Since early January strenuous attempts had been made to get food and medical supplies to the men on Bataan and Corregidor. General MacArthur, and later General Wainwright, urged constantly and persistently, in the strongest terms, that the Japanese blockade must be broken, that greater efforts must be made and more drastic measures taken to relieve the Philippine garrison.
These requests were received in Washington with the greatest sympathy. Despite the fact that Allied strategy called for the defeat of Germany first, the bulk of the troops and supplies sent overseas during the early part of 1942 went to the Pacific. A blockade running program was organized, first in Australia and the Netherlands Indies, and then in the United States. Surface vessels, combat aircraft, and even submarines were dispatched to the Philippines in the hope that some would get through with supplies for the weary and hungry men. No expense was too high, no effort too great to relieve the embattled garrison.
The total result of these activities was negligible. The Japanese hold on the Southwest Pacific and southeast Asia was too firm, their victories too rapid to allow the poorly prepared Allies time to organize the resources necessary to come to the aid of the Philippine garrison. The story of the attempt to break through the Japanese blockade, like the entire story of the campaign in the Philippines, is one of heroic efforts and final failure.
Running the Blockade
On 4 January, unaware that the War Plans Division of the General Staff had concluded only a day earlier that relief of the Philippines would require so large a force as to constitute “an entirely unjustified diversion,” General MacArthur had suggested to the Chief of Staff that a plan for blockade running be developed and put into effect immediately. “Some relief,” he had added, “might be obtained on use of submarine transportation.” The suggestion to initiate blockade-running was not acted upon immediately, but the funds to organize such a program had already been allotted to two officers on their way to Australia. The proposal to send supplies by submarine did not secure such ready acceptance.
Admiral Hart, when asked to send antiaircraft ammunition to MacArthur by submarine, replied that no underwater craft were available for such a mission. MacArthur’s message to the Chief of Staff on this subject was a strong one. Hart’s attitude, he declared for the second time in a month, was a defeatist one. “He accepts complete blockade which probably does not exist without effort to penetrate,” he declared, and cited the case of two destroyers and a cargo vessel which had successfully made their way south from Manila Bay during the last ten days. “I urge,” he wrote Marshall, “steps be taken to obtain a more aggressive and resourceful handling of naval forces in this area.”
Concrete plans to run supplies into the Philippines through the Japanese blockade began to take shape about the middle of January. The impetus was provided by MacArthur, who, on the 17th, after his failure to secure any strong support from Australia or the Netherlands Indies, recounted his difficulties in a long message to the Chief of Staff. He reminded General Marshall that his men had been on half rations for some time and that “the food situation here is becoming serious.” Measured in ship capacity his needs were not large and could easily be met by small or medium-sized vessels, which he recommended be dispatched to the Philippines along various routes. It seemed “incredible” to him that such an attempt had never been made. He had no doubt that if it were, “unquestionably” the ships would get through.
Warning that the Filipinos would experience a “revulsion of feeling” if something was not done to send help quickly and that “hungry men are hard to handle,” he asked that simultaneous efforts to send food be made from the United States and the Netherlands Indies. “I am professionally certain,” he declared, “that his [the enemy’s] so-called blockade can easily be pierced. The only thing that can make it really effective is our passive acceptance of it as a fact.”
Actually, every effort was being made in Washington to send aid to the beleaguered garrison. But these efforts were not enough, nor were they being pushed, General Marshall believed, with the vigor and singlemindedness required to break the blockade. The command in Australia had no organization capable of quickly executing such a mission and no such sense of urgency as impelled MacArthur to insist that “the disastrous results” of the failure to provide aid “will be monumental.” General Marshall himself undertook to impart this sense of urgency to his subordinates. To the commander in Australia he wrote that the situation in the Philippines was most serious and that “comprehensive efforts” to run the blockade must be organized. His directions were concise and clear Use your funds without stint. Call for more if required. Colonel Chamberlin has a credit of ten million dollars of Chief of Staff’s fund which can be spent in whatever manner latter deems advisable. I direct its use for this purpose.
