World War Two: Fall of Philippines (4-15):The Siege of Bataan: Setting the Stage

Formed by the southern heights of the Zambales Mountains, the Bataan peninsula juts out from the mainland of Luzon between Subic and Manila Bay like a huge thumb pointing at the shore of Cavite Province only twelve miles away. Between Bataan and the Cavite shore lie Corregidor and several smaller islands, guarding the entrance to Manila Bay.

Only twenty-five miles long and twenty miles wide across its base, Bataan is ideally suited for defensive warfare. It is jungled and mountainous, cut by numerous streams and deep ravines, and has only two roads adequate for motor vehicles. Dominating the peninsula are two extinct volcanoes: the 4,222-foot high Mt. Natib in the north and, to the south, the Mariveles Mountains whose highest peak, Mt. Bataan, towers to a height of 4,722 feet. Along the east coast, on the Manila Bay side, the peninsula is flat and swampy near its base but becomes hilly and rugged to the south. The coastal plain on the west is extremely narrow. Here the mountains extend almost to the sea; high cliffs guard the shore and tooth like promontories jut into the water. Radiating from the two volcanic masses flow many streams which wind their way though steep ravines and gullies toward the bay and the sea.

Bataan is crisscrossed by a large number of trails, quickly overgrown by the tropical vegetation and rarely suitable for vehicular traffic. Across the base of the peninsula is Route 7, lost to the Americans by their withdrawal from Layac. South of Layac, paralleling the east coast down to Mariveles at the tip of the peninsula, then turning north to parallel the west coast as far as Moron, is Route 110. The east coast portion, called the East Road, is a single-lane, all-weather road; the stretch from Mariveles to Moron on the opposite coast, the West Road, is not as well surfaced. The only other road of importance is an east-west road from Pilar to Bagac, midway down the peninsula and across the saddle between Mt. Natib and the Mariveles Mountains. This road, called the Pilar-Bagac road and cutting Bataan like a waist belt, was the only vehicular road providing lateral communication for the forces divided by the rugged heights of central Bataan.

No better place than Bataan could have been chosen for a final stand. There were compensations for the inhospitable countryside. “Taking it all in all,” noted Colonel Skerry, the North Luzon Force engineer, “the rugged terrain of the Bataan Peninsula, covered as it was by a thick jungle, concealed the works of the defender even when the enemy had constant air superiority and air observation.” And after two weeks of withdrawal the men were glad to reach a position that was not to be abandoned the next day. Morale was good. “The general feeling seemed to be,” wrote Colonel Collier, the assistant operations officer of USAFFE, “we have run far enough; we’ll stand now and take ’em on.”

The American Position

The defense of Bataan began officially on 7 January 1942. On that day Wainwright assumed command of the West Sector of the Bataan Defense Force, which became I Philippine Corps, and the East Sector, re-designated II Philippine Corps, came under General Parker, till then commander of the entire Bataan Defense Force. The boundary between the two corps bisected the length of the peninsula from Mt. Natib to the Mariveles Mountains. The tip of Bataan south of the Mariveles Mountains was designated the Service Command Area and responsibility for its defense given to Brigadier General Allen C. McBride, MacArthur’s deputy for the Philippine Department. To Wainwright’s corps was assigned the defense of the western half of Bataan; Parker’s corps was on the Manila Bay side.

Both corps were under MacArthur’s headquarters on Corregidor, which by 5 January had established a Bataan echelon under Brigadier General R. J. Marshall. Through Marshall’s headquarters, consisting of officers from the general and special staff sections of USAFFE, it was possible for MacArthur to exercise close control over operations on Bataan. “I am on my main battle line,” MacArthur told the War Department on 7 January, “awaiting general attack.”

The defense of Bataan was conceived as a defense in depth. The first line, called the main battle position, extended from Mabatang, a short distance north of Abucay, on the east, across Mt. Natib to Mauban on the west coast, a distance of twenty miles. A strong outpost line of resistance was established in front of the main battle position and defenses to a depth of several miles were prepared to the rear. Along the beaches on both coasts troops were posted to guard against amphibious envelopment.

In Wainwright’s corps on the west were three Philippine Army divisions, the 1st, 31st, and 91st, to which was attached the combat elements of the 71st Division (PA); the 26th Cavalry (PS); a battery each of field artillery and 75-mm. guns (SPM), and miscellaneous troops-altogether about 22,500 men. On the right (east), in Parker’s corps, were four more Philippine Army divisions, the 11th, 21st, 41st, and 51st; supporting artillery; and the 57th Infantry (PS) from the Philippine Division. General Parker had about 25,000 men in his corps.

Eight miles behind the main battle position, paralleling the Pilar-Bagac road, was the rear battle position which in prewar plans had formed the main line of the Bataan defenses. On 7 January this line was not yet fully organized; while the forces along the main battle position held back the enemy, other troops would prepare this position. Posted along this line and assigned the task of organizing it for a last-ditch defense was the USAFFE reserve, the Philippine Division (less 57th Infantry), the tank group, and a group of 75-mm. SPM’s. Corps and USAFFE artillery was emplaced to cover the front lines as well as the beach defenses in all sectors.

