World War Two: Fall of Philippines (3-10A); Withdrawal to Bataan 1941

The success of the Japanese landings at Lingayen Gulf and Lamon Bay ended all hopes for an American victory in the Philippines. Only one day after the landing to the north, on 23 December, General MacArthur decided that he would have to fall back to Bataan and fight a delaying action there until help could arrive. This decision, made only under the greatest necessity, was the basic strategic decision of the campaign in the Philippines.

“WPO-3 Is in Effect”

Before the war, General MacArthur had determined that he would meet a Japanese attack by offensive action, not by what he considered to be the passive defense provided for in WPO-3. Accordingly, he had ordered his force commanders to meet the Japanese at the beaches and to drive them back into the sea. There was to be “no withdrawal from beach positions.” The first Japanese landings between 8 and 10 December had caused no change in this strategy.

Once the Japanese had landed, General MacArthur had to consider seriously the prospect of an eventual withdrawal to Bataan and the evacuation of Manila. To prepare President Quezon for the worst, he sent word to him on the morning of the 12th to be ready to move to Corregidor on four hours’ notice.

Shocked and wholly unprepared for this “startling message,” Quezon arranged a conference with MacArthur that night at the Manila Hotel. At the meeting, MacArthur explained that there was no immediate cause for concern, and that he was only “preparing for the worst in case the Japanese should land in great force at different places.” In such an event, it would be unwise, he told Quezon, to have his forces scattered. He intended to concentrate his army on Bataan, and to move his headquarters, the High Commissioner’s office, and the Commonwealth Government to Corregidor and declare Manila an open city. “Do you mean, General,” asked Quezon, “that tomorrow you will declare Manila an open city and that some time during the day we shall have to go to Corregidor?” MacArthur’s answer was an emphatic “No.” He did not seem to be certain that the move would even be necessary, and was evidently only preparing the President for such a possibility. The meeting closed with Quezon’s promise to consider the matter further. Later he consented, with reluctance, to move to Corregidor if necessary.

The possibility of a withdrawal seems to have been in the minds of other officers in MacArthur’s headquarters before the main Japanese landings. During an inspection of the 21st Field Artillery sector along Lingayen Gulf, ColonelConstant L. Irwin, MacArthur’s G-3, showed little interest in the tactical placement of the guns. He seemed concerned, instead, with the location of the ammunition and supply routes, selected to conform with the mission of holding at the beaches. “He took a look at our ammunition disposition and the dangerous supply routes,” wrote Colonel Mallonee, instructor of the 21st Field Artillery, “and very violently announced that it would be impossible to withdraw the ammunition in time to save it. …” This was the first time, remarked Mallonee, that he heard the word “withdraw.” He explained to Colonel Irwin that his orders were to hold at all costs, and repeated Wainwright’s order: “We must die in our tracks, falling not backward but forward toward the enemy.” The answer of the G-3 officer was, “Don’t believe everything you hear.”

Colonel Mallonee, as well as the chief of staff and senior instructor of the 21st Division, was now thoroughly confused about the mission and after a conference decided to request clarification from General Wainwright’s headquarters. They were told that the mission was still to hold at all costs, but, added Colonel Mallonee, “by the manner in which it was issued it was evident that there is considerable doubt in the minds of the North Luzon Force command as to whether the mission is actually as given.”

As early as 12 December, then, General MacArthur was preparing the ground for measures that would have to be taken if he decided that it was necessary to withdraw to Bataan. When General Homma landed his 14th Army at Lingayen Gulf ten days later, on 22 December, MacArthur still made no change in his plan. But his message to General Marshall on that date shows that he now believed he might have to withdraw quickly. He estimated that the Japanese disembarking from the seventy to eighty transports in Lingayen Gulf had a strength of 80,000 to 100,000 men, and reported that he had on Luzon only about 40,000 men “in units partially equipped.” He anticipated that “this enormous tactical discrepancy” would force him “to operate in delaying action on successive lines through the Central Luzon plain to final defensive posItion on Bataan.”

[Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No.3, 22 Dec 41, AG 381 (11-27-41 Gen) Far East. Although MacArthur stated that he had only 40,000 men on Luzon, an analysis of the units present indicates that thc number of troops was actually much higher. The strength of the American garrison, even without the air force, could not have been less than 20,000, including the 12,000 Philippine Scouts. To this figure must be added the strength of seven Philippine Army reserve divisions and one regular division, as well as the Constabulary, inducted into the service of the United States in December. Many of the units were undoubtedly at two-thirds strength, but even at half strength, the total number of troops on Luzon at this time could not have been less than 75,000-80,000.The number of Japanese troops who landed at Lingayen between 22 and 28 December was about 43,000.]

