The Japanese opened the battle for Bataan at 1500 on 9 January with a concentrated barrage directed against II Corps. As “the roar of artillery … shook the northern portion of the Bataan peninsula,” the Japanese infantry moved out to the attack.’ General Nara’s plan of attack, based on 14th Army’s order to make the main effort on the east, rested on two misconceptions: first, that the American and Filipino troops had been so weakened during the withdrawal that opposition would be light; and second, that the II Corps line was farther north than was actually the case. General Nara’s misapprehension on the first point was quickly corrected when II Corps artillery replied, “particularly ferociously,” to the opening barrage. Tons of explosive hurtling down on the advancing Japanese, ranged along the East Road and backed up four miles on Route 7, made abundantly clear the American determination to stand and fight.
The initial Japanese error in locating the II Corps line was corrected only as the battle developed. In drawing up his plan of attack, General Nara had placed Parker’s left flank in the vicinity of Mt. Santa Rosa, about three miles above its actual location. The American outpost line, he estimated, extended along the high ground immediately below Hermosa, an error of three to four miles. Thus, in making his plans for the major drive down the east side of the peninsula, Nara assumed he would meet the II Corps outposts soon after the attack opened. On these· assumptions he ordered his troops to advance to a line extending east and west of Album, with the main effort on the west to “overwhelm the enemy’s left flank.” At the same time, a part of the force was to swing wide in an encircling movement to take II Corps in the rear. Simultaneously, a secondary thrust by a smaller force would be made down the west side of the peninsula against I Corps. For the attack General Nara organized his reinforced brigade and attached units into three regimental combat teams and a reserve. Against II Corps he sent two regiments supported by tanks and artillery.
Forming the brigade left (east) was Colonel Takeo Imai’s 141st Infantry, supported by a battalion of mountain artillery, a battery of antitank guns, plus engineer and signal troops. Starting from positions near Hermosa, Colonel Imai’s force was to advance southward down the East Road as far as the Calaguiman River. It would have strong support, if needed, from the 7th Tank Regiment which had spearheaded the attack against Baliuag and Plaridel at the end of December. In this first attack on Bataan, the tanks would remain in the rear until the engineers had repaired the bridges and removed the roadblocks along the East Road.
General Nara’s hopes for a quick victory rested on the combat team that was sent against the western portion of the II Corps line. This force, under Colonel Susumu Takechi, consisted of the experienced 9th Infantry, reinforced by a battalion of artillery, an antitank gun battery, plus service and support troops. Takechi’s orders were to “overwhelm” Parker’s left flank, take Album, then send an encircling force around the flank to join Colonel Imai’s 141st Infantry coming down the East Road. To assure the success of this maneuver Nara placed his reserve, the 142nd Infantry, behind the 9th along the narrow trail leading from Dinalupihan to Album, in position to exploit the expected breakthrough of Takechi’s troops.
Artillery support for the advance against II Corps would be provided by Colonel Gentrie’s Army artillery, attached to the brigade for the operation. The guns were initially emplaced north of Hermosa, in position to fire direct support and counterbattery missions. As the battle progressed the artillery would be displaced forward to Orani. Additional support for the 9th Infantry would be furnished by a field artillery battalion advancing eastward from Olongapo along Route 7.
Against I Corps on the western side of Bataan, General Nara sent his third regimental combat team, built around the 122nd Infantry, and led by Colonel Yunosuke Watanabe. Watanabe’s mission was to advance west along Route 7 to Olongapo, then south to Moron. From there he would prepare to advance on Bagac, western terminus of the one lateral road across Bataan. Nara apparently did not expect any resistance above Bagac and was not even certain that he would meet any there.
[The attached artillery consisted of the 1st and 8th Field Heavy Artillery Regiments and the 9th Independent Heavy Artillery Battalion. Colonel Irie was commander of the first-named unit.]
By early afternoon of 9 January all troops were in position, tensely awaiting the zero hour. General Nara himself was at Dinalupihan. At 1500 the big guns opened up.
Attack Against II Corps: The Abucay Line
The II Corps line, called the Abucay line, extended from Mabatang on Manila Bay to the northeast slopes of Mt. Natib. On the east, guarding the East Road, stood the well-trained Scouts of the 57th Infantry. To their left was the untried 41st Division (PA) , once briefly part of the South Luzon Force and now in position along the Mt. Natib trail and Balantay River, defending the center of the Abucay line. Holding the western portion of the corps line was General Jones’s 51st Division (PA), weakened by the long withdrawal from south Luzon. With its left resting on the jungled slopes of Mt. Natib, the division held a line along the north bank of the Balantay River as far east as Abucay Hacienda, a raised clearing in the jungle about five miles west of the town of Abucay.
At its western extremity the line consisted of little more than scattered foxholes. The Japanese attack began on schedule. At 1500 Colonel Imai’s men started down the East Road but had not advanced far before they were met by punishing fire from II Corps artillery which had the road under interdiction. To the west the movement of the 9th Infantry was unopposed and Colonel Takechi reached the vicinity of Album without any difficulty or opposition. The only infantry contact during the day came when a reconnaissance patrol of the 57th Infantry met a Japanese patrol below Hermosa. After a brief fire fight the Scouts had withdrawn.
[The Mt. Natib trail extended from Mabatang westward to the slopes of Mt. Natib. The 57th Infantry and part of the 41st Division had placed their main line of resistance along this trail. Farther west the trail ran below the main line of resistance. The Balantay River appears in many sources and on some maps as the Lavantan or Labangan River. A tributary of the Calaguiman River, it is formed by two streams joining about a mile west of Abucay Hacienda; it then flows northeast until it joins the Calaguiman. The Balantay is shallow and easily fordable; its virtue as a military obstacle was due to the fact that it flows through a deep gorge.]
General Nara, who had expected to hit the II Corps outpost line on the first day of the battle, was greatly encouraged by the progress of his units. Both the 141st Infantry and the 9th Infantry sent back optimistic reports of their advances, and Nara incorrectly concluded that the Americans had “made a general withdrawal” and “fled into the jungle without putting up a fight.”
On the evening of the 9th Wainwright and Parker received orders from Corregidor to have all their general officers assembled to receive an important visitor the next morning. At the first light of dawn a PT boat carried General MacArthur and his chief of staff, Major General Richard K. Sutherland, across the channel from Corregidor to Mariveles. From there they drove up the East Road to Parker’s headquarters where they talked with II Corps officers and inspected positions in that sector. Moving west across the Pilar-Bagac road MacArthur met Wainwright and inspected I Corps installations. When Wainwright offered to show MacArthur his 155-mm. guns, MacArthur replied, “I don’t want to see them. I want to hear them.”
The Japanese unwittingly chose the day of MacArthur’s visit to Bataan to make their first demand for surrender. In a message addressed to the American commander and dropped from the air behind the American lines, General Homma told MacArthur that his men were doomed and the end near. “The question,” he declared, “is how long you will be able to resist. You have already cut rations by half. . . . Your prestige and honor have been upheld. However, in order to avoid needless bloodshed and save your . . . troops you are advised to surrender. … Failing that our offensive will be continued with inexorable force. . . .”
[MacArthur quoted the Japanese message in a radio to the War Department, 27 Jan 42, WPD, Ready Reference File. On the reverse side of his meSS’lge to MacArthur, General Homma later wrote a separate warning for the Philippine troops. In it he advised the Filipinos to save their “dear lives” by throwing away their weapons and surrendering before it was too late. “MacArthur had stupidly refused our proposal,” declared Homma, “and continues futile struggle at the cost of your precious lives.”]
The only answer the Japanese received to their request for surrender was an increase in the volume of artillery fire from II Corps. To avoid the interdiction fire on the East Road, Colonel Imai shifted the bulk of his 141st Infantry to the west on the 10th, with the result that his regiment split into two columns. The easternmost column, consisting of the 2nd Battalion (less two companies), continued to advance down the East Road toward the 57th Infantry; the western column, containing the rest of the regiment, advanced against the 41st Division.
Late on the afternoon of the 10th, the 2nd Battalion struck the 57th Infantry outpost line just below Samal, and after a brief fire fight the Scouts fell back. Though unopposed by infantry, the 2nd Battalion, hindered by artillery fire, was able to advance only as far as the narrow Calaguiman River, about 1,800 yards below Samal. To the west the rest of the 141st infantry, under less intense artillery fire but delayed by the rugged terrain, finally reached the 41st Division outpost line along the Calaguiman River four miles west of the East Road, sometime during the night of 10-11 January.
The 57th Infantry, under the command of Colonel George S. Clarke, was the first unit on the II Corps line to come under heavy infantry attack. Along the main line of resistance were the 1st Battalion on the right and the 3rd Battalion on the left. The 2nd Battalion was in reserve. On 11 January a reinforced company of the reserve battalion, which had established an outpost line south of the Calaguiman, came under attack by the advance elements of Colonel Imai’s eastern column, the 2nd Battalion, 141st Infantry. Soon the Japanese began to cross the Calaguiman, about one mile north of the main line of resistance. By 2300 the Japanese battalion had reached a cane field on the left front of the 57th’s 3rd Battalion, directly before Company L. This cane field, about 150 yards in front of the main line of resistance, had not been cleared on the assumption that artillery would effectively prevent its use by the enemy as a route of approach.