South of the rear battle position was the Service Command Area. Under McBride’s command was a variety of troops: the 2nd Division (PC), organized on 7 January and composed of Constabulary troops, the remaining elements of the 71st Division (PA), including the division headquarters, provisional infantry units formed from air corps troops, and a provisional battalion of bluejackets and marines.

The Mabatang-Mauban line, or Abucay-Mauban line, as it was more generally called, the main battle position, occupied on 7 January, was not a continuous line. Separating and forming an almost impenetrable barrier between the left portion held by I Corps and the right portion held by II Corps was the northernmost of the two extinct volcanoes, covering an area about fifteen by fifteen miles. Around the crater are steep and jagged peaks rising to a height of 3,000 to 4,000 feet. The northernmost peak, Mt. Santa Rosa, is 3,052 feet high.

About three and a half miles southeast is the highest point on the crater’s edge, Mt. Natib. In a distance of 2,000 yards this 4,222-foot-high mountain drops to half its height. Mt. Silanganan, to the southwest, is 3,620 feet high. On its west escarpment this land mass drops a thousand feet in as many yards. Though the military crests of these mountains provided ideal defensive positions-one officer called them “an infantryman’s dream”-they made effective mutual support between the two corps impossible. The Mt. Natib position was selected, despite its known limitations, because strategy required that a stand be made here to gain time to prepare the rear battle position and to retain as long as possible the lateral communication provided by the Pilar-Bagac road.

I Philippine Corps

The sector defended by General Wainwright’s I Philippine Corps to the west “was practically all wooded and almost wholly uninhabited.” The terrain was extremely rugged and a bolo was a necessity for a man on foot. From the South China Sea, wrote Colonel Skerry, Wainwright’s engineer officer, after a reconnaissance, this side of the peninsula “presented a most formidable appearance of very high timbered banks with a solid mass of woods stretching east to a high mountain range, heavily timbered throughout, except for the break at Bagac and Moron.” Communications in this area were poor.

That portion of the West Road which stretched from Mariveles to Bagac was poorly surfaced. Northward from Bagac as far as Moron the road had been improved and had a crushed rock surface which made it passable in all weather. The only method of continuing northward from Moron where the West Road ended was by a series of roundabout trails. “By and large,” said Skerry, “this was an area where an American needed a map, compass and bolo even in the dry season.”

The main line of resistance on this side of the peninsula followed Mauban Ridge from Mauban on the coast to Mt. Silanganan. Holding the western portion of this line was the 3d Infantry, 1st Division (PA); to its right was a battalion of the 31st Field Artillery of the 31st Division (PA), equipped and organized as an infantry unit. On the extreme right, on the slopes of Mt. Silanganan, was Company K, 1st Infantry. Its mission was to establish contact with the 51st Division on the left of II Corps-an apparently impossible task in that uncharted, mountainous country.

Only that portion of the main line of resistance held by the 3d Infantry was reinforced; it had a double apron of barbed wire. The rest of the line “was unprotected by obstacles other than the natural jungle.” The selection of Mauban as the western anchor of the main line of resistance had been debated before the war. In January 1941, at General Grunert’s direction, officers of the 26th Cavalry (PS) had made a reconnaissance of a proposed Mt. Natib- Moron line.

[General Bluemel, who commanded the west sector before Wainwright’s arrival, had ordered Brigadier General Fidel V. Segundo, the 1st Division (PA) commander, to establish contact with the left unit of the east sector. Segundo was unable to do so, and explained that there was no water on Mt. Natib and that he could not keep troops there. Bluemel finally sent a patrol led by his G-2 to establish contact with the troops to the east. The patrol was gone three days and failed to establish contact. Bluemel, Comments on Draft MS, Comment 15, OCMH.] 

When their report was in, Grunert ordered Wainwright, then commanding the Philippine Division, to prepare plans for a line from Mt. Natib to the west coast of Bataan, in the vicinity of Moron or Mauban. Officers of the 45th Infantry (PS) had then visited the area and decided to place the western anchor of the line at Mauban, where a 50- to 75-foot ridge commanded the beach and offered a clear field of fire for several hundred yards. The line established when the troops moved into Bataan, therefore, utilized the plans developed before the war, and the first draft of the field order outlining positions on Bataan at the beginning of January 1942 anchored the line at Mauban.

In commenting on the first draft of the field order establishing this line, Colonel Casey, MacArthur’s engineer officer, urged that the main line be placed further north, at Moron. Noting the excellent beach between Moron and Mauban and recognizing the danger of envelopment at Moron, he pointed out that “if the rear position [Mauban] only is held, it permits the concentration of enemy on these beaches for attack on this flank.” He had recommended therefore that Moron be “organized and defended” and the Mauban line used as a switch position.

Although Mauban remained the anchor of the main line of resistance when the final plan was drawn up, an effort was made to meet Casey’s objections. Two units, Company I of the 1st Infantry and Troop G, 26th Cavalry, were posted at Moron and along the stretch of sandy beach to the south to prevent enemy landings and to deny the landing beaches at Moron to the enemy.