Arrange for advance payments, partial payments for unsuccessful efforts, and large bonus for actual delivery. Your judgement must get results. Organize groups of bold and resourceful men, dispatch them with funds by planes to islands in possession of our associates, there to buy food and charter vessels for service. Rewards for actual delivery Bataan or Corregidor must be fixed at level to insure utmost energy and daring on part of masters. At same time dispatch blockade runners from Australia with standard rations and small amounts of ammunition on each. Movement must be made on broad front over many routes. . . . Only indomitable determination and pertinacity will succeed and success must be ours. Risks will be great. But rewards must be proportional.
Similar instructions were sent to General Brett, General Wavell’s deputy in the recently established ABDA Command. “The results of even partial success in this effort ” Marshall told him, “would be incalculable and it is my purpose to spare no effort or expense to achieve results.” That same day in Washington, Marshall selected General Hurley, former Secretary of War, to lend his “energetic support” to the scheme of blockade-running, and made available to MacArthur one million dollars, to be used as rewards to ship masters in the Islands.
Less than twenty-four hours after receiving MacArthur’s message urging that the blockade be pierced, Marshall was able to inform the USAFFE commander that two officers from Washington with “practically unlimited funds” and with instructions to organize blockade-running “on a broad front” had already reached Australia; that he had one million dollars at his disposal to reward those who broke through the blockade; and that Hurley was leaving for Australia the next day, the headquarters in Australia prepared an ambitious schedule for the shipment to the Indies, and then the transshipment from there, of 3,000,000 rations-a sixty-day supply for 50,000 men-and a large quantity of ammunition. Colonel John A. Robenson, with six assistants and large funds, was sent from Darwin to Java with instructions to comb the Indies for food and small ships.
These plans apparently were not enough for General Marshall and he told General Brereton, then commanding in Australia. Time did not permit the shipment of food to the Indies for transshipment, the Chief of Staff declared. Local resources in every port should be exploited by purchase, and agents with hard cash should be flown to every Dutch and British island in the area to collect food and ships. “urgency of my instructions not fully appreciated,” Marshall told Brereton, and closed with the injunction that “action and results are imperative.”
The difficulties which faced the men responsible for procuring supplies, ships, and crews were formidable. There were few vessels in Australia fast enough to run the blockade and large enough to carry sufficient cargo and fuel to make the round trip profitable. The assignment of a ship to such a mission was regarded by most as tantamount to its permanent loss. Finally, if a ship was chartered, it was exceedingly difficult to find the crew willing to embark on so perilous a voyage, no matter how high the reward. Altogether, about ten old coastal vessels of Philippine and Chinese registry were procured in Australia. In an effort to protect these vessels from hostile attack, they were provided with guns, dummy stacks, neutral or Axis flags, and “all imaginable types of deceit.”
Colonel Robenson’s difficulties in Java were fully as great as those encountered in Australia. Imbued with the importance of his mission, he was quickly disillusioned when he found that the British and the Dutch would not release ships for the hazardous run to the Philippines. Robenson had more success in securing rations and ammunition, but at the end of January still had no vessel on which to load the cargo. Despite these difficulties surprising progress was made in the plan to run the blockade.
By 22 January, three days after his rebuke from Washington, Brereton reported to the Chief of Staff that the Don Isidro, a small Philippine freighter, had been chartered and was then being loaded with rations and ammunition at Brisbane. It would sail directly for Corregidor. The Mormacsun, with a larger capacity, was also loading at Brisbane. Since this vessel was under orders from Washington not to go farther north than the Netherlands Indies, it would sail to a Dutch port and there transfer its cargo to smaller vessels for the last leg of the journey. Additional rations and ammunition, Brereton told Marshall, were being assembled in Australia for shipment to the Indies. There they would be placed aboard small blockade-runners and sent to the Philippines. He neglected to mention that he had had no success as yet in securing these small vessels.
Within two weeks the number of ships en route or scheduled to sail for the Philippines had grown to five. The Don Isidro, Major General Julian F. Barnes reported from Australia, had already departed with 700 tons of rations. The Coast Farmer, an Army freighter with a speed of 10 knots, was loading at Brisbane and would sail immediately. The Dona Nati, with a capacity of over 6,000 tons, was also loading in Australia and was scheduled to depart within the week. Finally, the Anhui, a vessel of Chinese registry with a capacity of 2,500 tons, had been chartered and was then loading. It would follow the Dona Nati. The Mormacsun, Barnes told Marshall, was already loaded with 6,000 tons of balanced rations and ammunition, but was being held in port pending the completion of arrangements to charter two smaller vessels to carry its cargo northward from the Indies.