That night the Japanese in the cane field moved out against the main line of resistance. First came an artillery and mortar barrage, which was answered by concentrated fire from the 7S-mm. guns of the 24th Field Artillery (PS). Hardly had the 24th opened fire than the Japanese infantry jumped off in a banzai attack across the moonlit patch of ground in front of Company I. Wave after wave of screaming Japanese troops hurled themselves forward in the face of intense fire. Men in the leading wave threw themselves on the barbed wire entanglements, forming human bridges over which succeeding waves could pass.
Despite the appalling effects of the pointblank fire from the 75’s, the Japanese continued their ferocious attack until Company I, its commander seriously wounded and its executive officer killed, finally gave ground. Company K on the right immediately refused its flank and the battalion commander threw his reserve, Company L, into the fight. When this force failed to halt the Japanese, Colonel Clarke committed a company of the reserve battalion and the Japanese attack stalled. At the approach of dawn, the Scouts began a counterattack which took them almost to the original line. When the action was broken off on the morning of the 12th, there were an estimated 200 to 300 dead Japanese on the field of battle.
During the night a number of Japanese had infiltrated into the 3rd Battalion area, on the left of the regimental line. The 57th Infantry spent most of the next day routing out the infiltrators, man by man, in hand-to-hand combat. After a number of Scouts had been killed, a more efficient scheme for the elimination of the infiltrated Japanese was devised. Sniper parties consisting of riflemen assisted by demolition engineers were formed and these began to comb the 3rd Battalion area systematically. By the end of the day most of the Japanese had been found and killed. It was as a result of his action as the leader of one of these sniper parties that 2nd Lieutenant Alexander R. Nininger, Jr., was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His was the first of World War II, although Calugas received his award for heroism in the earlier fight at Layac Junction.
The Japanese advance in other sectors had been even less successful than that of the 2nd Battalion, 141st Infantry. The remainder of Imai’s regiment in front of the 41st Division had begun to exert pressure against the outpost line on the night of 10-11 January. Unable to make progress here, it had continued to move westward in search of a soft spot in the line. By late afternoon of the 11th Colonel Imai stood before the 43rd Infantry on the left of the 41st Division line.
The 9th Infantry had also drifted far from its original axis of advance. Despite the lack of opposition Takechi’s advance through the jungle of central Bataan was slow. By the morning of the 11th his 2nd Battalion had progressed only as far as the Orani River, two miles from the 51st Division line. The rest of the regiment had taken the wrong road and marched east until it was now only a few thousand yards northwest of Samal, almost behind the 141st instead of to its right.
It is not surprising that the Japanese had become lost during the advance. Not only were they hindered and confused by the difficult terrain, but they were further handicapped by the lack of adequate maps. “Imperfect maps,” General Nara later wrote, “were the greatest drawback as far as directing the battle was concerned.” He had difficulty also in maintaining communications with his forward units, largely because his signal unit was inexperienced and the men frequently became lost in the jungle. American artillery imposed further difficulties on communications and he complained that “an hour of [radio] conversation a day was considered good, but even this was not always possible.”
It was not until the evening of 11 January that General N ara received enough information to form an approximately correct estimate of his position. It was clear by now that the Americans intended to resist his advance and that this resistance would be far stronger than he had expected. His units had strayed from their original paths, their gains had been small, and they were becoming disorganized. “Besides the fact that the front line force was hampered by the terrain and that the control of the heavy weapons and artillery forces was very poor,” lamented Nara, “the line forces … did not know each other’s intentions and positions.” He decided, therefore, to revise his plans. Modifying an earlier plan he ordered the 141st Infantry, Colonel Imai’s regiment, to continue its westward movement until it became the brigade right flank instead of the left, which it had been originally.
The 142nd, formerly brigade reserve, was reinforced with artillery and ordered to advance down the east coast to become the brigade left flank. Colonel Takechi’s 9th Infantry, less one battalion, was designated as the “encircling unit” and directed to strike at Parker’s left flank and take the corps line from the rear. The remaining battalion of the regiment was ordered into brigade reserve. To get his artillery forward Nara was forced to order the construction of a new road since II Corps artillery effectively denied him the use of the East Road. Zero hour for the attack was set for noon of the 13th, when the 9th Infantry, the “encircling unit,” would jump off; the remainder of the brigade was to move out at dusk of the same day.
On the 12th, as the Japanese moved into position for the attack, all units on the II Corps line found themselves under increasingly heavy pressure. On the right, in front of the 57th Infantry, the Japanese succeeded in establishing themselves again on the south bank of the Calaguiman; in the center they pushed back the outpost line before the 43rd Infantry. It was on the left of the corps line that the Japanese made their most important gains on 12 January, when they tore a gap in the 51st Infantry sector. A counterattack by a reserve battalion regained some of the lost ground but at a heavy cost. By nightfall it was evident that the Japanese, thwarted in their advance on the east, were shifting their effort westward.
The threat to the eastern anchor of the line was still too serious to be ignored. Though the 57th Infantry had beaten back all attempts by the 2nd Battalion, 141st Infantry, to pierce the main line of resistance, it was still hard pressed on the left and was beginning to feel pressure on its right. Late on the evening of the 12th, therefore, General Parker released the two-battalion 21st Infantry (PA) from corps reserve and gave it to Colonel Clarke. With these fresh troops Clarke made plans for an attack the next morning with the 21st Infantry’s 2nd Battalion and the same numbered battalion of the 57th. That night the 2nd Battalion, 21st Infantry, took over the left of the line and the 3rd Battalion went into reserve to free the 2nd Battalion, 57th Infantry, for the counterattack.
At 0600, 13 January, on the heels of a rolling artillery barrage, the 2nd Battalion, 21st Infantry, jumped off in the counterattack. Its task was made more difficult by the fact that the Japanese had pushed a deep salient into the left of the 57th line during the night. The Filipinos advanced quickly and aggressively, pushing the Japanese back across the bloodied ground. It soon became evident to Captain Philip A. Meier, the battalion’s American instructor, that the gap was too large to be filled by his men alone and he moved east to tie in with the 1st Battalion, 57th Infantry, on his right, thus creating a hole between his men and the 41st Infantry on his left.
Colonel Clarke, the 57th commander, thereupon ordered the 3rd Battalion of the 21st Infantry from reserve to plug the gap. As the battalion began to move up at about 1300 it came under Japanese artillery fire and was pinned down. When the artillery fire ceased three hours later, the 2nd Battalion, 57th Infantry, counterattacked and advanced to within 150 yards of the original line. By late afternoon the gap had been closed and the Japanese were left in possession of only a small salient on the left of the 57th Infantry line, a meager return indeed for four days of hard fighting. The counterattack by the 21st Infantry on the morning of the 13th had forestalled the Japanese offensive in that sector, leading General Nara to complain that “the battle did not develop according to plan.”
Elsewhere along the II Corps front he was more successful. His artillery and air attacks that morning had caused damage along the entire front and had caught a battalion of the 23rd Infantry, moving from reserve into position behind the 43rd Infantry, inflicting from sixty to seventy casualties.
Farther west the 141st Infantry had begun to push against the right of General Jones’s line, in the 51st Infantry sector, during the morning, and had forced Jones back to his main line of resistance along the high ground on the north bank of the Balantay. The advance of the 9th Infantry down the center of the peninsula, “hampered by the terrain” and, Colonel Takechi reported, considerable resistance, had failed to reach the main line of resistance on the 13th. Japanese pressure next day, the 14th, was heaviest on the left of the Abucay line. Here the 141st Infantry hit the 43rd Infantry, forcing the outposts along the Balantay back across the river. The 51st Division to the left thereupon abandoned the main line of resistance and pulled back to positions on the south bank of the Balantay.
Farther west the 9th Infantry continued its effort to encircle the corps left flank, but failed again to reach the main line of resistance. The reports reaching Nara that night were generally favorable, but they could not obscure the fact that the attack had failed or that “the enemy’s established fire net was increasing in intensity . . .and enemy artillery was concentrating fire on [the east] front without a minute’s respite.”
By 15 January the Japanese drive no longer constituted a serious threat to the eastern anchor of the Abucay line, and Colonel Arnold J. Funk, who had relieved Clarke at about 1200 on the 13th, replaced the 21st Infantry with the 22nd, which had been made available by corps. But in the center, where the 43rd Infantry had been reinforced by the 23rd, the threat of a break-through became serious. It was here, at the boundary between the 41st and 51st Divisions, that the main enemy blow came on the 15th with a strong attack by Imai’s 141st Infantry.