The outpost line of resistance in the I Corps sector extended from the barrio of Bayandati, a mile and a half northwest of Mauban, eastward to a point about halfway up the slopes of Mt. Silanganan. The 3d Infantry held this line, which paralleled its sector on the main line of resistance. To the rear, behind the main line, was the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, forming a regimental reserve line which stretched from the beach defense below Mauban across the West Road.

Artillery support for Wainwright’s corps was provided by the 71st Field Artillery (less 1st Battalion) , two batteries of the 91st Field Artillery, one battery of the 23d Field Artillery, a battery of 75-mm. guns (SPM), and two 155-mm. guns. Colonel Fowler, who commanded this force, had altogether thirty-three pieces, all but two of which were 75-mm. guns or 2.95-inch mountain howitzers. The 75’s were emplaced along Mauban Ridge, just behind the main line of resistance, and along the high ground to the northeast. The SPM’s were disposed along a ridge about 300 yards to the south, and the shorter range 2.95-inch guns placed farther forward. The two 155-mm. guns were emplaced along the high ground near Mauban Point to cover the sea approaches as well as those by land. Secondary positions for the artillery, located about 3,000 yards to the rear, were selected, “but due to the excellent cover of the dense jungle around the primary positions,” Colonel Fowler noted, “were not occupied until the last day and night.”

Defense of the beach south of the main battle position was assigned to Brigadier General Clifford Bluemel’s 31st Division (PA). The division was responsible for a stretch of approximately ten miles, from the regimental reserve line on the north to Saysain Point, with one battalion of the 45th Infantry (PS) at Bagac Bay. Actually, Bluemel’s southern flank was extended south of the assigned limit by one battalion of the 31st Infantry (PA). In support of the 31st Division was a battery of the 92nd Coast Artillery (PS), which had gone into Bataan with Bluemel and been assigned to cover Saysain Point with its two 155-mm. guns. Another battery of that regiment was located near Bagac.

For corps reserve General Wainwright had the remnants of Selleck’s 71st Division and Stevens’ 91st Division, both badly mauled by their fight in northern Luzon. In an effort to secure one effective unit from these two divisions, the combat troops of the 7Ist were placed under Stevens’ command and the entire force reorganized. The 26th Cavalry (PS), which had joined the I Philippine Corps after a difficult overland march from Layac junction, was also tired and disorganized. Since there were no replacements for its animals and only a limited supply of forage, it was shortly reorganized into a motorized squadron of riflemen and a mechanized unit equipped with scout cars and Bren carriers.

II Philippine Corps

Defending the eastern half of the Bataan peninsula was General Parker’s II Philippine Corps, holding a line approximately 15,000 yards in length from Manila Bay to the I Corps boundary at Mt. Natib. Unlike the western half of Bataan, the eastern coast was low and swampy and devoted largely to the growth of rice. Here the cleared ground provided good fields of fire, and when the troops reached their position the flat ground to the front, consisting mainly of rice paddies, was flooded. The East Road was an excellent highway compared to the West Road and passed through many small, thriving communities such as Cabcaben, Lamao, Orion, Pilar, and Abucay. Inland, the II Corps sector became more mountainous and rugged as it approached the high volcanic mass in the center of the peninsula.

The main battle position in the II Corps sector, as in the I Corps sector, consisted of a main line of resistance, with an outpost and a regimental reserve line. The main line extended westward from Mabatang on the coast to the heights of Mt. Natib. The right flank, including the coastal plain and the East Road, was considered the most critical portion of the line. The enemy, advancing unopposed down the East Road, was expected to make his first attempt to breach the main battle position at this point. In this sector, therefore, Parker placed the fresh, well-trained Scouts of the 57th Infantry. They were to hold a line from Manila Bay across the road and approximately 2,000 yards inland as well as a portion of the beach as far south as Balanga.

Next to the 57th Infantry, extending the main line of resistance 6,500 yards to the west, was Brigadier General Vincente Lim’s 41st Division (PA). One of the first units to reach Bataan, the division was as yet untried in battle. Its three infantry regiments were disposed abreast to give maximum protection to the division front, which extended along the precipitous heights of the gorge above the shallow Balantay River.

The rest of the II Corps main line, from the left of the 41st Division to the slopes of Mt. Natib, was held by Jones’s 51st Division which had reached Bataan during the night of 3–4 January. The division, less its 52nd Infantry, which was on beach defense until 11 January, held a front of more than 5,000 yards along the Balantay River. On the right was the 51st Infantry. On the west, holding down the corps left flank and trailing off into scattered foxholes, was the 53d Infantry. The 52nd was placed in reserve when it rejoined the division.

Fortifications along the II Corps line were far stronger than in Wainwright’s sector. At least as far west as the 51st Division there was a double apron of barbed wire. Working with only a small number of picks, shovels, and axes, and substituting bayonets and the covers of mess kits for individual entrenching tools, the men were able to clear fields of fire, dig foxholes, trenches, and gun emplacements, and construct camouflage overhead. The Japanese later wrote that they found “the strongest sort of field fortifications on the II Corps line.” “Covered rifle pits and machine gun emplacements had been constructed,” they reported, “and these formed the main structure of the fire network; between them were placed foxholes. . . . The fields of fire had been cleared of cover; camouflage was thorough; the rear communications network had been carefully and thoroughly laid.”

