During the lull which settled over the battlefield on Bataan after the middle of February, both sides completed their preparations for the coming offensive. Throughout March General Homma trained and organized the fresh troops which poured into the Philippines from all parts of the rapidly expanding empire, and made careful and elaborate plans for a fresh assault against the stubborn American-Filipino line. The defenders, dug in along the line occupied late in January, used the interlude in battle to train and to improve their positions. What they needed most to strengthen their capacity to resist was food and medicine, but none was forthcoming. At the end of March, when the combat efficiency of the defenders was lowest, the Japanese moved into position for what Homma fully intended would be the final attack.
The American Line
With the exception of a few scattered detachments hiding out in the mountains of Luzon, all of the troops of General King’s Luzon Force were crowded into the southern tip of Bataan. In this area, less than 200 square miles, were I and II Corps, force reserve, the Service Command, two coast artillery (antiaircraft) regiments, the Provisional Tank Group, two battalions of 75-mm. guns (SPM), plus engineer and signal troops. So crowded was Bataan that enemy aircraft “could drop their pay loads at almost any point or place and hit something of military value.”
The total strength of the units in the Luzon Force was 79,500. Fully three quarters of that total were Philippine Army troops; the rest were Philippine Scouts (8,000) and Americans (12,500). In addition, Luzon Force employed approximately 6,000 civilians and fed another 20,000 Filipino refugees. A detailed breakdown of the strength of the combat elements is revealing. Not one of the eight Philippine Army divisions had its authorized strength of 7,500. General Bluemel’s 31st Division was numerically the strongest, with 6,400 men; the 71st, whose combat elements had been absorbed by General Stevens’ 91st Division, had only 2,500. The others-the 1st, 2nd, 11th, 21st, 41st, and 51 st-had less than 6,000 men each.
The organization and deployment of the forces on Bataan at the end of March did not differ much from what they had been during the preceding two months. The front line still stretched across the peninsula, behind the Pilar-Bagac road, from Orion on the east to Bagac on the west, a distance of thirteen miles. The right half of the line was held by Parker’s II Corps; the left, now commanded by General Jones, by I Corps. The corps boundary roughly bisected the southern portion of the peninsula, extending southward along the Pantingan River across the heights of the Mariveles and thence to Mariveles Bay via the Pan ikian River.
Parker’s corps on the Manila Bay side of the peninsula consisted in mid-March of approximately 28,000 men. The eastern anchor of the line was still held by Colonel John W. Irwin’s 31st Infantry (PA), which was stretched along the coast from Limay northward to Orion. To its left was the provisional regiment composed of Air Corps troops and led by Colonel Irvin E. Doane. The 31st Division (less most of two regiments) extended the line about a mile westward where the remnants of the 51st Division, organized as a combat team, tied in with it. The left anchor of II Corps was formed by the 21st and 41st Divisions (PA) deployed in front of Mt. Samat. Guarding the beaches from Limay southward to the corps boundary were the 2nd Division (less the 1st and 2nd Philippine Constabulary Regiments), a company of tanks, and a battery of SPM’s. In corps reserve Parker had the 33rd Infantry (P A), less its 1st Battalion, and two engineer battalions.
In the I Corps sector, from east to west, were the 2nd Philippine Constabulary Regiment, the 11th, 1st, and 91st Divisions (PA), the last with the 71st and 72nd Infantry attached. The 2nd Constabulary held the important position on the right flank, tying in with II Corps in the Pantingan River valley, a potentially dangerous corridor leading deep to the rear of the OrionBagac line. On the I Corps left, the 91st Division was responsible not only for that portion of the line which included the West Road but for the coast as far south as the Binuangan River. Defense of the beaches below this river was assigned to the 1st Constabulary, a battalion of the 88th Field Artillery (PS ) , and miscellaneous Air Corps units. Jones’s reserve consisted of the 45th Infantry (PS) and the horseless 26th Cavalry. Total strength of the corps was 32,600 men.
Elements of the Philippine Division, which never saw action as a unit during the campaign, were retained by General King in Luzon Force reserve. Numbering over 5,000 men, this reserve force was composed of the American 31st Infantry, the 57th Infantry (PS), and the Provisional Tank Group. During the first days of April two engineer battalions were taken off construction work on the trails and road and brought into reserve as combat troops. One of these was the 14th Engineer Battalion (PS) of the Philippine Division; the other, the American 803rd Engineer Battalion. The inadequacy of communications and the large number of separate units on the line made it necessary to continue the sector organization established late in January. In II Corps these sectors were designated as before, alphabetically from A to E. Sectors A and B consisted of the two right elements of the line. In each the unit commander was also the sector commander. General Bluemel commanded Sector C, which included his 31st Division elements as well as the 51st Combat Team. Sector D coincided with the front held by the 21st and 41st Divisions and was commanded by General Lough who used his Philippine Division staff as the sector staff. The beach defenses were organized as Sector E under General Francisco, commander of the 2nd Division. The sector organization in I Corps differed from that of the corps to the right.