The reinforced 43rd, on the left of the 41st Division, held firm, but General Jones had to commit his division reserve as well as his service troops to maintain his position on the Balantay. The fight continued throughout the day and at about 1600 a small party of Japanese troops crossed the river in the face of heavy fire and occupied a hill between the 51st and the 43rd Infantry. The Filipino troops sought determinedly to drive the enemy back across the river, but, despite claims by Parker and Jones that. the 51st line was unbroken, the Japanese, at the end of the day, still retained their foothold on the south bank of the Balantay. With the 9th Infantry in position about 1,000 yards to the west, the prospects for the next day were distinctly unfavorable.
General Jones was in a serious position. Although his division was still in place, his troops were “very perceptibly weakening.” Unless he received reinforcements, he told General Parker, he might have to fall back from the main line of resistance. To meet this demand for more men, the II Corps commander, who had already committed his reserve, was forced to request additional troops from MacArthur’s headquarters.
This request had apparently been anticipated. The center of the Abucay-Mauban line, where the fight was now becoming critical and where the terrain made physical contact between the two corps extremely difficult if not impossible, had been a matter of concern to high-ranking officers in MacArthur’s headquarters from the very start. After his visit to Bataan with MacArthur on the 10th, General Sutherland had criticized the disposition of the troops and expressed the fear that the enemy “would attack down the center of the peninsula over the roughest terrain and not along the coast where the roads were located.” The bulk of the forces on Bataan, he noted, was not deployed to meet such an attack, and he had suggested to the two corps commanders that they shift their troops so as to strengthen their interior flanks. The following day, 11 January, the subject had been raised again in an order which directed that contact between the two corps “be actual and physical” and that all avenues of approach, including “the rough area in the center of the Bataan Peninsula,” be covered.
After an inspection of the front line on 12 January, General R. J. Marshall, USAFFE deputy chief of staff and commander of the Bataan echelon of that headquarters, also became concerned over the weakness of the center of the line. He discussed the problem with General Wainwright who, he wrote, “did not agree entirely, saying that he thought that the center of our position was too difficult terrain for the major attack.” Seriously disturbed, Marshall turned to Sutherland for aid. “I don’t believe,” he deelared, “we can over-estimate the importance of denying observation of both our battle positions, which would be available to the enemy were he in possession of Mt. Natib.”
Parker’s request for reinforcements, therefore, came as no surprise to Sutherland and Marshall who had already ordered various units into the II Corps area. From USAF FE reserve came the Philippine Division (less 57th Infantry) and from Wainwright’s corps came the Philippine Army 31st Division (less elements). When Parker learned of these reinforcements he made plans to use the former when it arrived for a counterattack to restore the line and the latter initially as corps reserve and later to relieve the Philippine Division after the counterattack.
While the reserves were moving into position on the night of 15-16 January, General Parker decided to make an immediate effort to regain the ground lost on his critical left flank, and ordered the 51st Division to counterattack on the morning ot the 16th. To strengthen the division for this venture he gave General Jones the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, which had already seen action in the fight along the East Road. Jones vigorously protested the order to counterattack, pointing out to his corps commander that his main line of resistance was tactically unsound and that “the weakened condition of his division from continuous combat and heavy losses during the past month” made the ordered counterattack “extremely hazardous.” “Moreover,” he asserted, “the present position was being held only with great difficulty.” His protests were unavailing and it was with little hope of success that he made his preparations.
[In this memorandum Marshall stated that he was sending Colonel Funk, who had not yet assumed command of the 57th Infantry, to See Wainwright again to find out what was being done to protect the right flank of I Corps. When Funk took command of the 57th, the visit was canceled. /\The battalion was to arrive at Abucay Hacienda at about 0400 of the 16th. There is a difference of opinion in the source as to the identity of the unit given Jones. Some claim it was the 21st Engineers; others, the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry. This confusion may arise from the fact that the 21st Engineers got into the fight in this sector later, and that the battalion of the 21st was late in reaching the 51st Division.]
The 51st Division attack began on schedule at dawn of the 16th and immediately ran into strong enemy resistance. The Japanese considered this area to be, in Nara’s words, “the pivot point of the entire enemy position” and apparently expected the counterattack. Despite the heavy opposition the 51st Infantry on the division right succeeded in beating back the Japanese in its sector. So successful was the regiment that it pushed ahead of the units on its right and left, thereby creating a dangerous salient in the line.
The enemy was quick to take advantage of Jones’s exposed position. About noon elements of the 141st Infantry pressed in against the right (east) of the salient and began infiltrating between the 51st Infantry and the 43rd Infantry to its right. At about the same time the 9th Infantry which had been approaching Parker’s left flank from the north struck the left side of the salient and pressed in between the 51st and 53rd Infantry. The 51st was thus threatened by a double envelopment.
Under pressure from three directions, the entire 51st regimental line gave way and the Filipino troops fled to the rear in disorder, exposing the 43rd to envelopment by the 141st Infantry. Colonel Imai recognized the danger as well as the advantage of his own position immediately. Should he push ahead after the 51st he might well leave his own left flank exposed to attack by the 43rd Infantry, whose strength he did not know. He decided against this risk and after a brief pause for reorganization sent the bulk of his regiment eastward against the 41st Division.
The 43rd Infantry, on the left, was now forced to refuse its flank back to the reserve line, where, under the calm guidance of Lieutenant Colonel Eugene T. Lewis, regimental instructor, it held against the repeated onslaughts of Imai’s men. Lewis was given additional men to hold the refused flank when a hastily organized provisional battalion, consisting of the 41st Engineer Battalion, signal and quartermaster troops, and stragglers, was thrown into the action.
While a portion of the 141st Infantry was pressing the attack against the 43rd and 51st Infantry, other elements of Colonel Imai’s regiment were pushing the 42nd Infantry, on the east (right) of the 43rd, threatening to drive between the two. To halt the Japanese here, a battalion of the 23rd Infantry was attached to the 42nd and the attackers were beaten off. Farther east elements of the 142nd Infantry joined with the 2nd Battalion, 141st Infantry, which had borne the brunt of the fighting in the 57th Infantry sector earlier, in an attack against the 41st Infantry, on the division right flank. Here the Japanese were repulsed only after the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, the first element of the reserve 31st Division (PA) to reach II Corps, was sent into action.
The disintegration of the 51st Infantry had exposed not only the left flank of the 43rd but also the right of the 53rd Infantry, westernmost unit on the II Corps line. Colonel Boatwright, 53rd Infantry commander, attempted to maintain contact with the 51st on his right by pulling back his regimental flank to conform to that of the adjacent unit. This effort proved unsuccessful. Behind and to the left rear of the 51st Infantry was the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, in position to support the 53rd and available for a counterattack if necessary.
This battalion, which had been given General Jones by corps as division reserve before the counterattack, had arrived in the 51st Division sector late on the morning of the 16th, and without Jones’s knowledge had taken up a position behind the critical portion of the line. Throughout the action of the 16th, Jones was unaware of its presence and firmly believed that he was operating without a reserve.so Consequently the 3rd Battalion, 21st, saw little action during the 16th and withdrew later to Guitol. Though the situation in the 53rd Infantry sector appeared desperate, it was not as dangerous as it seemed, partly because of the presence of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, and partly because of the Japanese dispositions.
Neither Boatwright nor General Jones knew that Colonel Imai had decided to throw the bulk ofthe 141st Infantry against the 43rd Infantry rather than against the 53rd. Nor did either know that the 9th Infantry, which was in front and to the right of the 53rd, had halted at this critical moment to reorganize after its long march through the jungled heights of central Bataan. Instead, the 51st Division staff was convinced that disaster was imminent and the situation too precarious to permit the 53rd to remain in place: In Jones’s absence at the front, the division chief of staff therefore ordered Boatwright to fall back to the southwest farther up the slopes of Mt. Natib and establish physical contact with I Corps, a task that thus far had proved impossible.
[There is a good deal of confusion and controversy in contemporary records and in diaries and interviews over the movements and action of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry. Since it did not take an important part in the counterattack of the 16th, the activities of this battalion have not been covered in detail here. Richards, Steps to a POW Camp, pp. 17-19; Jones, 51st Div (PA) Order of Events; O’Day, 21st Div (PA), II, 25; Oster and Richards, 21st Inf (PA), p. 3, Chunn Notebooks; Itr, Jones to Ward, 3 Jan 52, OCMH; Itr, MacDonald to Jones, 21 Dec 51, OCMH.]
The withdrawal of the 53rd Infantry across the precipitous slopes of Mt. Natib was made under the most trying conditions and proved a harrowing experience. The men became separated in the jungle and along the winding trails and the regiment failed either to establish a position on Mt. Natib or to tie in with I Corps. The majority of the men finally reached Guitol, tired, hungry, and footsore; but others, after a march through some of the most difficult country in the Philippines during which they subsisted on leaves, shrub roots, and boiled snails, reached Bagac on the west coast.