When forced to do so, he told General Marshall, he would declare Manila an open city to save the civilian population and move his headquarters, together with the Philippine Commonwealth Government and the High Commissioner’s office, to Corregidor, which, he said, “I intend to hold.” General Marshall immediately replied that his proposed line of action was approved and that he was doing his utmost to send aid.

The fighting in North Luzon on 22 and 23 December and the rapid advance by the Japanese to Rosario apparently convinced MacArthur that the time had come to put the scheme for withdrawal into effect. General Wainwright’s request on the afternoon of the 23d for permission to withdraw behind the Agno River must have confirmed this decision. To these military considerations must be added General MacArthur’s desire to save the city of Manila from destruction.

But the chief reason for the withdrawal order was the failure of the troops to hold the enemy. Up to this time General MacArthur seems to have had the greatest confidence in the fighting qualities of the Philippine Army reservists and in the ability of his forces to hold the central Luzon plain. The events of the 22d and 23d forced a revision of this view. “General MacArthur, viewing the broken, fleeing North Luzon Force,” wrote Colonel Collier, a sympathetic observer, “realized that his cherished plan of defeating an enemy attempt to advance toward Manila from the north was not now possible.”

MacArthur’s position on 23 December 1941 was somewhat akin to the position in which General Yamashita found himself three years later, when the victorious Americans were preparing to invade Luzon. Realizing that his opponent’s air and naval forces were far superior to his own, that American ground forces were free to land on any beaches they chose, and that their superior mobility and fire power were too great for him, he concluded that the Japanese would be unable “to conduct warfare on flat land.” Yamashita, therefore, decided to withdraw from Manila and the central Luzon plain, and to fight a delaying action to “divert American forces in Luzon so as to keep them from attacking Japan as long as possible.”

Unlike General MacArthur, Yamashita hoped to accomplish his objective by withdrawing into the mountains of northern Luzon. He might have been more successful if he had retired to Bataan, as the Americans had four years earlier. From there he could have maintained his forces intact and have denied the Americans, for a time at least, the use of Manila Bay.

[A. Frank Reel, The Case of General Yamashita (Chicago, 1949), pp. 21-22. Most of the Japanese officers who read this volume in manuscript form did not agree with the author that a withdrawal to Bataan by Yamashita would have resulted in a more successful defense. Comments of Former Japanese Officers Regarding The Fall of the Philippines, p. 41, OCMH.]

The decision having been made to withdraw to Bataan, USAFFE notified all force commanders that “WPO-3 is in effect. Nothing more was required. WPO-3 was an old plan, well known to all U.S. Army officers who had been in the Philippines six months or more. Under it, the Philippine Department headquarters, after the experience of numerous maneuvers, had selected certain delaying positions along the central Luzon plain. These positions had been reconnoitered and were considered fairly strong defensive lines along the route of withdrawal to Bataan. It only remained to issue written orders to supplement the announcement that WPO-3 was in effect.

The next morning, 24 December, at 1100, the USAFFE staff was called to a conference. General Sutherland announced the decision and stated that the headquarters was to be moved to Corregidor that evening. Each man was to take with him only field equipment and one suitcase or bedroll. By special order all officers in the headquarters, except those of high rank who had been promoted a few days earlier, were promoted one grade. To the War Department General MacArthur sent news of his decision, as well as the further information that the Japanese had landed at Atimonan and Mauban that morning. “Tonight I plan to disengage my forces under cover of darkness,” he wrote. “For the present, I am remaining in Manila, establishing an advanced headquarters on Corregidor.” After evacuating the High Commissioner and the Commonwealth Government, he told the Chief of Staff, he would declare Manila an open city.

On the afternoon of the 24th, President Quezon and High Commissioner Sayre, with their personal and official families, sailed to Corregidor aboard the interisland steamer Mayan. Many Philippine officials simply packed a few belongings and left the city, despite the order that all Commonwealth officials would remain at their posts.

