortress island of Corregidor to the south. These were largely unsuccessful as only three ships were able to run the Japanese blockade while submarines and aircraft lacked the carrying capacity to bring the needed quantities.

    Battle of Bataan - Reorganization:

    In February, the leadership in Washington began to believe that USAFFE was doomed. Unwilling to lose a commander of MacArthur's skill and prominence, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered him to evacuate to Australia. Reluctantly leaving on March 12, MacArthur traveled to Mindanao by PT boat before flying to Australia on a B-17 Flying Fortress. With his departure, USAFFE was reorganized into the United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP) with Wainwright in overall command. Leadership on Bataan passed to Major General Edward P. King. Though March saw efforts to better train USFIP forces, disease and malnutrition badly depleted the ranks. By April 1, Wainwright's men were living on quarter rations.

    Battle of Bataan - Fall:

    To the north, Homma took February and March to refit and reinforce his army. As it regained strength, it began to intensify artillery bombardments of the USFIP lines. On April 3, Japanese artillery unleashed the most intense shelling of the campaign. Later in the day, Homma ordered a massive assault on the 41st Division (PA)'s position. Part of II Corps, the 41st was effectively broken by the artillery bombardment and offered little resistance to the Japanese advance. Overestimating King's strength, Homma moved forward cautiously. Over the next two days, Parker fought desperately to save his crumbling left as King attempted to counterattack north. As II Corps was overwhelmed, I Corps began falling back on the night of April 8. Later that day, seeing that further resistance would be hopeless, King reached out to the Japanese for terms. Meeting with Major General Kameichiro Nagano the next day, he surrendered the forces on Bataan.

    Battle of Bataan - Aftermath

    Though pleased that Bataan had finally fallen, Homma was angry that the surrender did not include the USFIP forces on Corregidor and elsewhere in the Philippines. Massing his troops, he landed on Corregidor on May 5 and captured the island in two days of fighting. With the fall of Corregidor, Wainwright surrendered all remaining forces in the Philippines. In the fighting on Bataan, American and Filipino forces sustained around 10,000 killed and 20,000 wounded while the Japanese sustained approximately 7,000 killed and 12,000 wounded. In addition to the casualties, USFIP lost 12,000 American and 63,000 Filipino soldiers as prisoners. Though suffering from combat wounds, disease, and malnutrition, these prisoners were marched north to prisoner of war camps in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Lacking food and water, prisoners were beaten or bayoneted if they fell behind or were unable to walk. Thousands of USFIP prisoners died before reaching the camps. Following the war, Homma was convicted of war crimes relating to the march and was executed on April 3, 1946.

    Selected Sources

  • Corregidor Historical Society: Bataan
  • HistoryNet: Battle of Bataan - Brigadier General Clyde A. Selleck Commands the Layac Line
  • US Army: Bataan Death March
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