With the troops that succeeded in making their way south General Jones organized a covering force late on the afternoon of the 16th. This force he placed astride the Guitol trail, approximately 4,000 yards south of the Balantay River line from which he had launched his counterattack that morning. It was not this covering force that saved the II Corps line but the failure of the Japanese to exploit their advantage. The two Japanese units in position to envelop the left flank of the corps chose instead to pursue other, less profitable objectives. The 141st Infantry had flung itself against the left flank of the 41st Division instead of attempting to take it in the rear.
With the 51st Division in retreat, such a maneuver might well have been more rewarding than the attack against the 43rd Infantry, which had successfully refused its left flank. The 9th Infantry, Nara’s “encircling unit,” was under orders to move southeast down the Salian River valley, a short distance behind the II Corps line. Had Colonel Takechi moved through the gap between the 51st and 41st Divisions he could have reached the Salian River quickly and turned the corps left flank. Instead, misled by poor maps which confused the Abo-Abo and the Salian, he began a wide sweep around Parker’s left in preparation for an advance south and southeast down the Abo-Abo River valley. At the critical moment, therefore, when he should have been pushing down the Salian River valley, Takechi was preparing for the march down the Abo Abo, a course that would take him out of the action for the next few days.
General Parker had recognized the gravity of his position almost as soon as the 51st sector gave way. At about 1200 of the 16th he had ordered Brigadier General Maxon S. Lough to move his Philippine Division (less the 57th Infantry) to the left of the 41st Division and to counterattack the next morning with two regiments abreast. The 31st Infantry (US) -not to be confused with the 31st Infantry (PA), a regiment of the Philippine Army’s 31st Division which was also in the II Corps sector at this time moved out early in the afternoon and about 1900 reached its destination, approximately one mile east of Abucay Hacienda. The 45th Infantry (PS) left its bivouac area at 1700 of the 16th but lost its way and when the counterattack began the next morning it was about 5,000 yards to the southeast.
By the evening of 16 January, just one week after he had opened his attack, General Nara was in position to turn the left flank of II Corps. Though forced to change his plans repeatedly and held up by unexpectedly strong resistance, he had made considerable progress. Repulsed on the east by the 57th and 21st Infantry and in the center by the 41st Division, he had shifted the axis of attack to the west and concentrated his forces against the weakened 51st Division whose 51st Infantry had finally broken. This disaster had completely unhinged the II Corps line and left it open to a dangerous flanking attack. If Nara could press his advantage and push his men south and southeast quickly enough he would envelop the entire corps and push it against Manila Bay. He would also make Wainwright’s position untenable and force him to withdraw.
Already the Japanese had driven a wedge between the two corps. The fate of the entire line, from Mabatang to Mauban, depended on the counterattack of the 31st Infantry scheduled for the morning of 17 January. If the regiment was successful II Corps might remain in position for some time; if it was routed the entire line would be forced to fall back in disorder. Should the 31st delay the Japanese temporarily, then the corps might yet gain time for a planned and orderly withdrawal.
Attack Against I Corps: The Mauban Line
The Mauban line along which Wainwright’s I Corps was posted extended from the slopes of Mt. Silanganan on the east, westward along Mauban Ridge, to the small coastal village which gave the line its name.
Along the steep and rugged slopes of the mountain was Company K of the 1st Infantry (PA) which had been ordered to establish contact with II Corps on the right. It was never successful in accomplishing its mission, an impossible one in the view of many officers. To its left was a battalion of the 31st Field Artillery, 31st Division (PA), organized and equipped as infantry. The rest of the line was held by the 3rd Infantry of Brigadier General Fidel V. Segundo’s 1 st Division (PA). About three quarters of a mile in front of the main line of resistance, from Bayandati to a point about midway up the mountain, was the outpost line, manned by elements of the 3rd Infantry. Defending Moron, two miles north of Bayandati, and the sandy stretch of beach between it and the outpost line was Company I, 1st Infantry, and Troop G, 26th Cavalry. In corps reserve was the 91 st Division (PA), with combat elements of the 71st Division attached; the 26th Cavalry; and the 1st Infantry (less detachments).
In drawing up his plans for the conquest of Bataan, General Nara had correctly estimated that decisive results could be obtained most quickly in the II Corps sector and had sent the bulk of his troops down the eastern side of Bataan. Against Wainwright’s I Corps he had sent a relatively weak force, consisting of a combat team composed of the 122nd Infantry (less two companies); a battalion of field artillery, a platoon of engineers, and a squad of signalmen. This force, led by Colonel Watanabe, was under orders to advance westward from Dinalupihan to Olongapo, then south through Moron toward Bagac.
Leaving Dinalupihan at 1900 of the 9th, Colonel Watanabe led his men along Route 7 toward undefended Olongapo. Delayed only by destroyed bridges and demolitions planted earlier by the American engineers, he reached Olongapo at 1400 the next day. His field artillery was still at Dinalupihan where it was to remain until the road could be repaired. Two days later, on 12 January, under orders from 14th Army, the 122nd Infantry embarked in native boats and quickly seized Grande Island, at the entrance to Subic Bay.
In occupying Grande Island the Japanese acquired possession of Fort Wint, the “little Corregidor” of Subic Bay. Strategically situated to guard the entrance to the bay and control the northwest shore of Bataan, this fort had been part of General Moore’s Harbor Defenses and had been manned by coast artillery personnel under Colonel Napoleon Boudreau. On 24 December Colonel Boudreau had been ordered to abandon the fort by the next day and join the troops then entering Bataan. He had completed the evacuation in time, but only at the expense of several thousand rounds of 155-mm. ammunition, some mobile guns, and the fixed guns of larger caliber.
While the support or retention of Fort Wint was probably impossible once the decision had been made to fall back on the Mabatang-Mauban line, its evacuation without a struggle gave the Japanese an important objective at no cost. An American garrison on Grande Island, even if it was ultimately lost, might well have paid substantial dividends and certainly would have given the Japanese many uncomfortable moments. From Fort Wint the Americans with their large guns could have disputed Japanese control of the bay and of Olongapo, which later became an important enemy supply base, and would have constituted a threat to the flank of any Japanese force advancing down the west coast of Bataan.
[Collier, Notebooks, II, 48-49; Itr, Boudreau to author, 12 Dec 47, OCMH; Harbor Defenses Rpt of Opns, p. 23. Neither Boudreau nor General Moore mentions the loss of armament or ammunition but Colonel Collier states there was such loss and the Japanese claim that they captured a number of guns and a large supply of ammunition when they seized the island. 14th Army Opns, I, 88-92. General Bluemel states that four 155·mm. guns were moved to Olongapo and from there moved by tractor into Bataan. Bluemel, Comments on Draft MS, Comments 14 and 16, OCMH.]
It was not until 14 January that Watanabe began his advance southward along the west coast of the peninsula. Wainwright had dispatched a battalion of the 1st Infantry to Moron at the first news of the occupation of Olongapo, but had withdrawn it two days later when the Japanese failed to advance. On the 14th, when the Japanese began to move toward Moron, the battalion was in corps reserve. Part of the 122nd Infantry came down the narrow trail between Olongapo and Moron; the rest of the regiment embarked in boats for Moron where the West Road began. Watanabe hoped in this way to advance more rapidly down the west coast toward Bagac and avoid the delay inevitable if the entire regiment followed the winding trail north of Moron. Unfamiliar with the coast line and handicapped by poor maps, the water-borne elements of the 122nd came ashore at a small barrio midway between Olongapo and Moron and prepared to march the rest of the distance on foot.
Wainwright received word of the Japanese advance almost as soon as the forward elements of the 122nd Infantry landed. In an effort to contain the enemy he dispatched the entire 1st Infantry, as well as the 1st Engineer Battalion and two battalions of artillery, to Moron. He also relieved Troop G of the 26th Cavalry, which had been on patrol since the 10th, and replaced it with the composite Troop E-F of the same regiment. In command of these forces was General Segundo, commander of the 1st Division. Major McCullom, commander of the 1st Infantry, exercised tactical control.
On 15 January the two elements of the 122nd Infantry joined and by the following morning the regiment was within a mile of Moron. When it crossed the Batalan River, just north of the village, opposed only by fire from an American patrol, Wainwright hastened to Moron where he organized and directed an attack by the 1st Infantry and Troop E-F of the 26th Cavalry. In this first engagement in I Corps the honors went to the Filipinos who forced the Japanese back to the river line. Unfortunately, the cavalrymen suffered heavily in men and animals and had to be withdrawn. During the course of the action Major McCullom was wounded in the head and Colonel Kearie L. Berry, commander of the 3rd Infantry, on the main line of resistance, was placed in command of the 1st Infantry as well.
The Japanese continued the attack against Moron during the 17th and by late afternoon penetrated the town in force. Wainwright’s men thereupon withdrew to a ridge about a mile and a half to the south. It is possible that from this position they could have delayed the enemy advance but already strong Japanese reinforcements were moving against the Mauban line.