General MacArthur was kept fully informed of the plans to break the Japanese blockade, but still felt that stronger measures were required. On 4 February, in a message to General Marshall, he called for a more aggressive strategy in the Far East and expressed the hope that his views would be presented “to the highest authority.” The message opened with the startling statement that Allied strategy, aimed at building up forces before the Japanese advance, was “a fatal mistake on the part of the Democratic Allies.” He urged that the Japanese line of communications, “stretched over 2,000 miles of sea,” be attacked instead. To counter the argument that naval forces for such attacks were not available, he pointed out that a great naval victory was not necessary; “the threat alone would go far toward the desired end.” He predicted that the plan to build a base and acquire supremacy in the Southwest Pacific would fail and that the war would be indefinitely prolonged. The only way to defeat the enemy was to seek combat with him. “Counsels of timidity,” he warned, “based upon theories of safety first will not win against such an aggressive and’ audacious adversary as Japan.”
This was bold counsel indeed and was carefully considered in Washington from where the effort to send MacArthur the supplies he needed was being pushed with vigor and determination. General Marshall replied that he welcomed and appreciated MacArthur’s views and “invariably” submitted them to the President. Summarizing the considerations which had determined Allied strategy, Marshall went on to explain that everyone recognized the advantages of an attack against Japan’s line of communications. Two grim disasters had prevented the adoption of such a course.
First, the Japanese had achieved flank security at the start of the war by seizing Wake and Guam and additional protection by their control of the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. At all these places they had strong air protection. Secondly, by their initial attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had virtually eliminated the Battle Force of the Pacific Fleet. Much of the remaining naval strength of the Pacific Fleet was required to keep open the Allied line of communications to Australia and to assist in the establishment of bases in the South Pacific.
But rather than do nothing at all, the Allies had decided to oppose Japanese expansion along the Malay Barrier simply because that was the only area in which they possessed the necessary bases from which to launch an attack. “The basis of all current effort,” the Chief of Staff went on, “is to accumulate through every possible means sufficient strength to initiate operations along the lines you suggest.. . . In the meanwhile we are endeavoring to limit the hostile advance so as to deny him free access to land and sea areas that will immeasurably strengthen his war making powers or which will be valuable to us as jump off positions when we can start a general offensive.”
Not only was MacArthur’s efforts to secure a reorientation of Allied strategy in the Far East unsuccessful, but his doubts about the value of the help from Australia soon proved to be well founded. In spite of elaborate preparatibns and the expenditure of large funds, only three of the vessels which set out for the Philippines were successful in piercing the blockade. The Don Isidro and Coast Farmer left Australia on the same day, 4 February. The first went from Fremantle to Java to take on ammunition.
There she was joined by the Florence D., a Philippine freighter under U.S. naval control. To get the ship Colonel Robenson had had to offer the Filipino crew handsome bonuses ranging from more than $10,000 for the master to lesser amounts for other ranks, and life insurance in values of $500 to $5,000. On 14 February the Don Isidro and Florence D. set sail. Both vessels sailed eastward through the Timor Sea to Bathurst Island, then north. Five days after the start of the voyage they were discovered by Japanese planes and bombed. The first was left a disabled hulk and had to be beached; the Florence D. was sunk.
The voyage of the Coast Farmer was more successful. She finally put in at a Mindanao port fifteen days after leaving Brisbane. The Dona Nati and the Anhui also made the trip successfully, arriving at Cebu in mid-March. These were the only vessels to reach the Philippines; they brought in more than 10,000 tons of rations, 4,000,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition, 8,000 rounds of 81-mm ammunition, and miscellaneous medical, signal, and engineer supplies.
The two Chinese ships of British registry chartered to carry the Mormacsun cargo left Fremantle in February, but the crews mutinied when dangerous waters were reached and brought the two vessels back to Darwin where they were unloaded.