Here only three sectors were established. On the east of the line, from the corps boundary midway to the coast, was the Right Sector, commanded by General Brougher. Next to it was the Left Sector which included the 1st and 91st Divisions. General Stevens had assumed command of this sector when Jones took over command of the corps. Corresponding to Sector E in II Corps was the South Sector under General Pierce, responsible for defense of the beaches. Thus, Jones dealt with only three subordinate commanders for his entire force, and Parker with five.
The large number of artillery pieces concentrated in the small area held by Luzon Force represented the main support of the infantry. In I Corps there were 50 pieces, most of which were of 75-mm. caliber. There were no 105’s, and of the 16 155-mm. pieces only 2 were howitzers. The artillery on Parker’s side, where the danger was considered greatest, numbered twice as many pieces. Seventy-two of these were 7S-mm. guns, 12 were 2.95-inch mountain guns, and the remainder were GPF’s of 155-mm. caliber. In addition, 31 naval guns, ranging in size from one-pounders to 3-inchers, had been allotted the two corps for use in beach defense. Army artillery consisted of 27 75mm. guns (SPM); two antiaircraft regiments, the 200th and 515th, in position to cover the airfields and rear installations, with one battery of 3-inch guns and two batteries of 37 -mm. guns in support of the forward area; and one seacoast gun. Despite this imposing array of artillery, the effectiveness of its support was limited by the terrain, the absence of air observation, and the lack of 105-mm. howitzers, fire control, and communications equipment, as well as motor transportation.
Dominating the battlefield and offering excellent observation over a large portion of the front was Mt. Samat, on the left of II Corps. From the coastal plain on the east the ground rises gently at first, then more precipitately, to a height of almost 2,000 feet at the peak of Samat. The mountain and the surrounding country is covered with heavy, hardwood timber. Huge trees, six feet in diameter, rise to a height of 80 to 100 feet. Beneath, the foliage is dense, much of it covered with large thorns to impede the soldier and tear his clothing to shreds. Numerous streams and rivers drain the northern slopes of the Mariveles Mountains, cutting across the Orion-Bagac line and forming river valleys which provided pathways to the south. Heavy forests line the steep banks of the rivers and the undergrowth makes movement difficult even along the narrow trails. Only on the east coast, with its swamps and cane fields, is the ground flat and clear enough to offer fields of fire.
Movement throughout this forbidding area was limited to pack trails and the coastal road. In front and paralleling the line was the Pilar-Bagac road, to which the engineers had constructed a cutoff from KP 136 in front of the 51st Combat Team to Orion on the coast. From the Pilar-Bagac road a number of trails led south. In the II Corps sector, the main north-south trails were 2 and 4 on the east slopes of Mt. Samat and 6 and 29 on the west. Connecting 4 and 29 was Trail 429. In I Corps Trails 15 and 7 offered the enemy a choice of routes into the American position. Lateral communication behind the lines was provided by a series of east-west trails which the engineers had connected during January and February. In general, this road linked Trails 7 and 9 on the west with Trail 8 on the east and intersected the north-south trail system. But all movement, though free from observation, would be closely restricted by the nature of the roads.
Radiating in all directions from the Mariveles Mountains are a large number of rivers and streams which trace their way, like the veins on the back of a man’s hand, across the southern portion of Bataan. The Pantingan, which formed the corps boundary, flows north from the Mariveles Mountains to meet the Tiawir River near the Pilar-Bagac road. The Tiawir flows east, changes its name to Talisay, then continues on to Manila Bay. Parallel to the Pantingan and only a short distance to the east is the Catmon which also flows north from the Mariveles Mountains to join the TiawirTalisay River. Flowing northeast and east from Mt. Bataan and Mt. Limay to Manila Bay are numerous rivers, the largest of which are the San Vicente, Mamala, Alangan, and Lamao. These rivers derived their military importance from the fact that they lay across the axis of an enemy advance from the north. Only the southernmost of these rivers, however, the Lamao, which flows between steep, heavily wooded banks, presented a serious obstacle. The others, reduced to a trickle during the dry season, could only delay an enemy momentarily.
Since the middle of February, when the pocket fights had ended, there had been little action on Bataan. During this lull every effort had been made to improve the battle line and to train the Philippine Army soldier. Schools were established and a training program organized which utilized fully the knowledge of the enemy acquired through bitter experience during the preceding months. Success in jungle warfare, it was now clear, depended upon the ability of the individual soldier to a larger degree than in any other type of warfare. One of the first lessons learned was that no soldier should carry more than the absolute minimum required in combat, an old lesson that had to be learned time and again. All the soldier needed was his primary weapon, ammunition, hand grenades, entrenching tools, which few had, and first-aid packet. Everything else should be left behind, for it would only impede his progress through the dense undergrowth and limit his efficiency when he finally met the enemy.