The headquarters began to move out on the Don Esteban after 1900 that day. “It was a beautiful moonlit night,” wrote Colonel Collier, “and the cheerful, peaceful murmuring of the rippling waves from the cutting prow of the ship belied the havoc of war.” It was Christmas Eve, and the men sat around on deck talking in hushed tones and watching the flames rising from the Navy’s fuel dump where over 1,000,000 gallons of oil had been fired earlier in the day.

The Don Esteban docked at Corregidor at 2130, and the next morning Headquarters, USAFFE, opened on the island. That day, MacArthur reported to the War Department that his headquarters had moved. A rear echelon, headed by Brigadier General Richard J. Marshall, Deputy Chief of Staff, remained behind in Manila to close out the headquarters and supervise the shipment of supplies and the evacuation of the remaining troop.

There was much to do in the days that followed to prepare Bataan for the troops destined to make their last stand there. On the morning of the 24th, Colonel Lewis C. Beebe, G-4, USAFFE, and Brigadier General Charles C. Drake, Quartermaster, were called to General Marshall’s office and there told of the decision to withdraw all troops on Luzon to Bataan and to evacuate Manila.

General Drake was instructed to move his base of operations to Bataan immediately and to check on the reserves at Corregidor to be sure that there was enough to supply 10,000 men for six months. Small barges and boats required to move the supplies from Manila to Corregidor and Bataan were quickly gathered, and within twenty-four hours Corregidor was completely stocked with the supplies for a six months’ campaign.

At the same time, all supplies were immediately started on their way to Bataan by every available means-water, truck, and rail. Ammunition had already been stored in the peninsula, together with certain defense reserves including 300,000 gallons of gasoline, lubricating oil, and greases, and about 3,000 tons of canned meats and fish.

In Manila, the rear echelon worked valiantly to get all the supplies out of the city before the Japanese moved in. Those small craft not transferred to Corregidor and Bataan were destroyed; demolitions were carried out with efficiency and dispatch. By the time General Marshall and his men moved out on New Year’s Eve, most of the supplies that might possibly be of value to the enemy had been destroyed.

At the same time that a revised supply plan was put into effect, a revised plan of operations was quickly worked out. The object of these plans was to gain time to prepare defenses on Bataan and to permit an orderly withdrawal into the peninsula.

[Interv, author with R. J. Marshall, 7 Apr 48; Carlos P. Romuto, I Saw the Fall of the Philippines (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1942), pp.68-90. The first specification in the charge against General Homma when he was tried as a war criminal in Manila in 1946 was the violation of an open city. Since Manila was used as a base of supplies, and since a U.S. Army headquarters was based in the city and troops passed through it after 26 December, it is difficult to see how Manila could be considered an open city between 26 and 31 December 1941. Nevertheless, the charge against General Homma stood. USA vs. Homma, specification of charges.]

Wainwright’s North Luzon Force was to hold the Japanese north of the key city of San Fernando, Pampanga-where Route 7, the main highway leading into the Bataan peninsula, began-until 8 January, then withdraw into Bataan. This would provide time for the South Luzon Force to move up past Manila and into Bataan and give those troops already on Bataan an opportunity to establish a line. The withdrawal was to be in five phases, or along five lines. On each line Wainwright’s men were to hold only long enough to force the enemy to prepare for an organized attack. The object was to delay, not defeat, the enemy and to reach Bataan intact.

General Parker’s South Luzon Force was to withdraw west and north along successive defense lines through and around Manila, across the Pampanga River, spanned by the two bridges known collectively as the Calumpit Bridge, to San Fernando, and then to Bataan. All of the South Luzon Force was to clear the bridge before 8 January. The Calumpit Bridge therefore became a critical point in the plan for withdrawal. It had to be held until all the troops in the South Luzon Force passed over.

To prepare defensive positions on Bataan, the Bataan Defense Force was organized on the 24th. General Parker was placed in command and given two Philippine Army divisions, the 31st and 41st (less 42d Infantry), in addition to the troops already in Bataan to do the job. Command of the South Luzon Force, which consisted during, the withdrawal of the 51st Division (PA), one regiment of the 1st Division, the 42d Infantry, plus supporting tanks and SPM’s, passed to General Jones.