The decision to commit additional troops to the attack against I Corps had been made by General Homma, the Army commander, not General Nara, who was responsible for the assault against the Abucay-Mauban line. Homma had made this decision on 13 January, by which time he had correctly estimated that Nara’s attack against II Corps “was not progressing favorably” and that the advance of Watanabe’s force was meeting no resistance. By strengthening the force on the west coast Homma apparently hoped to overwhelm the two corps simultaneously. His revised plan called for a continuation of the drive against II Corps by the 65th Brigade and an increased effort on the west by a larger force than originally contemplated. This force would not only advance to Bagac but would also push east along the Pilar-Bagac road to take II Corps from the rear.
To secure the troops for his revised plan of operations against I Corps, General Homma drew on the 16th Division. On the 13th he ordered the division commander to send to Bataan two infantry battalions and as many regimental guns of 75-mm. caliber and rapid-fire 37-mm. guns as possible. This force, when finally organized, consisted of Headquarters, 16th Infantry Group, the 20th Infantry (less one battalion), an antitank battery, and half the regimental gun battery of the 33rd Infantry. Led by Major General Naoki Kimura, 16th Division infantry group commander, it left Manila for San Fernando on 15 January.
Late that night General Homma created the Kimura Detachment and placed it directly under the control of 14th Army, thus relieving Nara of responsibility for operations against I Corps. In addition to the units he had brought with him, Kimura was also placed in command of the troops already operating along the west coast of Bataan. Altogether he had a force of about 5,000 men.
On the morning of 18 January General Kimura reached Moron and assumed control over operations. For the assault against Wainwright’s line along the ridge south and southeast of the town he organized three forces. The 122nd was to attack frontally down the West Road; the 3 d Battalion, 20th Infantry, was to swing east of Moron in an attempt to take the ridge position on the flank. The third force, one company of the 3rd Battalion, was sent far up the mountain around the I Corps flank to cut the Pilar-Bagac road and did not participate in the ensuing action. The 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, Kimura held in reserve.
In the belief that his force was not strong enough for a successful stand along the ridge, Wainwright on the 18th directed a withdrawal. The 1st Infantry and the 1st Engineers fell back through the outpost line to take up a position along the main line of resistance between the 3rd Infantry and the battalion of the 31st Field Artillery on the slopes of Mt. Silanganan. The Japanese followed closely and that night drove in the corps outpost line “without much effort.” A counterattack the next morning restored the line but another Japanese assault on the night of the 19th gave the Japanese final and permanent possession of the outpost line.
As the 122nd Infantry continued to push against the 1st Division troops on the left of the Mauban line, the 3rd Battalion, 20th Infantry (less one company), which had been sent around the east flank of the ridge line on the 18th, swung back to the southwest into the I Corps area. Unopposed, the battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Hiroshi Nakanishi, either infiltrated through the I Corps line along the slopes of Mt. Silanganan or advanced through a gap between the 1st Infantry and 31st Field Artillery. At about 1000 of the 21st it reached the West Road, three miles east of Mauban in the vicinity of Kilometer Post (KP) 167, and established a roadblock behind the 1st Division: By this move the Japanese placed themselves squarely athwart the only major road suitable for transporting heavy equipment and supplies. Though the enemy force was a small one, less than a battalion, the danger to Wainwright’s position was a grave one. To meet the threat Wainwright was obliged to shift units in his sector. The transfer five days before of the 31st Division (less 31st Field Artillery) to II Corps had left Wainwright with no reserves, and the commitment of the Philippine Division made it impossible to secure reinforcements from USAFFE. He would have to fight the battle with what he had. Most of the 91st Division, including the attached elements of the 71st, had replaced the 31 st on beach defense when that division had gone to Parker.
One battalion of the 92nd Infantry had been attached to the 1st Division and was in place along the reserve line, north of the roadblock. When, on the 19th, word reached General Segundo, the 1st Division commander, that a Japanese force was infiltrating into the line from Mt. Silanganan, he sent three company-size patrols from the battalion of the 92nd Infantry forward to block the trails. They quickly became involved in action along the slopes of Mt. Silanganan and were not available to meet the threat behind the line. The remainder of Wainwright’s force, the 26th Cavalry and elements of the 71st Division, were already committed to the defense of the Pilar-Bagac road and could not be shifted without endangering the security of that vital highway.
[Locations along the roads and trails on Bataan are frequently given in terms of the distance from Manila in kilometers. In the absence of towns’ and villages on Bataan, this description sometimes is the only way to fix a point precisely on a map. These locations corresponded to road and trail markers which read simply “KP” and the number of kilometers from Manila. ]— [There is some disagreement as to the date the road was cut. Some officers gave the date as 20 January; Wainwright and other officers say the block was established on the 21st. The Japanese give the 21st as the date, and that date has been accepted in this account. The time is fixed by the evaluation of Japanese and American sources. See especially Rodman, Engagement of 91st Div (PA) on Moron-Bagac Road; Itr, Rodman to author, 30 Mar 49, OCMH; ltr, Skerry to author, 15 Jul 52, with inds, OCMH.]
When the Japanese roadblock was first discovered, therefore, the only unit available to throw against it from the north was a reinforced platoon of the 92nd Infantry. Colonel John H. Rodman, the regimental commander, ordered 1st Lieutenant Beverly N. Skardon to lead the platoon into action. After an advance of a few hundred yards it came under fire and was forced to halt. Meanwhile, south of the roadblock, a provisional platoon was being readied for action. This platoon was organized and led personally by General Wainwright who, on his way to the front that morning, had heard firing to the north and had hastily gathered about twenty men from the Headquarters Company, 92nd Infantry, to meet this unexpected threat. With these men he attacked the block from the south, but after two hours, realizing he could make no progress with so few men, he left the platoon with another officer and continued forward by another route to organize a larger force.
The initial Japanese block had been established by only a portion of the 3rd Battalion, 20th Infantry. During the day the rest of the battalion picked its way along circuitous routes around blocked trails and down the steep slopes of Mt. Silanganan to join in the defense of the roadblock. Meanwhile, the build-up on the American side continued as additional forces from the 91st Division were released for the impending battle. Scouts of the 26th Cavalry and Company C, 194th Tank Battalion, were also ordered to the threatened area in an all-out effort to clear the road. Colonel Rodman, 92nd Infantry commander, was placed in command of the entire force.
The attack opened on the morning of the 22nd with an attempt by a platoon of tanks to break through the block and establish contact with the 1st Division to the north. By this time the Japanese had constructed antitank obstacles and laid mines, which, with the fire from their 37-mm. antitank guns, effectively held up the tankers. When the two lead tanks of the 194th were disabled by mines, the remaining tanks of the platoon were held up and the attack stalled.
Next, Rodman sent an understrength motorized squadron of the 26th Cavalry and the 3rd Battalion, 72nd Infantry, against the roadblock. This attack was initially successful and the Filipinos reached a ridge near the roadblock. But all efforts to eliminate the block met with failure. Meanwhile, the 122nd Infantry continued to engage Colonel Berry’s 1st Division troops along the main line of resistance.
During the next few days Rodman attempted again and again to drive out the Japanese, first by frontal assaults and then by flanking attacks. A general attack by all units in contact with the enemy was delivered at daylight of the 23rd but failed to gain any ground. Later in the day the 1st Battalion, 2nd Constabulary, in an effort to outflank the enemy and establish contact with 1st Division units, slipped through the jungle south of the roadblock and at nightfall emerged in the vicinity of KP 172, from where it could attack the enemy from the west. Without explanation, however, the Constabulary withdrew during the night to its former position. The next morning, 24 January, the 1st Battalion, 91st Infantry, and the 3rd Battalion of the 72nd attacked the roadblock from the east. Despite support from the Constabulary, which delivered a limited attack from the south, this effort to penetrate the block also proved unsuccessful.
Rodman’s inability to make progress against the roadblock could not have been due to a shortage of troops. By 24 January he had under his command the 2nd Battalion, 92nd Infantry; 1st Battalion, 91st Infantry; 3rd Battalion, 72nd Infantry; the 2nd Squadron, 26th Cavalry; two battalions and a howitzer company from the 2nd Constabulary, attached to I Corps on 22 January; as well as other mixed detachments. All of these units, it must be added, were understrength, tired, poorly fed, and, except for the 26th Cavalry squadron and the howitzer company, had no automatic weapons at all.
Against this array of units Colonel Nakanishi had only a single battalion, less one company. Moreover, the Japanese probably suffered greater hardships than their opponents. It is extremely doubtful that Kimura was ever able during this period to establish a supply route over the mountains and through the I Corps line to the men at the roadblock. Nor is there any definite evidence of enemy air drops to Nakanishi’s troops. His men probably had no supplies other than those they had carried across the mountain. Their staunch defense of the roadblock in the face of such strong opposition was therefore the more remarkable, explainable only by the difficulty of the terrain, which favored the defender, by training, and by determination.