To prepare the soldier for combat, commanders were enjoined to impress upon him the necessity for keeping under cover at all times. This elementary precaution was especially necessary for the Philippine Army troops whose knowledge of military matters was often limited to close order drill and the elements of military courtesy. “We are gradually getting the Philippine Army personnel to lay flat on the ground instead of cowering under trees … ,” remarked one officer, “and we are suffering fewer casualties.” Americans and Filipinos alike were cautioned to be on the alert for the many tricks used by the Japanese soldier. One favorite Japanese ruse, the men were told, was to demoralize the enemy by creating the impression that he was being fired on by his own artillery.
This effect the Japanese easily produced by timing their own artillery and mortar fire to that of the Americans. In particular, the men were warned against stopping to examine dead Japanese or abandoned equipment. Even at this early stage of the war the Japanese ruse of shamming death until the enemy was near enough for attack had already been observed. “The only safe solution,” it was concluded, “is to consider each Japanese as potentially dangerous unless he has surrendered or is dead.”
The validity of the tactical doctrines summarized in the manuals and taught in the schools of the Army was proved sound on the battlefield of Bataan. Unit commanders were reminded to pay close heed to first principles. Thorough and careful reconnaissance, experience had shown, should precede the selection and establishment of a position. Stress was placed on the necessity for a clear understanding of responsibility for maintaining contact between adjacent units. At all times units would have to patrol vigorously to the front and flanks, in recognition of the Japanese skill in finding gaps in the line and unprotected flanks. In an effort to train the Filipino a school for scouting and patrolling was established. Instruction was provided by selected officers and men from the Philippine Division who went forward to the front-line units to conduct the school. “Constant and aggressive patrolling between strong points and centers of resistance” was recommended as the most effective method of combating infiltration.
Strong points were to be made mutually supporting, with an all-around defense, and organized in checkerboard manner for a defense in depth. If a small enemy force should succeed in infiltrating to the rear, a USAFFE training memorandum advised, front-line units should remain in place and not be stampeded. The reserve would be used to drive out the Japanese while front-line units provided supporting fire.
In attacking through the jungle the troops were taught to advance slowly. Japanese foxholes and machine gun nests, it was pointed out, would have to be reduced one by one, usually by individuals armed with hand grenades. These men would have to be supported by continuous fire from the squad or platoon. The necessity for halting the advance one to two hours before darkness was stressed in all training. At that time defensive perimeters would be established to prepare for the customary Japanese night attack. The period before nightfall, it was noted, was the best time to serve the one cooked meal of the day. During the advance the infantry was advised it could not expect close support from the artillery. To provide this support an elaborate wire communications system extending to each assault company would be required, an obvious impossibility on Bataan where wire was in short supply.
Battalion commanders were told that artillery units would be placed in direct support and that they could call for fire as needed. Unlike the artillery, mortars could be used with effect in close combat in the jungle when ammunition was available. One of the most valuable lessons learned during the early days of the fighting was that the light tanks of the Provisional Tank Group could be extremely useful in jungle warfare. Many infantry commanders had expressed dissatisfaction with the support received from the tanks, while the tankers felt that their arm was not understood by the others. Part of the difficulty undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that the tanks were under the control of the group commander who was himself subordinate only to MacArthur’s headquarters. Contributing to the misunderstanding was the relative newness of armor and the lack of appreciation by infantry commanders of the potentialities and proper use of tanks.
USAFFE headquarters attempted to remedy this shortcoming. Tanks and infantry, it taught, should operate as a team, with the foot soldier following close behind the tank. This advice was based upon the observation that the Japanese usually remained in concealed positions until the tanks had passed and then opened up on the infantry at a moment when it was deprived of armored support. Experience had shown that, except under unusual circumstances, armor was most effective in attacks against limited objectives where it could be supported by infantry fire. Although a co-ordinated infantry-tank attack would of necessity be slow, the advantage gained by the tank’s ability to destroy the enemy’s prepared positions, it was believed, would more than compensate for the loss of speed. Under no circumstances, warned USAFFE in a training memorandum, were the tanks to be employed as pillboxes or left forward without infantry protection.
The Americans learned valuable lessons from the Japanese landings behind I Corps late in January. The best defense against these landings, it had been observed, was the occupation of all bays and beaches with “vigilant and aggressive” troops armed with machine guns. Since there were not enough men to cover all possible landing sites, only the most likely could be covered in this manner. Mobile reserves could be used in the event of a landing at an unguarded beach. As the enemy approached close to shore he would be extremely vulnerable to automatic weapons fire. “Get the Japanese before he lands,” advised USAFFE. “Ten minutes of accurate fire placed on the Japanese just prior to and during the period of attempted landing may save three or four days necessary to hunt him in the brush and woods.”