The only troops in Bataan when Parker reached there at 1700 of the 24th were the Philippine Division (less 57th Combat Team and one battalion of the 45th Infantry) and a provisional air corps regiment. The 14th Engineers (PS) marked out the defensive positions and the Philippine Army troops, when they arrived on the peninsula, moved into these positions and began to dig foxholes and put up wire. Brigadier General Clifford Bluemel’s 31st Division (PA), stationed along the Zambales coast was the first into Bataan. Its movement was completed by 26 December. Two days later the 41st Division (P A), less elements, took up its position along the skeleton line.

The plan for the withdrawal of the forces in north and south Luzon called for a difficult maneuver requiring accurate timing and the closest co-ordination. Should the forces in north and south Luzon fail to pull back to Bataan, or should the Japanese seize the road net leading into the peninsula, then the strategic objective of the withdrawal, the denial of Manila Bay to the enemy, would be jeopardized.

The North Luzon Force Plan

The North Luzon Force plan of withdrawal was based on the five delaying positions or lines selected and reconnoitered during peacetime. Separated by the estimated distance which could be covered in one night’s march, these lines utilized the terrain features advantageous in defenserivers, high ground, and swamps. Each was anchored on high ground and took full advantage of natural barriers. They lay across the face of the central Luzon plain and covered the main approaches to Manila, Routes 3 and 5.

The first defensive line, known as D-1, extended in an easterly direction from Aguilar, south of Lingayen Gulf on Route 13, through San Carlos to Urdaneta on Route 3. As Colonel William F. Maher, Wainwright’s chief of staff, has observed, the D-1 line “was simply a line on which we hoped to be able to reorganize the badly disorganized forces north of the Agno River.”

The second position, the D-2 line, extended in general along the arc of the Agno River, one of the formidable natural barriers in the central plain. After holding for one day on this line, the troops were to retire next to the D-3 line, stretching from Santa Ignacia on the west through Gerona and Guimba to San Jose on the east. The D-4 line was approximately twenty-five miles long and extended from Tarlac on the left (west) to Cabanatuan on the right. Small rivers and streams intersected this line, which, at Cabanatuan, was anchored on the Pampanga River.

The final and most southerly position, called the D-5 line, stretched from Bamban in front of Mt. Arayat, across Route 5 to Sibul Springs. Southeast of Mt. Arayat, between the Pampanga River and Route 5, was the Candaba Swamp, which broke the central plain into two narrow corridors leading toward Manila. Of the five lines, only the last, the D-5 line, was to be organized for a protracted defense. Plans called for a stand here until the South Luzon Force could slip behind the North Luzon Force, up Route 3, into San Fernando.

During its withdrawal to Bataan, the North Luzon Force was to be supported by General Weaver’s Provisional Tank Group, whose job it would be to cover the withdrawal, sweep enemy avenues of approach, and halt hostile mechanized movement. The tanks were deployed on alternate sides of the road, at curves and bends, to achieve maximum sweep of their weapons with a minimum of exposure. Always they were to take care that they left themselves a route of escape. When required to withdraw, the tanks were to move back one at a time, under cover of the forward tank. The tankers were to select their positions after a careful reconnaissance, and with an eye to fields of fire, alternate positions, avenues of approach, and emergency escape routes.

The success of the withdrawal would depend to a large degree on the engineers. Their task was twofold: to maintain roads and bridges ahead of the retreating columns, and to destroy the bridges and block the roads already passed to halt the enemy advance. Demolitions and the construction of obstacles before the D-1 line were to be accomplished by the front-line units; North Luzon Force engineers, consisting principally of the engineer battalion of the 91st Division (PA), were made responsible for all work south of that line. The destruction of railroad bridges was left to a special detachment of demolition experts from MacArthur’s headquarters, attached to North Luzon Force. Demolitions were to be executed by the engineers when ordered by the division or covering force commander and when the tanks and vehicles of the last elements of the rear guard had cleared the bridge.

The term line, applied to the five delaying positions, is misleading. Actually the front was too wide to be held continuously by the forces available to General Wainwright. Unit commanders were given considerable leeway in occupying their positions and usually could do little more than place their troops so as to cover the most likely routes of approach. Each line was to be occupied before dawn, held during the day, and evacuated at night, the troops withdrawing to the next line. Their withdrawal would be covered by a shell, a small part of the retiring force, which was to remain in position until just before dawn when it was to pull back hastily to rejoin its parent unit on the line below. This shell, in theory, would consist of an infantry-artillery team, but in practice often included only one of these arms.