While the fight for the roadblock was being fought to a standstill, the Japanese continued to push against the main line of resistance. Their advance was contested by Colonel Berry’s 3rd Infantry and elements of the 1st Infantry, but by evening of the 24th the “situation was desperate and rapidly growing worse.” The line was under attack from the north, ammunition was short, and the supply route had been cut. The 1st Division troops, whose food stocks were low when the roadblock was established, were suffering from a real shortage of rations. Under the circumstances there was little for Colonel Berry, who for all practical purposes was now commanding the 1st Division, to do except to abandon the main line of resistance. His position was untenable, his supplies gone, his men exhausted and hungry. He could not even rely on continued artillery support since Colonel Fowler’s ammunition was exhausted. On his own responsibility, after consultation with Colonel Fowler and Major A. L. Fitch and without permission from General Wainwright, Berry made the “inevitable” decision to withdraw.
[Colonel Collier tells an entirely different story about the withdrawal of the 1st Division but this account has not been accepted in the absence of corroborating testimony. Collier, Notebooks, III, 36.]
Having made his decision, Berry still had a difficult problem to face. By what route would his men withdraw and what equipment could he save? On his front was the 122nd Infantry; to his rear was the 3rd Battalion, 20th Infantry, firmly in position along the roadblock. With the West Road blocked, Colonel Berry had only one route southward, the narrow beaches paralleling the South China Sea coast line. If he used this route, he would have to abandon his vehicles, Colonel Fowler’s artillery, and all heavy equipment. Moreover, he would be without cover from air attack while he was on the exposed beaches. Knowing all this, Berry had no choice but to withdraw along this route.
On the morning of the 25th the order to withdraw was issued. All guns, trucks, and equipment which could not be moved along the beaches were to be destroyed. “My officers and myself,” wrote Colonel Fowler, the artillery commander, “destroyed the guns with tears in our eyes.” At 1030 the withdrawal began, with men bearing the wounded on improvised litters leading the way. Covering the withdrawal was the 1st Battalion, 3rd Infantry, blocking the West Road along the slopes of Mauban Ridge. Colonel Rodman’s men kept the beaches clear of Nakanishi’s patrols by pressing in against the roadblock from the west.
The withdrawal of the 1st Division from the main line of resistance was made by battalion, from east to west. The route of withdrawal ran westward through the battalion support area to the West Road and then along it to the 3rd Infantry command post. From here the troops scrambled down trails to the water’s edge, where a station was established to direct the men on their way toward Bagac. By noon of the 25th an estimated 1,000 men had “infiltrated south”; of this number about one fourth were clad only in underwear, carried no arms, and passed as civilians. By nightfall the main force had reached the beach from where the men made their way south as best they could. The withdrawal continued during the night, the covering troops pulling back under cover of darkness to join their comrades in the flight to safety.
The difficult task of disengaging the enemy and moving a large number of men to the rear along a dangerously exposed and inadequate route of withdrawal was accomplished with a minimum of loss and confusion. The maneuver had been well planned and executed. Only one tragic fact marred the success of the withdrawal-the loss of the artillery. Altogether, twenty-five pieces, of which fifteen were 2.95-inch mountain guns and the rest 75’s, had to be left behind.
These had been emplaced just behind the infantry when the line was set up. Their destruction by the retreating artillerymen left I Corps with but two 155’s and four 75-mm. guns (SPM) :’6 At least the destruction was accomplished with the greatest efficiency for the Japanese failed to report the capture of any large number of guns. Presumably when the 1st Division elements and the artillery withdrew from the Mauban line, the other units to its right, the 31st Field Artillery and Company K of the 1st Infantry, also pulled back. There is no record of their movement beyond scattered references to Filipino troops infiltrating to the south.
[There is some confusion as to the exact number of pieces lost as a result of the withdrawal and the figures given are the best that could be worked out from the conflicting sources.]
By evening of the 25th the Mauban line had been evacuated. That night MacArthur reported to the War Department that enemy pressure on the left had forced him “to give ground with some loss including guns of the obsolete 2.95 type.” The situation, he asserted, had been stabilized and “for the present the immediate danger is over.” At the time he sent these reassurances to Washington’ the enemy had already scored a great victory against II Corps and the withdrawal of both corps was in progress.
The Abucay Line Is Turned
A week before the withdrawal from the Mauban line, it will be recalled, the situation in the II Corps area on the east had already become serious. The disintegration of the 51st Infantry on the 16th had unhinged the left flank of Parker’s corps and had left the line exposed. “Unless the 51st Division sector could be regained,” wrote General Parker later, “it was evident that my left flank would be enveloped and the position would be lost.” To recover the lost ground and fix firmly the western anchor of his main battle position, Parker had ordered the Philippine Division (less 57th Infantry) to counterattack at daylight of the 17th. The 31st Infantry (US) had moved into position near Abucay Hacienda the evening before; the 45th Infantry (PS) was still moving up and was about 6,000 yards southeast of that barrio when zero hour came. Thus, the attack, when it was made, was a piecemeal one.
[General Berry stated in an interview that there was not a single American officer with the 31st Field Artillery and that it withdrew without orders from Mt. Silanganan. No light is cast on this subject by General Bluemel’s report since the 31st Division at this time was in II Corps. Interv, author with Berry, Jan 48; Bluemel, 31st Div (PA) Rpt of Opns,]
At 0815, 17 January, the American troops of the 31st Infantry, led by Colonel Charles L. Steel, jumped off from the line of departure and advanced north along Trail 12, nearly a mile east of Abucay Hacienda. On the left was the 1st Battalion; next to it, astride and to the right of the trail, was the 2nd Battalion. The 3rd Battalion was in reserve. The 1st Battalion on the left met little opposition and was able to reach the Balantay River by nightfall. The 2nd Battalion on the right was not so fortunate. About 400 yards from the line of departure it encountered enemy resistance and, despite numerous attempts to break through, was unable to advance farther that day. To fill the gap between the 1st and 2nd Battalions, which had developed as a result of the unimpeded advance on the left, Company K from the reserve battalion was sent into the line.
Plans for the next day’s action were drawn up at a predawn conference held at the 41st Division command post. Present at the meeting were General Lough, Philippine Division commander; Colonel Malcolm V. Fortier, 41st Division senior instructor; Colonel Thomas W. Doyle, commander of the 45th Infantry, which had finally reached the scene; and Colonel Steel of the 31st. After some discussion it was agreed that a coordinated attack by all present would be made that morning. The 31st Infantry was to attack north, and the 45th, echeloned by battalion to the right rear, would deliver the main assault between the 31st and 43rd to the right. The 43rd Infantry was to maintain its position along the regimental reserve line. Artillery support for the advance would be furnished by 41st Division artillery.
As his 45th Infantry moved forward to the line of departure early on the morning of the 18th, Colonel Doyle learned that the 1st Battalion of the 31st was under strong enemy pressure and in danger of being outflanked. A hurried conference between Doyle and Steel produced a revised plan of operations. The 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry, was now to move to the left of the 31st Infantry, supporting the 1st Battalion of that regiment on the extreme left of the Abucay line. The rest of the units would continue the attack as planned.
The 45th Infantry attack began later than planned, but proceeded without major mishap. The regiment-less the 3rd Battalion, which had lost its way and overshot the mark-advanced between the 31st and 43rd but was unable to reach its objective, the Balantay River, before dark. The 3rd Battalion, after a false start which found it “climbing the backs” of the 31st Infantry’s left company, finally reached the river by 1630. There it settled down to hold a front of 1,400 yards, with no protection on its left except that offered by the jungle. The 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, to its right was at the river line, but the 2nd Battalion was still short of the river, as were the 45th Infantry elements to its right. Thus at the end of the second day of counterattack the Japanese still held the salient above Abucay Hacienda.
The situation was still threatening. In addition to the danger presented by the westward movement of Imai’s 141st Infantry, Parker was receiving reports from artillery spotters of Japanese, still out of range, moving down the Abo-Abo River valley in a southeasterly direction. These were the men of Takechi’s 9th Infantry, sweeping wide around Parker’s left end toward the positions now held by the remnants of Jones’s 51st Division and the reserve 31st Division near Guitol.
On the 19th the American and Scout regiments resumed the attack. Starting just before noon the 31st Infantry hit the enemy salient only to be repulsed. Time after time the American infantrymen re-formed and attacked, but with no success. Efforts to bring tanks into the action failed when Parker’s request for tank support was refused on the ground that the terrain was unsuitable for tank operations. Sending armor into such an engagement, wrote Weaver, would be “like sending an elephant to kill flies.” On the west, the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry, now attached to the 31st Infantry, was under fire throughout the day from troops of the 141st Infantry who had infiltrated into the American line. Only on the right did the Philippine Division make progress that day. There, elements of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 45th Infantry, were able to reach the Balantay early in the afternoon
[Ltr, Weaver to Wainwright, 20 Nov 45. Weaver, in his comments on this manuscript, states that his remark was made with reference to the use of tanks in the earlier action in the 57th Infantry area and that no request for tanks was made by General Parker at this time. Comment 41, OCMH.]