Only in the 51st Division sector, on the corps left, were the fortifications inadequate. Here the establishment of a military line along the jungled slopes of Mt. Natib proved impossible in the time and with the tools available. No regular line was organized in this area where patrols operated with the greatest difficulty. Mt. Natib remained an insuperable barrier to the establishment of physical contact between the two corps.

Long-range artillery support in Parker’s sector was provided by the 86th Field Artillery Battalion (PS), with twelve 155-mm. guns (GPF), and the 301st Field Artillery Regiment (PA), with sixteen guns of the same type and two 155-mm. howitzers. Emplaced west of Abucay, these pieces were in position to cover all of the main battle positions and the East Road. Providing direct support to the 57th Infantry along the coastal road and the beach was the 1st Battalion, 24th Field Artillery (PS), with one battery on the main line of resistance and two more near Abucay. Additional support was furnished by a battery of the 88th Field Artillery (eight 75-mm. guns) and the 2nd Battalion of the 24th, which aiso supported the 41st Division from a position southeast of Abucay. Each of the divisions had its own divisional artillery in support as well, with the 2.95-inch howitzers of the 41st in position to back up the 51st Division. That division had only eight 75-mm. guns of a type unsuitable for use in the rugged country to which it was assigned.

Defense of the Manila Bay coastline in the II Corps sector, from Balanga, where the 57th line ended, as far south as Limay, after 11 January was assigned to the 11th Division (PA). In addition to its own artillery regiment, it had the support of the 21st Field Artillery, detached from its parent unit for beach defense. The rest of the 21st Division was in corps reserve.

By the end of the first week in January the main battIe posi~ion on Bataan was organized and the troops in place. The Japanese, who on the 7th had taken Layac Junction, the gateway to Bataan, were alreadyin position to move against the American line. “It was felt,” wrote Colonel Collier, “that the enemy would continue his close follow up of our troops and launch an early push against the right of the II Corps [along] the East Road.” Unlike the rest of Luzon, Bataan offered no room for maneuver and little space for withdrawal. The Japanese would have to be held as long as possible at each position. Except for the few who would be fortunate enough to reach Corregidor, there was no retreat from Bataan.

The Status of Supply

The supply situation on Bataan was serious from the start and became steadily worse through the campaign. Originally, under the ORANGE plan, supplies for 43,000 men for a period of six months were to have been moved to the peninsula on the outbreak of war. MacArthur’s order to fight it out on the beaches had invalidated this plan, and when war came supplies and equipment were moved forward to advance depots to support the troops on the front lines. At that time there were stored on Bataan 2,295,000 pounds of canned salmon, 152,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, 6,000 pounds of miscellaneous foods, and 400,000 gallons of gasoline.

Full-scale movement of supplies to Bataan did not begin until the decision was made on 23 December to withdraw to Bataan. By that time the number of troops to be supplied during the siege of Bataan had increased from the planned 43,000 to almost 80,000, in addition to about 26,000 civilians who had fled to Bataan to escape the invading army. Moving to Bataan enough food and supplies to keep so large a force in action for a period of 180 days would have been extremely difficult under the most favorable circumstances. To accomplish it in about one week, during the confusion of war and retreat, proved to be an impossible task.

Some preparations had been made for the transfer of supplies to Bataan even before the orders for a general withdrawal had been issued on the evening of 23 December. Lieutenant Colonel Otto Harwood, a quartermaster officer, had gone to Limay on Bataan on 14 December to disperse the defense reserves stored there the previous summer, and Colonel Alva E. McConnell of the Philippine Quartermaster Depot had begun to ship small quantities of food and petroleum products to Bataan some days before the 23d. Altogether Harwood received from Manila for storage on Bataan approximately 750,000 pounds of canned milk, 20,000 pounds of vegetables, 40,000 gallons of gasoline, and 60,000 gallons of lubricating oils and greases. The Si-Kiang, bound for Indochina with 5,000,000 pounds of flour and large quantities of petroleum, was seized and brought to Bataan, but unfortunately was bombed and sunk before the flour could be unloaded.

The large-scale movement of supplies to Bataan and Corregidor began after 23 December. First Corregidor was stocked with enough reserves to supply 10,000 men for six months. This task required only one day since the island already had rations for 7,000 men. The movement of supplies to Bataan was more difficult, largely because of transportation problems, the brief period of time in which to accomplish the task, and the size of the shipments.

The only land route to Bataan was the one being used by the retreating troops. Until 31 December the roads to San Fernando and into the peninsula could be used, but with difficulty. The shortage of motor vehicles further limited the quantities of supplies that could be dispatched by this means. After that date the land route from Manila to Bataan was closed. The rail net north of Manila, the best in the archipelago, proved of limited value because of the shortage of rolling stock and the desertion of train and engine crews.