By occupying these positions successively and holding them with a shell while the bulk of the force retired to the safety of a prepared position to the rear, MacArthur hoped to force the enemy to halt and deploy for an attack before each position. By the time he was ready to attack, the line would be evacuated. In this way, the Japanese advance southward would be considerably delayed, and time would be gained to prepare defenses on Bataan and to permit the South Luzon Force to pass into the peninisuIa behind the North Luzon Force. The danger of the scheme lay in the Japanese control of the air, which made it possible for them to play havoc with the retiring road-bound tanks and artillery. The risk was a calculated one, but the danger was minimized by limiting important movement” to the hours of darkness.”

The supply of the troops during the withdrawal would be difficuLieutenant The problems ordinarily encountered in supplying large bodies of mobile troops during a retrograde movement would be complicated by the shortage of supplies and trained supply officers, the necessity of moving a large amount of equipment to Bataan, and the destruction of those supplies which could not be saved. The fact that most of the men were inadequately trained, poorly equipped, and often undisciplined would add considerably to the difficulties.

To the Tarlac-Cabanatuan Line

On Christmas Eve the North Luzon Force stood generally along a line extending from Tayug on the east through Urdaneta and San Carlos to Aguilar on the west. All units were under orders to hold for twenty-four hours before falling back to the Agno. On the right (east) was the 26th Cavalry (PS). That afternoon the Scouts had been forced to retreat from Binalonan across the Agno River to Tayug, thus actually anchoring the North Luzon Force at the start of the withdrawal on the D-2 line. At Tayug, the cavalrymen had relieved the 71st Engineer Battalion (P A) covering the river crossing and had joined the 91st Division (PA) and the remnants of the 71st.

Rest of Tayug, holding the center of the North Luzon Force line from Urdaneta to San Carlos, was General Brougher’s 11th Division (PA). Also in the center was the 192d Tank Battalion, at this time the only armor in support of the North Luzon Force. On the afternoon of the 24th it was moving south toward the Agno, under orders to deploy along the south bank. Already on its way toward the river was the 194th, which had left Manila that morning with orders to assemble in the vicinity of Carmen.

Extending the North Luzon Force line west from San Carlos to the Zambales Mountains, straddling the Agno, was General Capinpin’s 21 st Division (PA). Stationed initially along the southern shore of Lingayen Gulf, this division had not yet come in contact with the enemy. Its orders were to withdraw at 1900 on the 24th in two columns along the two roads, one on each side of the river.

Withdrawal to the Agno

At the appointed hour, 1900 of 24 December, the 21st Division began to withdraw. Wire communication between the division command post and front-line units was discontinued and signal troops began reclaiming the wire for later use. The first units to move out were the 22d Infantry and the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery. Blowing the large bridges to the rear, they retired down the road toward San Carlos. West of the Agno, the 21st Infantry began to withdraw from its beach positions at about 1900. By 2130 of Christmas Eve, division headquarters had reached its new command post on Route 13, eleven miles south of San Carlos. So quiet had the night been that ColonelRay M. O’Day, division instructor, turning on his radio to hear the midnight mass, “looked up at Heaven and could hardly believe it was a war-torn world.”

The withdrawal continued all through the night. By about 0400 of 25 December the bulk of the 21st Infantry had reached Aguilar and, when the sun rose, its 3d Battalion moved across the Agno in bane as to take up positions along the east-west road to San Carlos. It was not until late afternoon that the last covering units reached the D-1 line. They had been held up by delays in the destruction of many small bridges, and in one case, premature demolition of a bridge had forced the abandonment of precious vehicles. There had been no hostile contact during the withdrawal.

The rest of the North Luzon Force spent a less peaceful Christmas. The enemy, prevented from reaching the Agno on 24 December by the stiff defense of the 26th CavaIry, continued his efforts the next day. With Binalonan in his possession, General Tsuchibashi, the 48th Division commander, could now split his force into two columns. One he sent south on Route 3 to Urdaneta, where the 11thDivision was posted; the other went east toward Tayug. The column along Route 3 would consist of the 1st and 2d Formosa Infantry with the 4th Tank Regiment. The remainder of the 48th Division (less 1st Battalion, 47th Infantry at Damortis), concentrated in the Pozorrubio-Binalonan area during the night of 24-25 December.