While these lessons were of undoubted importance in the training of the troops during the lull in battle, of more immediate importance was the improvement of fortifications and the strengthening of the Orion-Bagac line. Staff officers from Corregidor as well as from headquarters on Bataan made frequent inspections of the front lines and pointed out deficiencies in the defenses.
Among the faults noted were the failure to dear fields of fire, the improper placement and camouflage of foxholes, and the location of wire entanglements without regard for tactical dispositions. These faults were summarized by USAFFE late in February and instructions issued for strengthening the line. “Organization of positions must be continued beyond the foxhole stage,” it directed; “reserve and support positions prepared; trenches dug; drainage arranged for; camouflage improved; clearing of fields of fire extended to the front to include all foliage and cover afforded the enemy within small arms range.” Commanders and their staffs were enjoined to supervise and check the positions established, suggest improvements, and correct errors. Particular attention was to be given to sanitation which, USAFFE noted, had been neglected by front-line units. “The health of the command,” it warned, “may be seriously endangered by neglect of these measures.”
The improvement of the defenses along the main line of resistance and the beaches circling the southern tip of Bataan continued throughout March. Trained technicians of the 14th Engineer Battalion (PS) visited all units on the line and gave instruction and assistance in fortifications. Though limited by shortages of equipment and defense materials, the men along the front strung barbed wire and constructed tank traps and obstacles. In I Corps the engineers planted three large mine fields along the most probable routes of hostile advance and laid about 1,400 improvised box mines and thirty-five submarine depth charges, secured from Corregidor. In the 11th Division (PA) sector, by the end of March, the entire front was covered by a wall or palisade of bamboo poles twelve feet high. Though it had little value as protection against enemy attack, this wall did provide concealment and bolster morale.
While much work remained, the main line of resistance and the beach defenses had been considerably improved by the end of the month. In the opinion of General Casey, defensive positions on Bataan were well conceived and constructed, deriving their strength from cleared fields of fire and “suitably emplaced” automatic weapons with “both grazing and enfilade fire.”
Anticipating the possibility that all combat troops would be needed to halt a breakthrough, General King ordered all II Corps service units to be ready to take over defense of the beaches to release the 2nd Division for counterattack. Service unit commanders were required to reconnoiter the trails leading to their assigned sectors to determine the quickest route to the beach and a trial run was made on 28 March under cover of darkness. In I Corps General Jones ordered the establishment of four switch positions in the Pantingan River valley, on his right flank, on the assumption that the main effort, as before, would be made between the two corps.
Luzon Force made its own preparations. These included the pooling of buses and trucks, gassed and ready for immediate movement, in the reserve area. In this way the 31st Infantry (US) and the 57th Infantry (PS), in force reserve, could be moved quickly to any threatened portion of the line. Fearful also of the “pitifully thin” beach defenses, Luzon Force organized a battery of 75-mm. guns (SPM) and a company of tanks into a mobile reserve and ordered them “to reconnoiter roads and avenues of approach.” By the end of March the half-starved and poorly equipped Americans and Filipinos had done all they could to prepare for attack. The signs that such an attack would soon come were clear; “the handwriting was vivid on the wall.”
During. March General Homma completed his own plans and preparations. He had every reason to believe that this time his efforts would be crowned with success. Since 8 February, when he had abandoned his fruitless efforts to reduce Bataan, Homma had received large reinforcements. Like the Americans he had utilized the lull in battle to reorganize his force and to train and rest his weakened troops. They were now ready, he thought, for the final effort to bring the campaign to a quick close. At the end of February the Japanese had been in desperate straits. At that time their infantry strength on Bataan had been reduced to approximately 3,000 effectives. Both the 65th Brigade and the 16th Division had been so sadly depleted that the 14th Army chief of staff described them as “a very weak force.” These heavy losses had been due only in part to battle casualties; disease and shortages of food and medicine had also taken their toll.
Even by Japanese standards the lot of the soldier on Bataan was not an enviable one. Certainly he was not well fed. During January 14th Army’s supply of rice had run low and efforts to procure more from Tokyo and from local sources in the Philippines had proved unavailing. As a result the ration had been drastically reduced in mid-February. Instead of the 62 ounces normally issued the troops of Japan, the men on Bataan received only about 23 ounces, plus small amounts of vegetables, meat, and fish which were distributed from time to time. To this they added whatever they could buy, steal, or force from an unwilling civilian populace.
Severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment had further limited the effectiveness of Japanese operations on Bataan. The 14th Army had begun the campaign with but one month’s supply of quinine and in January its use as a prophylaxis for all but front-line troops had been discontinued. After 10 March even troops in combat were denied the drug which was thereafter reserved for those hospitalized with malaria. Those sick with diphtheria received no medication and the treatment of actual or potential tetanus, gangrene, and dysentery cases was limited by the very small amount of the drugs on hand. Between 1 January and 31 March approximately 13,000 Japanese soldiers were hospitalized as nonbattle casualties alone. Since the military hospitals could accommodate only 5,000 patients in the period when battle casualties were greatest, it was impossible to provide adequate medical treatment for the sick and wounded.
[USA vs. Homma, pp. 2536, 2876-79, 2848, 3122, testimony of Homma and of Colonel Shusuke Horiguchi, 14th Army surgeon. The normal Japanese field ration consisted of rice, fish, vegetables, soup, and pickled plums or radishes. Other items, such as meat, sweets, and fruits, were issued on special occasions. Handbook of Japanese Military Forces, TM-E 30-480, 15 Sept 44, pp. 177-79.]
The condition of his men, therefore, as well as the unexpectedly strong resistance from the American and Filipino troops, had forced Homma to discontinue offensive operations in February. Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo, which had earlier taken from Homma the 48th Division and most of his air force, now became concerned over the failure to bring the campaign to an end. Elsewhere Japanese armies had met with spectacular success and General H eadquarters felt that it could now spare the forces necessary to complete the conquest of the Philippines.
This decision was in no sense an indication that the Army high command was satisfied with the performance of 14th Army. It was not and soon made its displeasure evident by shifts in Homma’s staff. Inspecting officers from Tokyo visiting Manila had found many 14th Army officers comfortably settled in the capital while the battle for Bataan was at its height. “If the tactical situation went well,” General Homma later commented wryly, “that would have been all right for everybody.” Unfortunately for these officers the battle did not go well and on 23 February General Headquarters relieved General Maeda, Homma’s chief of staff, as well as the operations and training officer and the supply officer of 14th Army headquarters. Maeda’s place was taken by Major General Takaji Wachi who arrived in the Philippines about 1 March.
During the latter part of February and throughout the month of March Japanese reinforcements poured into the Philippines. With the individual replacements received during this period both the badly hit 65th Brigade and 16th Division were strengthened and revitalized. In February General Nara received about sixty officer replacements and, the following month, 3,500 men to take the place of the troops he had lost during the January attack against II Corps. The 16th Division received a similar number of men about the same time.
The largest single addition to Homma’s 14th Army came when the 4th Division, led by Lieutenant General Kenzo Kitano, arrived from Shanghai. Kitano had learned “unofficially” that his division was to be transferred on 4 February but it was not until a week later that he received orders to move out. By the 27th of the month the first convoy, comprising division and infantry group headquarters, one infantry regiment, plus artillery and service troops, had reached Lingayen Gulf. The remainder of the division followed in successive convoys and by 15 March almost the entire 4th Division was on Luzon. The arrival of the 4th Division did not produce any great enthusiasm at 14th Army headquarters; the division was poorly equipped and numbered only 11,000 men; its infantry battalions had three instead of four rifle companies; it lacked antitank guns and two of its four field hospitals. In General Homma’s opinion, Kitano’s division was the “worst equipped” division in the entire Japanese Army, and, he later noted, had he been forced to rely on it alone to begin his offensive he would not have been “competent to attack.”
On 26 February, the day before Kitano’s first group landed, a strong detachment from the 21st Division arrived in the Philippines. This force, led by Major General Kameichiro Nagano, 21st Infantry group commander, and called the Nagano Detachment, numbered about 4,000 men and was composed of the group headquarters, the 62nd Infantry, a battalion of mountain artillery, and a company of engineers. Nagano had been en route from China to French Indochina with the rest of the 21st Division when he had received the orders from Southern Army that sent him to the Philippines.
Arriving too late to participate in the final offensive was the 10th Independent Garrison which landed at Lingayen Gulf on 2 April. Intended as an occupation force, this organization consisted of five independent battalions of infantry but lacked supporting arms and services. Artillery reinforcements began to reach the Philippines in the middle of February and continued to arrive in increasing numbers until the first week in April. Included among these units were a balloon company and an artillery intelligence regiment. To control the large number of artillery units, Homma was also given the 1st Artillery Headquarters, led by Lieutenant General Kishio Kitajima, which was shipped from Hong Kong late in March.