There was no time to evacuate the depots in northern Luzon and scarcely time to get out part of the reserves from Forts McKinley and Stotsenburg. Many of the troops became afflicted with “withdrawal fever” and left behind much that they could have taken. At Stotsenburg, long before the Japanese were within striking distance, the post was evacuated. Food, clothing, and other supplies, it is reported; were left behind by post personnel, to be picked up later by the withdrawing troops. The same thing is supposed to have happened at Clark Field, adjacent to Stotsenburg, where 250,000 gallons of aviation gasoline and several obsolete but serviceable planes were left behind.

North and South Luzon Force commanders were instructed to pick up whatever food they could on their way to Bataan, and to turn their supplies in when they reached the peninsula. “Not an ounce” was turned in, noted the quartermaster, although the divisions ‘brought in between ten and twenty-five days’ supply of food.” Most of the supplies for Bataan came from Manila, where the port area with its large warehouses and loaded ships was filled with stores of all kinds. Bataan, only thirty miles away across the bay, could be reached easily by almost every type of vessel. With the shortage of motor and rail transportation, water transport become the chief means of getting supplies from the capital to Bataan.

The quartermaster’s Army Transport Service, led by Colonel Frederick A. Ward and starred largely by civilian volunteers, took over all the available barges, tugs, and launches and used them for the journey. The first two were slow, but they had the advantage of being easily unloaded at the three piers on Bataan where dock facilities were primitive. At the Manila end loadings were hampered by the Japanese bombings of the port area between the 27th and 30th and the shortage of stevedores. The latter was partially overcome by the use of some two hundred American and British civilians who volunteered to work as dock hands. Altogether, a total of approximately 30,000 tons of supplies was shipped to Bataan and Corregidor by barge and unloaded by the time the Japanese occupied Manila on 2 January.

Also loaded, but still lying out in the bay at this time, were another 150 barges and 3 freighters. These vessels were unloaded during the weeks that followed at times when they would be safe from Japanese attack, usually at night. But large quantities of food, supplies of all kinds, and gasoline were left behind on the docks and in commercial storage. What the civilians in Manila did not take away with them just before the Japanese entered the city, the conquerors appropriated.

At the time the decision was made to withdraw to Bataan, ammunition and food appeared to be the most critical items of supply and they were accorded first priority. Second priority went to defense materials and to gasoline. All other supplies were given third priority. When rations and ammunition had been shipped, medical supplies, demolitions, barbed wire, and gasoline moved to the top of the priority list. The movement of ammunition and ordnance supply to Bataan progressed swiftly.

Before the war all units had been issued one unit of fire and a second was issued when units moved into defensive positions along the beach. Some ordnance materials had been stored at Forts Stotsenburg and McKinley, but two thirds of the ammunition reserves, about 15,000 tons, as well as six carloads of replacement parts for the tanks, were already in Bataan on 8 December.

During the last week of the year another 15,000 tons of ammunition and ordnance supplies were shipped to Bataan. An inventory of 5 January revealed that the supply of ammunition was satisfactory and that the shortages anticipated would not develop.

The shortage of rations proved to be even more serious than expected, and from the start the scarcity of food was the most alarming fact in the situation of the 80,000 troops on Bataan. The transfer of rice to Bataan had proved difficult because of Commonwealth regulations which stipulated that neither rice nor sugar could be removed from one province to another.

When the time came to move supplies to Bataan, authority was requested to take these commodities but permission was not received in time. In this way 10,000,000 pounds of rice at the Government Rice Central at Cabanatuan was lost. Even the seizure of Japanese-owned stocks was prohibited. At Tarlac Lieutenant Colonel Charles S. Lawrence, commander of the depot there, planned to take over about 2,000 cases of canned food, mostly fish and corned beef, as well as a considerable quantity of clothing that belonged to Japanese firms. He was informed by MacArthur’s headquarters that he had no right to do so and that he would be court-martialed if he did. These supplies were later destroyed during operations.

On 3 January an inventory of the food in the hands of the quartermaster on Bataan was prepared. This inventory revealed that there was only a 30-day supply of unbalanced field rations for 100,000 men, including a 50-day supply of canned meats and fish, 40 days of canned milk, 30 of flour and canned vegetables (string beans and tomatoes), and 20 of rice, the most important element of the Philippine diet. There were some staples such as sugar, salt, pepper, lard, and syrup, but almost no fresh meat or fruit and only limited quantities of canned fruits, coffee, potatoes, onions, and cereals.

[General McBride, Notes on the Fall of Bataan; Weaver, Comments on Draft MS, Comment 34, OCMH. General McBride, Service Command Luzon Force commander, died in prison camp. A copy of this report was borrowed from Colonel Selleck and is on file in OCMH. It will be hereafter cited as McBride, Notes on Bataan Service Command.]

The necessity for drastic action was apparent. On 5 January MacArthur approved the recommendation of his quartermaster, General Drake, that the troops and civilians on Bataan and Corregidor be placed on half-rations, and the necessary instructions were issued to the local commanders. The half-ration, containing about 2,000 calories, half the normal requirements of an active man, was obviously inadequate to the needs of fighting troops who had to work as much as twenty hours a day, under the most difficult conditions and in the worst kind of climate and terrain. Fortunately many of the men had accumulated food during the withdrawal and this supply was used to supplement the meager diet.