Despite this limited success the prospects for the Philippine Division counterattack were distinctly unfavorable on the evening of the 19th. Enemy pressure against the left flank had become extremely strong and the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry, was under fire from the enemy’s automatic weapons. More ominous was the report from a 45th Infantry patrol that an enemy force-presumably the 9th Infantry-had already passed around the II Corps flank. But General Parker did not know that Nara, abandoning all hope for success along the coastal road, had ordered the 2nd Battalion, 141st Infantry, to rejoin Colonel Imai at the opposite end of the line. Nara had further strengthened the 141st by attaching to it a company of the 9th Infantry. These arrangements completed, Nara directed Colonel Imai to launch an all-out attack against Parker’s left flank and rear “to drive the enemy southeastward and annihilate them.” The attack was to open at noon of the 22nd, by which time all the units would be in place and all preparations completed. On 20 and 21 January the Americans and the Scouts again made numerous unsuccessful efforts to restore the original line.
The terrain, dense vegetation, and the lack of accurate information about the enemy prevented effective co-ordination and made contact between front-line units extremely difficult and sometimes impossible. During these two days the Japanese made their preparations for the scheduled offensive. Leaving enough men in position to contain the two Philippine Division regiments, Colonel Imai gradually shifted the bulk of his men westward to the extreme left of the II Corps line. At dawn of the 22nd, these men began crossing the Balantay northwest of Abucay Hacienda, to the left of the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry. By 1000 enough men and heavy weapons had been put across to begin the attack.
The offensive opened shortly before noon with an air attack and an artillery barrage, directed mainly against the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, immediately adjacent to the 45th Infantry’s 3rd Battalion on the corps left flank. Colonel Imai then sent his men into the attack. Whether by chance or design, the weight of the infantry attack fell upon the same battalion that had suffered most from the artillery preparation, and the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, began to fall back slowly. Under the threat of envelopment from the east and west, the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry, broke contact with the enemy and also moved back. The 3rd Battalion, 31st, was also exposed by the withdrawal, for on its right was the enemy salient and on its left was the gap left by the 1st Battalion. It, too, began to fall back, refusing its left flank. By late afternoon the 31st Infantry and the attached 3rd Battalion of the 45th had formed a new line east and south of Abucay Hacienda. The 2nd Battalion remained in place about 1,000 yards east of the Hacienda, along the eastwest road leading to that barrio. To its left was the 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry, then the 1st Battalion with its flank sharply refused and facing almost due west. The 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry, was in support about 100 yards behind the 31st Infantry line.
By nightfall on the 22nd, the 31st and 45th Infantry were in approximately the same place they had been five days earlier when they began the counterattack. The physical condition of the men, however, had greatly deteriorated. They had been in action almost continuously during these five days and the strain of combat was clearly evident. The men on the front line had received little water or food and practically no hot meals during the battle. Many had been forced to rely on sugar cane to satisfy their thirst and hunger. All the men showed the effects of sleepless nights spent in beating off an enemy who preferred to attack during the hours of darkness. Casualties had been heavy, and the men were particularly bitter about Japanese air bombardment, against which the Americans had no weapon.
The infiltration tactics of the Japanese, which carried them into and behind the American positions, also did much to wear down physical resistance and lower morale. Japanese artillery fire had been unopposed for the most part, largely because the terrain prevented close artillery support. When the guns to the rear had offered support, they had been quickly forced into silence by enemy dive bombers which buzzed around the offending weapons like bees around a hive. Against an enemy well equipped with mortars and grenade dischargers, and supported by artillery and aircraft, the Americans had only a limited number of improvised hand grenades and 3-inch Stokes mortars with ammunition that contained a very high proportion of duds. “It was only through maximum effort and determination,” wrote one company commander, “that we were able to attack, and later, defend as long as we did.”
General Nara misread entirely the significance of the advance of his men on the 22nd. He felt that the action had not gone well and that progress had been slow. “Indignant in a towering rage,” he could see no hope of victory in sight. General Parker made a more accurate estimate of the situation. “It was now evident,” he wrote, “that the MLR [main line of resistance] in the 51st Division Sector could not be restored by the Philippine Division.” The counterattack of the Philippine Division, on which Parker had based his hopes for restoring the left portion of his line, had failed.
Not only had the Japanese driven in the II Corps left flank but they now threatened to envelop the entire line and pin the corps against the sea. On the 17th, the 9th Infantry (less two companies) had entered the Abo-Abo River valley on its journey southeast toward Orion, far behind the line. Though handicapped by inadequate maps, lack of communications with brigade headquarters, shortage of rations, and the difficult terrain, Colonel Takechi’s men had, by 19 January, reached a position on the flank and in the rear of the line. Their advance, though observed, had been unchallenged.
[65th Brig Opns Rpt, Mt. Natib, p. 29… SLF and II Corps Rpt of Opns, p. 34. “The maps used were drawn to the scale 1 : 200,000. Takechi was not sure where he was “and may not even have known he was following the Abo-Abo River. General Nara was not even aware that Takechi had entered the Abo-Abo valley. 65th Brig Opns, Mt. Natib, pp. 26-31; 14th Army Opns, I,98.]
All General Parker had to meet this new threat was Bluemel’s 31st Division (less elements), the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, and the remnants of Jones’s 51st Division. These units were in the vicinity of Guitol, about four miles south of Abucay Hacienda. Still in position astride the Guitol trail, which joined Guitol with Abucay Hacienda, was the covering force consisting of remnants of the 51st Infantry and most of the 21st Engineer Battalion. So weak was this covering force that it could do little more, in Jones’s words, than hold the trail “with both flanks open.”
By the morning of 19 January the commanders at Guitol were receiving reports of the approaching enemy force. Patrols of the 21st Infantry attempted to hold up advance elements of the 9th Infantry but were easily routed. During the middle of the afternoon the Japanese met and engaged elements of the 21st and 31st Divisions before Guitol. The former promptly withdrew, but the green untried 31st Division troops remained in place to fire indiscriminately at friend and foe through the night. The small enemy force withdrew the next morning and was gone when General Bluemel finally quieted his hysterical troops and organized a counterattack with the 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry.
On 21 January Takechi’s men appeared behind the covering force along the Guitol trail and seized the high ground, from which they could dominate the Abo-Abo River valley. An attempt, first by the 51st Infantry on the north, and then from the south by General Jones, to recapture the hill proved unsuccessful. The covering force, cut off from direct access to Guitol via the trail, was forced to move north that night to Abucay Hacienda, then south by another route to rejoin the division near Guitol. The Japanese were now in position to make good their threat to envelop II Corps. With his left flank driven in and with the Japanese in possession of the high ground dominating the left and rear of his line, General Parker was in a most vulnerable position.
On Corregidor MacArthur and his staff had been receiving full and complete reports each day on the progress of the campaign from General Marshall and his assistants in the Bataan echelon of USAFFE. These reports had proved most disquieting, and on 22 January General Sutherland on MacArthur’s orders went to Bataan himself to get “a clear picture of the situation.”
His first stop was Limay, near where General Parker had his headquarters. There he discussed the situation with the II Corps commander before moving on to visit General Wainwright. Actually, Sutherland’s trip to I Corps was unnecessary for, after his talk with General Parker, he had decided that “a withdrawal from the Abucay-Mt. Natib position was essential” He gave both corps commanders verbal warning orders to prepare for a general withdrawal to the reserve battle position behind the Pilar-Bagac road and told them they would receive written orders that night.
Sutherland’s decision, approved by MacArthur, was based on a clear and correct understanding of the tactical situation. The disintegration of the 51st Division, coupled with the failure of the Philippine Division to restore the main line of resistance, had opened a wide gap on the left flank of II Corps through which the enemy had pushed an unknown number of troops. The wedge that now existed between the two corps left both exposed to envelopment and made the entire line untenable. Moreover, the route of withdrawal in I Corps had been jeopardized by the enemy’s establishment of a roadblock behind the line on the West Road. With USAFFE reserve and the reserves of the two corps committed, Sutherland realized that failure to withdraw at this time might well result in disaster.
The decision made, General MacArthur alerted the War Department to the impeding move. “The enemy,” he wrote, “seems to have finally adopted a policy of attrition as his unopposed command of the sea enables him to replace at will.” He pointed out that his losses had been very heavy and “now approximate 35 percent of my entire force” with some divisions showing a loss “as high as sixty percent.” His diminishing strength, he explained, would soon force him to fall back to a new line, where he planned to make his final stand. “I have personally selected and prepared this position,” he told the Chief of Staff, “and it is strong.”
That General MacArthur viewed the situation on Bataan with the greatest concern is evident from the tone of the message and from his specific request to the Chief of Staff that the “fame and glory” of the men on Bataan “be duly recorded by their countrymen.” While his army was still intact, MacArthur declared that he wished to pay tribute “to the magnificent service it has rendered. No troops have ever done so much with so little.” The final pessimistic note came when MacArthur raised the question of his successor “in case of my death.” In such an event he recommended that his chief of staff, General Sutherland, be appointed to succeed him. “Of all my general officers,” MacArthur declared, “he has the most comprehensive grasp of the situation.”