On 14 February the Dutch released four old freighters to Colonel Robenson for use on the Philippine run. By offering large bonuses and other financial inducements, he persuaded the Chinese crew of one of these vessels to make the voyage. It finally left on 26 February with a cargo of 720,000 rations, but was never heard from again. The others never left port.
The unloading of the three ships that successfully completed the voyage to southern Philippine ports left their cargoes far from the battlefield. From Mindanao and Cebu the supplies still had to be transported northward through the inland seas to Manila Bay.
For this leg of the journey fast inter-island motor ships were used. The need for such a transport system had been recognized early in the campaign and General Sharp, commander of the Visayan-Mindanao Force, had requisitioned the best of the small boats. Altogether, about twenty-five boats, ranging in capacity from 300 to 1,000 tons, were chartered.
The plan for running the blockade through the inland seas provided for the transfer of the cargo brought in from Australia and the Netherlands Indies to the smaller interisland craft. This would be done at night, at places rarely visited by the Japanese air and surface patrols. The small boats would then move northward in easy stages, traveling during the hours of darkness only. American officers would be placed aboard each vessel with orders to make certain that a real effort was made to run the blockade and to scuttle the ship rather than let it fall into enemy hands.
The plan called also for the transportation to Corregidor of such food as could be procured locally-rice, sugar, fruits, coffee, and meat. In Manila Bay, for example, two 400-ton motor ships picked up the food collected by agents in southern Luzon and ran it across the bay to Corregidor. These two vessels were able to make several round trips, raising the total quantity of rice stocks by 1,600 tons.23 But the bulk of the ships and supplies came from Cebu where the Army Transport Service and the Cebu Advance Depot were located. Originally established to issue supplies received from Luzon, the Cebu depot became the central collection point for supplies to be shipped to Bataan and Corregidor. Procurement offices were set up in the Visayas and in Mindanao and vast quantities of material were gathered. To these were added the food and equipment from Australia.
By 10 April, when the Japanese occupied Cebu City, the depot had on hand a twelve-month food supply for the troops on Cebu and Panay and at least a six-month supply for the men on the other islands. In the hills and in scattered warehouses were another 12,000 tons of food, medicine, gasoline, and other supplies. Only a very small portion of the supplies gathered so painfully and hoarded so carefully in the south ever reached Manila Bay.
The total could not have been more than a few thousand tons. The Legaspi, with a capacity of 1,000 tons, was the first of the interisland steamers to make the journey safely. On 22 January she brought a cargo of rice and other food from Panay to Corregidor, and in February completed another trip. On 1 March, while she was on her third trip, she was sunk by a Japanese gunboat off the north coast of Mindoro and her crew captured.
Late in February the Princessa made the run from Cebu to Corregidor with a cargo of 700 tons of food. At Mindanao the 2,500 tons of rations and 2,000 rounds of 81-mm. ammunition from the Coast Farmer were transferred to the Elcano and Lepus. The first got through to Manila Bay, but the Lepus was captured off Palawan on February. The cargoes of the Dona Nati and Anhui were loaded for transshipment at Cebu, but the ships failed to break through the tightening Japanese blockade. Ten of the interisland steamers were sunk by the enemy or scuttled by their crews to avoid capture, resulting in the loss of 7,000 tons of food, petroleum, and other miscellaneous supplies.
In terms of supplies delivered to the battlefield, the blockade-running program from Australia and the Netherland Indies was a dismal failure. Of the 10,000 tons of rations which reached Mindanao and Cebu only about 1,000 tons-a four-day supply for the 100,000 soldiers and civilians on Bataan-reached Manila Bay. Even more distressing was the condition of the food when it finally reached the men.
The containers in which the food was packed had broken open and the holds of the ships contained a miscellaneous pile of canned goods. All of it had to be sorted and repacked before it could be issued to the troops. Practically all the paper labels on the cans were destroyed so that they could not be identified without opening them. Flour and sugar sacks had broken open and the contents were spread loosely among the cans. Shovels had to be used to get these precious commodities back into new sacks. Onions and potatoes, piled on the decks during the voyage through tropical waters, were rotted and had to be destroyed almost before the eyes of the starving men. These “heart-breaking” conditions resulted in delays in unloading and, what was much worse, considerable loss of food to the weakened and hungry garrison.