Colonel Mallonee, instructor of the 21st Field Artillery (PA), for example, had a case and a half of mixed canned goods, forehandedly purchased before the withdrawal. On his way past Fort Stotsenburg he picked up another half case. Although he gave part of his private stock to some of his fellow officers, he kept a large portion of the two cases for himself. Yet, with this additional supply of food, he wrote, “I had to do a tailoring job on my waistband twice …. “

Heroic measures to augment the food supply were obviously necessary if the troops on Bataan were to hold out for the required six-month period. No sooner had the withdrawal been completed than the quartermaster began to exploit every possible resource on the peninsula to increase his stores. Fortunately, it was the harvest season and the rice stood ripe in the fields. It was only necessary to bring it to the mills, which the engineers were ordered to build near Limay. Plans were made to secure fresh meat by slaughtering carabao, the Philippine draft animal, and a large abattoir was established by the veterinarians.

In addition, the units in the field butchered whatever carabao or other animals they could capture. A fishery was established at Lamao, and plans were made to utilize the catch of the local fishermen who went out each night until prevented from doing so by Japanese fire. Salt was secured by boiling sea water in large iron cauldrons. Before the troops had been on Bataan long, no local resource that would yield any additional amount of food was being overlooked. So serious was the shortage of food after the first few weeks on Bataan that the search for food assumed more importance than the presence of the enemy to the front. Every man became a hunter, and rifle shots could be heard at all hours far from the Japanese lines.

Lieutenant Colonel Irvin Alexander, a quartermaster officer, wrote: Any carabao which was encountered in the jungle was classed as wild and neither his ancestry nor his ownership was investigated. The wild game was not too numerous and it was very shy so that only the cunning and lucky hunters were successful in bringing in meat. Lack of success did not discourage the hunters. . . . One Filipino… caught a snake and ate it one day to die unpleasantly the next. There were always plenty of experimenters ready to try any kind of native flora or fauna which might prove edible … although the experimenting individual frequently paid a high price.

The supply of clothing on Bataan, while not as alarming as the shortage of food, was just as limited. It had been scanty at the beginning of the war and was almost gone by the time the men reached Bataan. The regular garrison of U.S. Army troops and Philippine Scouts had been comparatively well clad when they took the field, but the Philippine Army had been only partially clothed and equipped. Those who had been inducted before the war were far more fortunate than the Filipinos mobilized after hostilities began. The uniforms and equipment of these men consisted of odds and ends, whatever was on hand for issue and whatever they could salvage or buy. Early in January the Quartermaster had only 10,000 pairs of trousers and shorts and an equal number of shirts and blue denim suits. Obviously this amount of clothing was hardly enough for 80,000 men fighting in heavy jungle and mountains, in a wet climate where days were hot and nights cold, and where tangled vegetation quickly tore shirts and trousers. The army service shoe, of which there were 50,000 pairs on Bataan, was of little use to the Filipino soldier whose feet were too narrow for footgear built on American lasts.

The absence of mosquito netting, shelter halves, blankets, and sun helmets was as serious as the shortage of clothing. The physical deterioration of the troops and the high incidence of malaria, hookworm, and other diseases were caused as much perhaps by the lack of proper protection against the weather and the jungle as the unbalanced and deficient diet.

Provision had been made in war plans for a general hospital on Bataan. At Limay, where the defense reserves were stored, all supplies for the hospital were already assembled when the order to withdraw was given. General Hospital No.1 was established on 23 December and before the end of the month another general hospital was organized not far from Cabcaben. The medical depot in Manila, where supplies and equipment for a 10,000-bed hospital center had been established at the start of the war, began to transfer this vast accumulation of. medical supplies to Bataan after the 23rd. But only enough was brought in to assure an adequate supply of drugs and medical equipment for the first part of the siege of Bataan. By the end of February a critical shortage of several drugs, the most important of which was quinine, had already developed.

The supply of petroleum products on Bataan was adequate for several months if strict economy was practiced. During the first week or two on Bataan there was no control over the use of gasoline. When it was discovered that stocks were being depleted at the rate of 14,000 gallons a day, the supply was closely rationed. Ultimately the consumption of gasoline was reduced to 4,000, then 3,000 gallons daily.

Motor vehicles were much sought after on Bataan. The various services and units commandeered vehicles for their own use and hijacking of both vehicles and loads was common. The provost marshal did his best to stop this practice, with little success. Finally, all vehicles except those organic to units were ordered into motor pools. When the order failed to bring in the vehicles, a search and seizure system was inaugurated.

The military police stopped vehicles and if the drivers could not prove that they were on a legitimate mission they were directed to one of the motor pools. But most of the vehicles had been well hidden and the most careful search failed to locate them. Only later, when gasoline was rationed and the units could not operate the vehicles, were they turned in.