[14th Army Opns, I, 119-20; USA vs. Homma, p. 2635, testimony of Kitajima. The artillery reinforcements consisted of the following units: 1st Arty Hq; 1st Field Heavy Arty Regt (240-mm. howitzers); 2nd Independent Heavy Arty Btry (240-mm. howitzers); 3rd Independent Mountain Arty Regt (75-mm. mountain guns); 3rd Mortar Bn 14th Independent Mortar Bn (300-mm. mortars)]
In addition to the strong reinforcements sent to Luzon, Imperial General Headquarters dispatched units to other portions of the Philippine Archipelago to hasten the occupation of the Visayas and Mindanao. Thus far only Mindoro, a portion of Mindanao, and a few small islands seized at the start of the war were in Japanese hands. On 10 March elements of the 5th and 18th Divisions from Malaya and Borneo were assigned the task of occupying the central and southern Philippines. In early April these units arrived in Lingayen Gulf, were augmented by 14th Army supporting and service troops and organized into two detachments for operations in the south.
Imperial Headquarters also provided air reinforcements for the coming offensive by giving Homma two heavy bombardment regiments consisting of a total of sixty twin-engine bombers. The two regiments flew in from Malaya and landed at Clark Field on 16 March. Naval air units were also dispatched to Luzon to assist 14th Army air elements which were reorganized into the 22nd Air Brigade under Major General Kizo Mikami. By the beginning of April, therefore, Homma had a sizable air force to throw against the defenders of Bataan.
While recently arrived and veteran units alike were put through a rigorous training program, 14th Army staff officers made preparations for the coming offensive. The final plan, completed on 22 March, was based on the incorrect assumption that the defenders numbered 40,000 men and were deployed along three lines: the first along Mt. Samat, the second along Mt. Limay, and the final line near Mariveles at the tip of the peninsula. To break through this defense in depth, 14th Army proposed to make a coordinated infantry-2nd Independent Mortar Battalion (150-mm. mortars) 20th Independent Mountain Artillery Battalion (75-mm. mountain guns) One Company, 21st Field Heavy Artillery Battalion (150-mm. howitzers) 5th Arty Intelligent Regiment, 3rd Tractor Unit, 1st Balloon Company, artillery-air assault along a narrow front, with Mt. Samat as the initial objective. From here the Japanese would push on to the Mt. Limay line, supported, if necessary, by an advance along the East Road. Once this line was gained, 14th Army would bring the campaign to an end by seizing Mariveles. Preparations for the assault against Corregidor would begin immediately thereafter.
[USA us. Homma, pp. 2457, 2576. At his trial General Homma explained that his intelligence officer had estimated enemy strength on Bataan as 25,000 men, but that he, Homma, believed this figure to be too low. He had told his intelligence officer so and had directed him to “go back and estimate again.” The next estimate was 40,000. “So,” explained Homma at his trial, “in my estimation, I told him it must be 60,000, but I have no data to contradict you, so I accept your estimation.” Ibid., pp. 3064-65.]
[The description of the Japanese plan is based upon: 14th Army Opns, I, 128-42, 146-56, II, 17-42; 5th Air Gp Opns, pp. 54-63; Interrog of Kitano, 1 May 47, Interrogations of Former Japanese Officers, Mil Hist Div, GHQ FEC, I; Statements of Lieutenant Colonel Hiromi Oishi, 4th Div staff, 2 Oct 50, ATIS Doc 62639, and Colonel Motohiko Yoshida, CofS 4th Diu, 28 Jul 49, ATIS Doc 62642, both in Statements of Japanese Officials on World War II, GHQ FEC, Mil Intel Sec, III, 113, IV, 548.]
Japanese Plan Of Attack
In contrast to his expectations for a speedy victory in January, Homma, who had by this time acquired a healthy respect for his opponent, now believed that it would take about a month to complete the conquest of Bataan: one week to seize Mt. Samat, two weeks to crack the Limay line, and one more week to mop up. “I do not know,” Homma wrote, “whether the enemy on Bataan will try to fight to the end at their first and second line, whether they will retreat back to Corregidor and fight, escape to Australia, the Visayas or Mindanao, or give up at the right time, but I still propose to prepare for the worst.”
Instructions for the coming offensive were issued to all major commanders on 23 March at a meeting in San Fernando. General Kitano, commander of the 4th Division, was told that his division would carry the burden of the main assault in front of Mt. Samat and that he would receive close support from General Nara’s 65th Brigade. Protection of the left (east) flank of the advance was assigned to General Nagano’s 21st Division detachment, and the 16th Division commander, General Morioka, was given the mission of making a feint attack in front of I Corps. Beginning the next day, 24 March, General Mikami’s 22nd Air Brigade, aided by naval aircraft, would begin an intensive air assault against the American line, and just before the ground assault opened General Kitajima’s artillery would join in the attack to soften up the opposition. There was no disagreement over the selection of 3 April as D Day. But zero hour was not fixed without a good deal of discussion.