At 0200 of Christmas morning, the 1st and 2d Formosa and the 4th Tank Regiment moved out against Urdaneta, which was defended by elements of the 11th Division’s 13th Infantry (PA). The fight lasted all morning but the Japanese proved too strong for the Filipinos and by noon had control of the town. The 11thDivision then began falling back toward the Agno.

Meanwhile, on the right flank of the North Luzon Force there had been a shuffling of units. The 71st Division, ordered to San Fernando, Pampanga, for reorganization, was moving out of the line. The 91st Division, with the 26th Cavalry attached, was under orders to pull back to the next line at 2100, leaving a shell on the river until dawn of the 26th. The cavalry was to hold the river line at Tayug to cover General Stevens’ withdrawal and to protect the force right flank. A shell from the 91st Division, the 92d Combat Team, was to take up a position to Pierce’s left, along the Agno as far south as Carmen.

By evening of 25 December, the 11th Division, in the center, stood on the Agno River and was in its D- 2 positions. Defense of Carmen and its important bridge, rebuilt by the 91 st Engineer Battalion, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, in force reserve since the second week of hostilities. To it’s left (west) along a 2,000-yard front west of Carmen, was the 13th Infantry. The rest of the 11thDivision sector, extending to Bautista, was held by the 11th Infantry.

The 21st Division was on the left, the 92d Combat Team and the 26th Cavalry on the right of the D-2 line. Spread thin along the Agno River between Carmen and Route 13, a distance of twenty-five miles, was the 194th Tank Battalion (less Company C) which had reached the river at 1900 the previous night. Tank support on the right side of the line was provided by the 192d Tank Battalion, which covered the sixteen miles from Carmen to Tayug.”

When the move was completed and all of the North Luzon Force had reached D-2, General MacArthur reported to Washington, “Our position now along the Agno River.” Thus far, the withdrawal had proceeded satisfactorily. The Japanese had attacked at only one point and had achieved their objective, but had not disrupted the American scheme of withdrawal. Already the important bridges across the Agno, at Bayambang and Villasis, were ready for destruction.

Fight on the Agno

The D-2 line, from three to twelve miles behind the D-1 line, depended primarily on the curving Agno River for its strength. Both flanks were guarded by high ground. The two critical points on the line were Tayug and Carmen, both important road junctions. A break-through at Tayug would open the right of the North Luwn Force to a hostile flanking movement; a Japanese penetration at Carmen would split the defenses in the center. Failing to hold either of these vital points, the North Luzon Force would have to abandon its position and perhaps its plan of withdrawal.

While Wainwright was pulling back to the Agno, the Japanese had not been idle. Shortly after noon on 25 December, an advance element of Lieutenant Colonel Kuro Kitamura’s 48th Reconnaissance Regiment, moving east from Binalonan, met patrols of the 26th Cavalry at Asingan, across the river from Tayug. By 1900 Kitamura’s troops had driven the Scouts back to the river where the 2d Squadron was already in position on the opposite shore. Only the soft mud of the riverbank had prevented the Japanese tanks from crossing immediately. The struggle continued into the night and at 0200 the next morning, when the Japanese finally reached the opposite shore, the Scouts broke off the action. By 0400 Tayug was in enemy hands. Since further opposition was futile, Colonel Pierce withdrew to the 91st Division line at Umingan, ten miles to the southeast.

Blowing eight bridges between Tayug an San Quintin as it retired, the decimated 26th Cavalry passed through General Stevens’ line at 0545. Later in the day, under North Luzon Force orders, it continued south toward Bataan as force reserve. The Scouts had fought with great effect in the five days since the Japanese landings and had contributed in a large degree to the enemy delay. Their discipline and courageous stands at Damortis, Rosario, and Binalonan had shown that the Philippine soldier, properly trained, equipped, and led, was the equal of any.

While the 48th Reconnaissance Regiment was attacking the 26th Cavalry at Tayug, the second of General Tsuchibashi’s columns–consisting of the 2d Formosa, a battalion of the 1st Formosa, and the 4th Tank Regiment-was moving due south against Carmen. During the evening of 25 December, this force entered unoccupied Villasis on Route 3, only a mile north of Carmen and the Agno River. After a preliminary air strike behind the lines by twelve planes of the 8th and 16th Light Bombardment Regiments, the Japanese opened the assault against Carmen, crossing the Agno near Villasis after sunset of the 26th. The 2d Formosa and the 4th Tank Regiment, with artillery in support, met opposition from the 37-mm. guns of the 194th Tank Battalion, which, having only armor-piercing shells, was unable to hold up the Japanese advance.