Engineer supply, like that of the other services, was limited and carefully controlled. The engineers had managed to ship to Bataan and Corregidor more than 10,000 tons of their supplies, in addition to organizational equipment, by the end of December. These included 350 tons of explosives, 800 tons of valuable barbed wire, 200 tons of burlap bags for use as sandbags, and large quantities of lumber, construction material, and depot stocks. During the withdrawal, engineer supplies had been evacuated from advance depots along the route of retreat and moved to Lubao, a short distance north of Bataan. From there they were to be transferred to two locations on Bataan. Despite congestion along the roads, the shortage of transportation, and the confusion of retreat, the final evacuation of engineer supplies from the Lubao depot was completed by 6 January.

The first engineer troops to reach Bataan were put to work immediately on airfield construction to accommodate the few fighter craft still left and those which, it was hoped, might yet arrive from the United States, Work was also begun on access roads to the main highway along the east coast of Bataan and on a lateral road from east to west across the slopes of the Mariveles Mountains. The main work on fortifications along the front was performed by the infantry and artillery, but the engineers improved these positions, strung wire, and laid mines. They maintained roads and bridges and prepared demolition charges where necessary.

In addition to serving the troops along the front, they built camps for the 26,000 civilians who had taken refuge on Bataan, sawmills to provide lumber for buildings and bridges, and rice mills to feed the men. The greatest handicap to engineer activity was the lack of trained engineer troops. Civilian labor was used wherever possible, but there was no substitute for trained engineer officers. So small was their number that in one instance a civilian served for a time as the commander of an engineer battalion.

The shortage of supplies of all types, and especially of food, had a greater effect on the outcome of the siege of Bataan than any other single factor. “Each day’s combat, each day’s output of physical energy,” wrote one officer in his diary, “took its toll of the human body-a toll which could not be repaired. .” When this fact is understood, he added, the story of Bataan is told.

The Enemy and His Plan

While General MacArthur’s force on Luzon was preparing the defenses of Bataan, the enemy 14th Army was being reorganized. Original Japanese plans had called for the reduction of Luzon fifty days after the start of war. At that time the 48th Division, Homma’s best unit, and most of the 5th Air Group were to leave the Philippines for operations elsewhere. The mop-up would be left to a garrison unit, the 65th Brigade, and the 16th Division. The brigade, with attached service and supply troops, was to reach Luzon on the forty-fifth day of operations, 22 January.

Sometime late in December, General Count Hisaichi Terauchi, Southern Army commander, and Admiral Kondo, commanding the 2nd Fleet, jointly recommended to Imperial General Headquarters that 16th Army’s invasion of Java be advanced about one month ahead of schedule. This suggestion found willing listeners in Tokyo. Reasoning that such a move would result in the rapid occupation of the Southwest Pacific while the Allies were still off balance, and noting the success of Homma’s forces in the Philippines, Imperial General Headquarters approved the Terauchi-Kondo proposal and ordered the transfer of the 48th Division to 16th Army at a much earlier date than originally planned.

On 2 January, as 14th Army units entered Manila, General Homma received notice from Southern Army that the 48th Division would soon be transferred. Orders for the transfer of the division as well as the 5th Air Group reached Manila during the next few days, and on 5 January staff officers of Southern Army arrived in the Philippines to supervise the transfer.

In the opinion of 14th Army the transfer of ground and air troops from the Philippines showed a lack of understanding of the situation by, higher headquarters. Actually, both Southern Army and Imperial General Headquarters recognized that this early redeployment might jeopardize operations in the Philippines, but they were willing to take this risk in order to hasten the attack on Java and free themselves for any move by the Soviet Union. “Difficulties would undoubtedly arise in the future in the Philippines,” the Japanese believed, “but the Southern Army thought that the Philippines could be taken care of after the conclusion of the campaign in Java.”

The removal of the 48th Division from Homma’s command at a date earlier than originally planned might well have left him with only the 16th Division to open the attack against Bataan. Fortunately for the Japanese cause, Homma had ordered the 65th Brigade to make ready for departure from Takao in Formosa only a week after the start of hostilities. This decision to embark the brigade somewhat sooner than scheduled was made without reference to the early departure of the 48th but was apparently based on the unexpected lack of American resistance to the initial landings in northern Luzon.

On 27 December, Homma ordered Lieutenant General Akira Nara, the brigade commander, to sail from Takao with all the troops then scheduled to reinforce 14th Army. Delayed in his departure by a typhoon, N ara finally set sail with his convoy of fourteen ships and naval escort on 30 December. At 1400 on New Year’s Day the troops began to debark at Lingayen Gulf.

The day the 65th Brigade landed in the Philippines it was ordered to move by foot to Tarlac. Within three days advance elements had entered the town. On the 6th the brigade reached Angeles and began to concentrate along Route 74, as far south as Porac. “They had made their march,” remarked General Nara proudly of his troops, “but were footsore and exhausted.”

Southern Army had stripped General Homma of some of his best ground and air units just before the start of the battle of Bataan. All he had left was the 16th Division, which “did not have a very good reputation” for its “fighting qualities,” the 65th Brigade, the 7th Tank Regiment, supporting arms and services, and a small air unit of less than seventy fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance planes. Only in the air were the Japanese assured of superiority.