General Kitano and his 4th Division staff urged that the ground assault begin at noon. To delay until later in the day, they argued, would needlessly expose the troops to enemy artillery fire before the attack. The 65th Brigade commander, General Nara, with three months’ experience on Bataan, felt that the Americans would take advantage of the daylight hours to mass their extremely effective artillery fire against the advancing infantry if the attack jumped off too early. He preferred to delay zero hour until dusk and move forward under cover of darkness. Since no agreement could be reached, Colonel Nakayama, 14th Army operations officer, presented a compromise plan fixing the time of the infantry attack at 1500. A disagreement over the objectives of the first day’s attack was also settled by compromise; thereafter the detailed planning proceeded with few interruptions.
The plans finally drawn up for the 3 April offensive provided for a heavy air and artillery bombardment on the morning of D Day. After a five-hour preparation the assaulting infantry would move out to the attack, the 65th Brigade on the right (west), the 4th Division on the left. The first objective, Mt. Samat, was to be taken at the end of the first week of operations. The Japanese would advance in three columns. The right (west) column would consist of General Nara’s 65th Brigade whose main force would march up the Pantingan River valley, along Trail 29, on the extreme left of the II Corps line. One element of the brigade was to remain west of the Pantingan River, in I Corps, to maintain contact with the 16th Division. Nara’s objective was control of the area west of Mt. Samat. When he had gained this objective, he was to halt his troops, reorganize, and prepare to seize the commanding heights of the Mariveles Mountains.
The 4th Division was to advance in two columns. On the right, next to the 65th Brigade and making the main effort, was Major General Kureo Taniguchi’s Right Wing, consisting of the 61st Infantry, one battalion of the 8th Infantry, the 7th Tank Regiment (less two companies), and artillery and service units. Taniguchi, the infantry group commander of the 4th Division, was to take his men across the Tiawir River and down along the Catmon River, in the center of Sector D, toward Mt. Samat. The 4th Division’s Left Wing, organized around the 8th Infantry and led by Colonel Haruji Morita, the regimental commander, was to form the easternmost column of the Japanese drive. It was to advance down Trail 4, against the Philippine Army’s 21st Division on the right of Sector D, directly toward the first objective, Mt. Samat.
Supporting the advance of the 4th Division and the 65th Brigade would be the 16th Division and the Nagano Detachment, initially in Army reserve. The former, with attached artillery and tanks, was to protect the right (west) flank of the assault On 31 March, three days before the main effort began, Morioka would begin a feint attack against I Corps, and thereafter maintain constant pressure against that corps to pin down General Jones’s troops. By 8 April Morioka was to be ready to move the bulk of his division eastward to support the advance of the 4th Division. An element of the Nagano Detachment was to protect the 4th Division’s east flank and later the entire detachment was to divert the enemy and pin down his beach defense troops by feinting landings along the east coast of Bataan, between Orion and Limay.
By the end of the first week of operations, General Homma estimated, the 4th Division would be approaching the Mamala River, and the 65th Brigade, the foothills of the Mariveles. Along the river Homma expected to encounter the strong defenses of the Limay line, a line which existed only in Japanese estimates and plans. With the 16th Division ready to move east to the support of the 4th Division and with the Nagano Detachment poised to advance down the East Road, Homma hoped to be able to pierce the defenses of this line and defeat the American and Filipino force in two weeks. After that, operations would consist largely of mopping up. Homma’s estimates in this case, unlike those he had made earlier in the campaign, were extremely conservative. General Kitano, who had not yet been in combat on Bataan, was far more sanguine about the results of the initial attack. Once Mt. Samat had been taken and the II Corps front rolled back, he believed, only “a pursuit of the Americans” would be required. For once the more optimistic of the Japanese estimates proved correct.
Prelude to Attack
During the second week of March the month-long lull which had followed the Japanese withdrawal from the Orion-Bagac line came to an end. American and Philippine patrols now began to meet opposition from a counter-reconnaissance screen which Homma had thrown forward to mask preparations for the coming offensive. As the days passed Japanese patrols became more active, and troops along the outpost line reported skirmishes with the enemy who was already moving out to the line of departure. By the last week of March the Japanese had pushed forward their screen to within 1,000 yards of the American line.
There were other equally obvious signs after the middle of March that the Japanese would soon renew the attack. Observers reported that they were moving supplies and troops into Bataan and building roads. Enemy aircraft, rarely seen in the month following the Japanese withdrawal, now began to appear in increasingly large numbers, attacking front-line troops, artillery positions, and supply areas to the rear.
[Collier, Notebooks, 111,52,59; O’Day, 21st Div (PA), II, 35-36; 14th Army Opns, 1,122-23; Luzon Force Rpt of Opns, G-2 Annex. A daily report on the enemy build-up is contained in the messages of General Beebe to MacArthur, and Wainwright to the War Department in G-3 USFIP Journal, 19 Mar-19 Apr 42, AG 461 (1 Apr 42) Phil Reds.]