Late in the afternoon of the 26th, when news of the withdrawal of the 26th Cavalry on the right reached Wainwright, he ordered the 11thDivision to fall back through Carmen to Route 3, then south to the D-3 line. Before the move could get under way, the Japanese shattered the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, at Carmen, inflicting two hundred casualties and capturing Major Robert Besson, the battalion commander.

By 1930 Carmen was in enemy hands. The Japanese pushed on vigorously, a battalion of the 1st Formosa striking the 92d Combat Team on the right of the 11thDivision line. Two hours later the enemy was in Rosales, three miles to the east of Carmen. With Route 3 in Japanese hands, the 11th Division was forced to fall back via the Manila Railroad, which extended along the western (left) edge of its sector. There was no other route of retreat in this area. Behind the division front was a large, roadless area covered with rice fields. The only routes leading to the rear were on the division flanks-Route 3 on the east and the Manila Railroad on the west. Swift action on the part of General Brougher in commandeering and dispatching a locomotive and several freight cars from Tarlac that night made possible the escape of the troops.

The Provisional Tank Group encountered greater difficulty in withdrawing than had the infantry. Colonel Ernest B. Miller, the 194th Tank Battalion commander, had told General Weaver at 1830 of the 26th that the enemy might soon cross the Agno and that there remained “nothing but the tanks to stop it.” Actually, the Japanese were already across the river. Weaver ordered Miller to hold at the D-2line until 0500 the following day. The 192d Tank Battalion to the east was also ordered to hold, but Colonel Miller as the senior tank officer was authorized to withdraw both battalions sooner if Japanese action threatened to cut their line of retreat.

[Bataan Uncensored, pp. 97-98; Itr, Miller to Ward, 31 Dec 51, OCMH; Weaver, Comments on Draft MS, Comment 13, OCMH. Miller claims he was given no authority to withdraw earlier if necessary. He also claims that no holding orders were issued to the 192d. Weaver stated that his orders were given to both battalion commanders. The 192d has prepared no reports and efforts by the author to secure additional material on this question from the battalion commander have been unsuccessful. Colonel Miller intimates that General Weaver was keeping the tanks in a “rat trap.” There is no direct evidence other than Colonel Miller’s published statements to substantiate such a view.]

In the 192d Tank Battalion area the tactical situation made compliance with General Weaver’s order impossible. Around dusk on 26 December, Colonel John H. Rodman, commanding the 92d Combat Team, informed Colonel Theodore Wickord, the 192d commander, that the infantry was pulling back on the right to form a line from Carmen to Umingan. When the 92d pulled back at about 2100, Wickord’s battalion also moved out. It moved east past Carmeh, then south, before the Japanese could blockade the route of escape, and reached the D-3 line without difficulty.

Meanwhile, the 194th Tank Battalion made its own way south as best it could. The tanks of Company A fought their way through a Japanese roadblock at the edge of Carmen and retreated down Route 3. Above San Manuel, about six miles south, Colonel Miller, the battalion commander, organized a roadblock with three tanks; all the others he sent to the rear. Shortly after, a single half-track with a 7S-mm. gun (SPM), commanded by Captain Gordon H. Peck, came down the road after having cut its way through the cane fields. Placing himself under Colonel Miller’s orders, Peck took his place at the roadblock. At about 2300, General Brougher, the 11th Division commander, arrived at San Manuel. He explained that his division was moving back by rail and asked that the tanks cover the railroad until the Filipino troops could pass through to safety. It was finally agreed that the block would be held as long as possible before the tanks and the SPM fell back five miles to Moncada, where the railroad crossed Route 3. The troop trains carrying the 11thDivision were expected to pass through that town at 0400 on 27 December.

All was quiet at the roadblock until a few hours before dawn. At about 0245, after the last stragglers had cleared the block, a Japanese armored column, apparently advance elements of the 4th Tank Regiment, reached the spot. Fire from the American tanks and SPM’s swept the highway and adjoining ditches. The Japanese were taken completely by surprise and after fifteen minutes pulled back. Fearing encirclement by Japanese infantry, Miller and Peck then struck out for Moncadale.