The order for the withdrawal, issued on the night of 22 January, called for the progressive evacuation of the line, to be completed by daylight of the 26th. The troops would start to withdraw under cover of darkness the following day, 23 January, and would continue the withdrawal· on each succeeding night until all troops had reached the reserve battle position. The speed with which these detailed orders were issued indicates that they had already been prepared, an assumption which is entirely reasonable in view of the fact that the Abucay-Mauban line was never intended as the place where the troops would make their last stand. It had been occupied primarily to keep the Pilar-Bagac road in American possession as long as possible and to allow time to prepare the final line to the rear. That line extended generally along the Pilar-Bagac road, “a baked clay road with a double track,” crossing it at various points to take advantage of favorable terrain.
Under the withdrawal plan, II Corps was to move first, on the night of the 23rd-24th, leaving only one night for the withdrawal of I Corps. As Wainwright’s men had been moving back since the 22nd, little difficulty was expected in this sector. The withdrawal of II Corps required a complicated plan, calling for the shift of the 45th Infantry and the 11th Division (less artillery) from Parker’s to Wainwright’s sector.
The first elements to abandon their position would be the heavy artillery and service installations which would begin to move out the first night, 23-24 January, and would arrive at their new positions by daylight of the 25th. A covering force, led by General Lough of the Philippine Division, was to protect the retirement of II Corps’ combat elements from the main line of resistance by establishing a thin line extending from the vicinity of Balanga westward to Guitol. Along this line, from east to west, would be posted the remnants of the 51st Division, the 33rd Infantry (PA), a battalion of the 31st Infantry (PA), one third of the 57th Infantry (PS), and one third of the 31st Infantry (US). General Lough would be supported by Weaver’s tank group and the 75-mm. guns (SPM). From right to left, the front line units would begin to fall back through the covering force at 2300 of the 24th, leaving behind a shell to hold the original position. This shell, consisting of one rifle company and one machine gun platoon for each battalion, with the addition of a battery of 75-mm. guns for each regiment-would start its own withdrawal at 0300 of the 25th. At 2330 on the 25th the covering force would fall back rapidly and by daylight of the 26th, if the movement was completed as planned, all units would be in position along the new line.
[The quotation is from a poem entitled “Abucay Withdrawal” in Henry G. Lee, Nothing But Praise (Culver City, Calif., 1948). Lieutenant Lee was in Headquarters Company, Philippine Division, and wrote the poems included in this small volume during the campaign and in prison camp. He was killed when the prison ship on which he was being transferred to Formosa was hit by an American bomb. The poems had been buried in the Philippines and were recovered after the war.]
During the night of 23-24 January the artillery and service elements withdrew successfully, while all other units made hurried preparations to follow the next night. The covering force took its position during the day, with the tanks, scheduled to be the last to pull out, deployed along the East Road and the so-called Back Road southeast of Abucay Hacienda. The night of 24-25 January was one of confusion. On the extreme right of the line, troops of the 21st Division in the 57th Infantry sector began to fall back from positions above Abucay along the East Road. In the center of the line the 41st Division withdrew along the Back Road.
The intersection of the Back Road with the east-west road connecting Abucay with Abucay Hacienda was the scene of the greatest confusion. Troops poured into the road leading south from all directions. Efforts to organize the men and keep the units intact were fruitless. There were no military police to regulate the traffic and it proved impossible to maintain any semblance of order or organization. At times movement of vehicles and men stopped altogether, despite the best efforts of American and Philippine officers. “It was impossible,” wrote Colonel Miller, commander of a tank battalion, “to do anything but keep the mass moving to the rear-praying-hoping-talking to yourself out loud-gesticulating-and trying to make yourself understood.”
It was a nightmare. Had the enemy chosen this moment to register artillery on the road junction, the cost in lives would have been shocking and the withdrawal might well have ended in a route. On the left of the line the pressure which had been building up against the Philippine Division on the 23rd and 24th reached its climax just as the Scouts and Americans began their withdrawal that night. As the men began to move out of the line, heading east toward Abucay and the East Road, the Japanese hit the thin covering shell. Against determined Japanese onslaughts the shell held long enough to permit the bulk of the men to withdraw. At about 0300 of the 25th the last of the Americans of the 31st Infantry, covered by heavy fire from the 194th Tank Battalion, staggered out of their positions, looking “like walking dead men.” “They had a blank stare in their eyes,”
[Miller, Bataan Uncensored, p. 156. For the withdrawal of each unit the author used the sources relating to the various units already cited. See also Itr, Doyle to Ward, 8 Jan 52, OCMH, in which Colonel Doyle states that at about 0230 of the 25th he “took over this mess of men and trucks” and “cleared the congested area.”]
In prison camp Major Kary C. Emerson of the Philippine Division and II Corps staff talked with many small unit commanders and they all agreed that “coordination was poor, that all roads were clogged with troops and vehicles, and that had the Japanese artillery fired on the roads … our losses would have been very severe … in fact, mass slaughter.”
[Emerson, Opns of II Phil Corps, p. 19. wrote an officer of the regiment, “and their faces, covered with beards, lacked any semblance of expression.” Unwashed and unshaven, their uniforms in shreds, “they looked like anything but an efficient fighting force …. “]
The withdrawal continued throughout the night of 24-25 January, all the next day and on through the night, with the Japanese in full pursuit. On the 25th Japanese aircraft were out in full force, bombing and strafing the retreating soldiers. From early morning until dusk, enemy planes buzzed unopposed over the long columns of men, dropping bombs and diving low to spray the road with machine gun bullets. The Philippine Army soldier, in dusty blue denims, coconut hat, and canvas shoes, watched “with apprehensive eyes” for the first far speck of approaching planes. When the attacks came and the road erupted “in a sheet of death,” the “untrained denim men” milled “like sheep in a slaughter pen.” The reaction of the American infantryman, with his scarred and tilted helmet and shredded khaki trousers black with dirt, was more expressive. At the first alarm, he threw himself to the ground and “in a tone of hurt disgust” cursed … the noble Japanese With four letter Saxon obscenities.
As the II Corps units moved into positions along the new line on the morning of 26 January, they were covered by the two tank battalions. The tanks of the 194th were stretched out for nearly a mile along the north-south Back Road, near Bani, with instructions to hold until two disabled tanks along the narrow road could be moved back.
Atop a knoll at the southern end of the column were the 75-mm. guns (SPM), which, with the tanks, were designated as the last elements of the covering force to withdraw. Between 0930 and 1030 that morning the tankers came under attack from the 141st Infantry, which moved in on the column from the west. In the fight that followed, the SPM’s added their accurate fire power to the armor-piercing 37-mm. shells of the 194th. Unable to advance, Colonel Imai called for artillery support and soon enemy shells were falling near the road-bound tanks.
The enemy’s mortars joined the battle and by noon shells were falling dangerously close to the Americans. Though the two disabled tanks had not yet been pulled out, the tank column was forced to fall back and leave the two behind. Pursued by low-flying aircraft, the SPM’s and then the tanks withdrew to the safety of the new line. Though they had delayed the Japanese only a few hours, they had given the disordered units a chance to dig in for the expected onslaught.
While II Corps was withdrawing under heavy pressure, I Corps fell back with little difficulty. Cut off from the corps commander, Colonel Berry, it will be recalled, had independently decided to withdraw from the Mauban line. Wainwright, in the meantime, had received instructions from General Sutherland to evacuate the Mauban position and fall back behind the Pilar-Bagac road. As he was going forward, he met Colonel Berry who, by his decision, had anticipated Sutherland’s order for a general withdrawal. Wainwright thereupon directed Berry to continue to withdraw but to take his men all the way back to the Pilar-Bagac road. By morning of the 26th, I Corps was in position along the new line to the left of II Corps.
Though they had finally been forced to give ground and abandon the first line of defense, the American and Filipino troops had inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. The 65th Brigade had entered combat on 9 January with a strength of 6,651 officers and men. By 24 January it had suffered 1,472 combat casualties, almost all of which were in the three infantry regiments. Attached units probably suffered proportionate losses and at the end of the Abucay fight General Nara wrote that his brigade had “reached the extreme stages of exhaustion.”
[65th Brig Opns Rpt, Mt. Natib, pp. 33, 38. Each infantry regiment entered combat with 1,919 men. The 122nd Infantry, which fought on the west coast, suffered 108 casualties; the 141st, 700; and 295]
When the troops of I and II Corps reached the reserve battle position, they were on the final line. Since 24 December, a month earlier, they had fallen back from position after position to reach the safety of Bataan. Here they had held off the overconfident enemy along a line which, because of the terrain in the center, was soon turned.
After two weeks of hard fighting the American and Filipino troops had fallen back again. Bataan had been saved,….. saved for another day Saved for hunger and wounds and heat For slow exhaustion and grim retreat For a wasted hope and a sure defeat. There was no further retreat from the new line. “With its occupation,” MacArthur wrote to the Chief of Staff, “all maneuvering possibilities will cease. I intend to fight it out to complete destruction.”
SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)