The presence of many small boats and native craft at the mouth of the Pampanga River on the north shore of Manila Bay hinted at the possibility of amphibious attacks along the east coast of Bataan, similar to those made earlier against I Corps. Through the month the Japanese shelled the American positions intermittently with 75-mm. guns mounted on the largest of these boats. Though their marksmanship was poor, their fire increased apprehension of a landing behind the lines. Japanese artillery activities increased also. The Japanese guns which had been silent for several weeks began to sound again and an observation balloon floating over the high ground west of Abucay gave notice of the arrival of larger Japanese pieces than the Americans had yet encountered.
Japanese demand surrender
To these portents of a new Japanese offensive General Homma added a direct warning of dire consequences if the Bataan defenders did not surrender. In a message to General Wainwright, copies of which were dropped over Bataan in beer cans, Homma praised the valiant stand made by the Americans and Filipinos but declared that he now had large enough forces and supplies “either to attack and put to rout your forces or to wait for the inevitable starvation of your troops. . . .” He urged Wainwright to be sensible and follow “the defenders of Hong Kong, Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies in the acceptance of an honorable defeat.” To do otherwise, he pointed out, would be disastrous. The message closed with the ominous warning that if Wainwright did not reply by noon of the 22nd, Homma would consider himself “at liberty to take any action whatsoever.”
[The text of the surrender message is in the exhibits of the trial of General Homma, Prosecution Exhibit 421.]
More specific information about Homma’s intentions came on the night of 24 March when some Filipino troops found on the body of a Japanese officer a detailed order for a reconnaissance in force of the Mt. Samat area. The order specified that information was to be obtained about routes of advance for tanks, favorable points for river crossings, and American artillery positions around Mt. Samat. The document further revealed that, following the reconnaissance, some time after 26 March the Japanese would attack in the Mt. Samat region and even indicated “with considerable exactitude” the plan of the attack. By now the Japanese air and artillery bombardment had made life for the sick and hungry men on Bataan a living hell.
Enemy planes, unopposed except for a few antiaircraft guns, were over the American lines at all hours of the day, bombing and strafing at will. “Every few minutes,” wrote an American officer, “one plane would drop down, lift up the tree branches and lay one or two eggs. Every vehicle that tried to move, every wire-laying detail, infantry patrols, even individuals moving in the open were subject to these spot bombings.” Japanese artillery concentrated on frontline positions and on the Americans’ larger guns, coordinating with the air forces in an effort to knock out the American artillery. Though the effort was unsuccessful, by destroying communications and shelling observation posts and battery positions, the Japanese lowered the efficiency of the artillery “to a considerable extent.”
While the materiel losses from the bombings were not very great, the effect of the air-artillery attack, which increased in severity daily, on the efficiency of the troops was pronounced. The men were under shelter a good part of the time and many began to show a marked reluctance to move far from cover. The alert might sound in the midst of a meal or while the men were at rest, and everyone would dash for shelter. Rank made no difference; the men headed for the nearest foxhole and remained there until the attack was over. One Filipino officer, three times wounded and returned to duty each time, strangely enough usually found himself in sole possession of any foxhole he selected. The men estimated that his luck had run out and when he hopped into a foxhole they promptly jumped out and ran for another. Work was constantly being interrupted by the bombardment, and officers inspecting the defenses spent fully half their time in a ditch. “These high bombers get my goat,” wrote Colonel Quintard in his diary. “You never know when they are going to unload, and the waiting gets hard; when they do unload any place near, it sounds like an express train bearing down on you for a few seconds before they hit.”
[Captain Andrew D. Shoemake, 41st FA (PA), p. 32, Chunn Notebooks. Shoemake was instructor of the 2nd Battalion, 41st Field Artillery (PA).]
On 28 March, 14th Army issued final orders for the offensive, and all troops began to move forward to the line of departure. The 65th Brigade, with elements onboth sides of the Pantingan River, pushed in the outpost line of the 21st and 41st Divisions and took up a favorable position for the attack, To its east, the 4th Division advanced from the assembly area to the front and by 2 April both wings of the division were posted along the north shore- of the Tiawir-Talisay River. The Nagano Detachment, the easternmost unit of the Japanese advance, was already in position to carry out its mission. Far to the west, in front of I Corps, the 16th Division had already tied in with the 65th Brigade and begun to make feint attacks against General Jones’s line.
By 2 April all preparations had been completed and the Japanese could announce publicly over the radio that they were ready to begin “an all out offensive in Bataan.” “Our four groups [the 4th and 16th Divisions, the Nagano Detachment, and the 65th Brigade] have been brought into line and on a front of 25 kilometers ten flags are lined up,” wrote General Homma on the eve of the attack. “Artillery is plentiful. There are also enough special guns, and supply arrangements have been completely prepared . . .. There is no reason why this attack should not succeed.”
SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)