The tanks and the SPM that had formed the roadblock moved slowly down Route 3 in the dark hours before dawn. They reached the rail crossing in Moncada only a scant ten minutes before the 11thDivision troop trains entered the town. Once the trains had cleared the danger point, Colonel Miller continued his march south and reached the D-3 line at Gerona at. About 0830 on the morning of 27 December. Here he was joined by the survivors of the battalion’s Company D. Cut off from retreat, the company had come south along an old carabao cart trail, the Manila Railroad tracks, and Route 3. It found the bridge just below Moncada destroyed and was forced to leave its fifteen tanks north of the stream. This decision had been made in the hope that some of the men could return later with guides and bring the tanks south. This expectation could not be fulfilled and the tanks were lost for the rest of the campaign.

[Miller, Bataan Uncensored, pp. 103-04, 108-09; Prov Tank Gp Rpt of Opns, p. 12; Captain Jack C. Altman, 194th Tank Bn, p. 3, Chunn Notebooks; Weaver, Comments on Draft MS, Comment 15, OCMH. During an interrogation at the end of the war General Homma stated that the 9th Infantry had reported the capture of twenty-three tanks stranded north of a river above Paniqui after the bridge had been blown. Interv, Colonel Walter E . Buchly with Homma, Manila, Mar 46, copy in OCMH.]-[There was an investigation of the blowing of the bridge and the loss of the tanks in prison camps in Formosa and Manchuria in 1944 and 1945.]

The D-3 Line

Approximately forty miles in length, the D-3 line stretched across the Luzon central plain midway between Lingayen Gulf and San Fernando, Pampanga, from a point just west of Santa Ignacia on Route 13 to San Jose in Nueva Ecija Province, at the junction of Routes 5 and 8. Deployed along this line were the 91st, 11th, and 21st Divisions (PA), supported by the Provisional Tank Group and the 75-mm. guns (SPM).

The right (east) flank, resting on the foothills of the Sierra Madre, was held by the 91st Division which had taken up positions across Route 5 and on the south bank of a small river in the vicinity of San Jose. Between Route 5 and Gerona on Route 3 were the 11thDivision and the bulk of the Tank Group–the 194th at Gerona and the 192d to its right. The 21st Division, whose two columns had reunited at Camiling, was in position between Gerona and Santa Ignacia at the edge of the Zambales Mountains.

Despite occasional alarms there was no action on the D-3 line on 27 December. That night the North Luzon Force made ready to fall back to the D-4 line. The 91st Division began pulling out at about 1730 and by 0430 had reached the south bank then shown that Company D had reached the Moncada bridge fifteen hours after the last tanks of its battalion headquarters and fourteen hours after the last infantry elements had crossed. No tank guides from either Company A or Battalion Headquarters, 194th Tank Battalion, had been left behind to direct the withdrawal of Company D, of the Pampanga a few thousand yards below Cabanatuan. Two hours later the entire unit was ordered into the line between Cabanatuan and Carmen, Nueva Ecija, a barrio on the road ten miles west of Cabanatuan and not to be confused with the village of the same name on the Agno.

At Carmen the 91st Division tied in with units of the 11th Infantry that had withdrawn from the D-3 line during the night and were deployed from Carmen west to La Paz. The 21st Division stood on the left of the 11thDivision, extending the line to Tarlac, where Route 13 joined Route 3 and the main track of the Manila Railroad. The tanks were in general support.

On the Agno River the Japanese halted to consolidate their position and bring up more troops. During the 27th, artillery, armor, and service troops moved forward to join the 48th Division. The 47th Infantry and a battalion of artillery, in reserve near Pozorrubio since 24 December, together with the 7th Tank Regiment, were dispatched to Tayug. Infantry and artillery units occupied San Quintin to the south and patrols pushed forward into undefended Umingan. On the 48th Division right (west), the 1st Formosa consolidated its hold on Rosales. One battalion of the regiment remained at Urdaneta, and another went on to Carmen to relieve Colonel Tanaka’s troops who then moved back across the Agno to Villasis for rest.

By 28 December the North Luzon Force was on the D-4 line. In the face of a well trained and better equipped enemy, it had fulfilled its mission-to hold the Agno line until the night of 26-27 December and to withdraw to the Tarlac-Cabanatuan line. Now, from positions along this line, the troops in North Luzon awaited the next attack.

SOURCE: Fall of the Philippines; BY Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Fall of Philippines (3-10B); Withdrawal to Bataan

World War Two: Fall of Philippines (2-9); Strategy and Logistics


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