The brigade which replaced the well trained and equipped 48th Division was, in the words of its commander, “absolutely unfit for combat duty.” Organized in early 1941 as a garrison unit, it had a total strength of about 6,500 men. Its three infantry regiments, the 122nd, 141st and 142nd Infantry, consisted of but two battalions, each organized into three rifle companies and one machine gun company. The brigade had few vehicles and no artillery unit, but at least one of the regiments and possibly the others had a battery of field artillery. Organic to the brigade was a field hospital, an engineer unit, and a signal unit no larger than a “telegraph platoon.” The majority of the enlisted men were conscripts and the month of training at Formosa was entirely inadequate. Unit training had progressed only as far as the company.

General Homma and the majority of the 14th Army staff believed that American resistance on Bataan would be weak and that operations there would be quickly concluded. The plan for the attack, therefore, was conceived of as a pursuit rather than an assault against a strongly fortified position in depth.

This conception was confirmed by intelligence reports. The 14th Army staff estimated that MacArthur had 40,000 to 45,000 men, about 40 tanks, and a few fighter planes on Bataan and Corregidor. On Bataan alone, Homma was told by his intelligence officer, there were only 25,000 men. The American “regular” 31st Division and the “fortress unit” on Corregidor were believed to total 35,000 while the remnants of the Philippine Army units altogether comprised 5,000 to 10,000 more. Reports received from air reconnaissance gave no reason to believe that the Americans and Filipinos had constructed any strong installations on Bataan.

The physical condition of the troops on Bataan was believed to be poor. All units in combat had been badly cut up, rations had been reduced by half, and the entire American-Filipino army was on a skimpy two-meals-a-day diet. Desertions by Filipino troops were believed to be heavy and the Japanese fully believed that the Americans had taken strong measures to halt these desertions and the surrender of individuals. In support of these conclusions they pointed out that the bodies of Philippine soldiers had been found tied to trees.

With this picture of the enemy, it is not surprising that General Homma believed the capture of the peninsula would be an easy task. His estimate of the American scheme of defense was that MacArthur’s forces would make their strong stand around Mariveles and then withdraw to Corregidor. Seizure of the island fortress would not be easy and a “sea blockade” might be necessary before the island would be reduced. On the whole, “the threat of enemy resistance was taken lightly” by 14th Army.

On the theory that the campaign would be a light one, Homma assigned the seizure of Bataan to the inexperienced and untrained 65th Brigade. His plan was to have the brigade advance in two columns, one along the east coast through Abucay to Balanga and the other down the opposite shore through Moron to Bagac. Once these objectives had been taken, Nara was to send the main force of his brigade south from Balanga, while a smaller force drove on from Bagac. Both were to push towards Mariveles, the 14th Army operation order read, “With the annihilation of the enemy on Bataan Peninsula as their objective.” Attached to the 65th Brigade for the Bataan operation were infantry, artillery, armor, and service units of all types. From the 16th Division came the 9th Infantry, a battalion of field artillery (75-mm. guns), an engineer regiment, and a medical unit.

The 48th Division supplied two battalions of artillery (75-mm. mountain guns), which were pulled out a short time later. Armored support consisted of the 7th Tank Regiment, and artillery support was furnished by Army: 1st Field Heavy Artillery Regiment (15O-mm. howitzers), the 8th Field Heavy Artillery Regiment (105-mm. guns), and the 9th Independent Heavy Artillery Battalion (15O-mm. howitzers). Service and support units from Army completed the force available to General Nara for the forthcoming operation. Direct support for the 65th Brigade’s operations on Bataan was to be provided by the air unit under Colonel Komataro Hoshi. This unit was made responsible for reconnaissance, artillery spotting, and support missions.

[5th Air Gp Opns, pp. 47-51. The air unit consisted of 11 fighters, 21 reconnaissance, liaison, and artillery observation planes, 36 light bombers, and a number of service units.]

Starting on 10 January it was to base at Clark Field and from that date through the 13th was to attack I Corps artillery positions, the airstrips on Bataan, and installations in the Mariveles area. The 16th Division was to “cooperate” with the 65th Brigade by “sending a portion of the division to occupy the strategic ground in the vicinity of Ternate and Nasugbu.” The occupation of Ternate, on the south shore of Manila Bay, and of Nasugbu to its south would have the effect of cutting communication between Corregidor and southern Luzon.

At noon 4 January General Homma had ordered the 65th Brigade to move down Route 74 to the main battle position to relieve the 48th Division and take command of the Takahashi Detachment and the 9th Independent Heavy Artillery Battalion. Nara apparently understood then that his unit was to relieve the 48th Division, for his orders were to “destroy the enemy,” send his main force toward Balanga, and make a secondary effort toward Olongapo.

Final orders for the relief of the 48th Division were issued at 0800 of the 7th. At that time General Nara was again instructed to move toward Olongapo and Balanga. By 1800 of 8 January the brigade had completed its relief of the 48th and was concentrated between Dinalupihan and Hermosa, preparing to attack. The next afternoon the assault would begin.

SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Fall of Philippines (4-16); Bataan Siege / First Battle; 9 January 1942

World War Two: Fall of Philippines (3-14); Occupation of Manila 1941


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