The Japanese invasion of the Netherlands Indies and the Allied naval defeats in the waters of the Dutch archipelago in late February and early March released Japanese naval and air forces for patrol of the seas just north of Australia. With that continent now under direct attack and in danger of invasion all plans to run the blockade from Australia came to an end.
Ships and cargoes were desperately needed in Australia itself to meet the threat of hostile landings. This possibility had been foreseen earlier, and General Hurley, when he reached Java on 17 February, had told the Chief of Staff that the sea routes north of Australia were becoming increasingly hazardous. On his return to Melbourne a few days later he again made this point in a message to Marshall and referred to the “almost insuperable difficulties” in getting supplies to MacArthur.
On 2 March Batavia in Java fell to the Japanese and the Dutch Government moved to the mountains. Clearly the end of resistance in the Netherlands Indies was in sight, and both Brett and Hurley agreed that it was no longer possible to continue the blockade-running program. This view, they told the Chief of Staff in a joint message, was shared by the officers directly responsible for running the blockade. In their opinion, Routes to Philippines from Australia and vicinity are becoming increasingly hazardous and risking of ships and cargoes that cannot well be spared here appears no longer justified. Routes to avoid the areas controlled by the enemy are as long as from Hawaii to Philippines.
Recommend therefore that Philippines be supplied from the United States via Hawaii through open sea areas in which the chance of reaching destination is much greater than through narrow channels between island and blockade areas of the southwest Pacific. Already the possibility of sending blockade-runners from the United States through Hawaii was under study in the War Department. This study had been requested by the President as a result of a strong message from MacArthur on 22 February. The Coast Farmer, MacArthur had pointed out, had had no difficulty in penetrating the Japanese blockade, thus proving what he had been asserting all the time: that the blockade was ineffective. He suggested, therefore, that in view of the “thinness of the enemy’s coverage” other routes including that across the central Pacific from Hawaii be utilized. The entire program to send him supplies, he declared bluntly, should be controlled from Washington rather than Australia where the commanders, “however able they may be, have neither the resources nor the means . . . to accomplish this mission.” Nor did he believe it possible for commanders in Australia, “the actual zone of immediate or threatened conflict,” to devote all their energies to the task of sending him supplies when their own problems seemed so urgent to them.
The size of the problem [he said] is greater than the means now being used to solve it. The prime requisite is the making available in the United States of the necessary ships and material, especially the former, and their continuous dispatch to destination. Nowhere is the situation more desperate and dangerous than here. . . . The quantities involved are not great but it is imperative that they be made instantly available in the United States and that the entire impulse and organization be reenergized and controlled directly by you. If it is left as a subsidiary effort it will never be accomplished.
On the receipt of this message, the supply experts in the War Department began a quick survey of the problem. Major General Brehon B. Somervell, then G–4, summed up their findings in a series of recommendations to the Chief of Staff on the 22nd. Declaring that direct supply of the Philippines from Honolulu was “practical and desirable,” he recommended that three World War I destroyers, converted to cargo vessels with a capacity of 1,500 tons each, be assigned this mission. One of these could be sent immediately from New Orleans to Mindanao, and the others could follow in early March. He recommended also that three additional converted destroyers then in the Caribbean should be procured by the Army and placed on this run. Arrangements were quickly made to send supplies to New Orleans and to procure the additional vessels.
Marshall then reported these arrangements to the President and notified MacArthur of the new efforts being made to send supplies across the Pacific directly to the Philippines. The schedule for shipments from the United States called for six sailings, the first vessel to leave New Orleans on 28 February, the last on 22 March. But numerous difficulties arose to upset the schedule. There were delays in assembling the cargoes and in selecting the best routes for the ships to follow. The Navy had no gun crews to put on the ships and there was further delay till they could be secured. Finally, the first vessel, originally scheduled to leave on 28 February, sailed from New Orleans on 2 March.
Two others followed during the month. Routed through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles and then to Honolulu, these ships were still in Hawaiian waters when the campaign in the Philippines ended. Three other converted destroyers left the west coast between 16 March and 11 April but before they were long at sea it was clear they could not reach the Philippines before the campaign ended and they were diverted to other areas. Thus ended the effort to run supplies through the blockade by surface ships.
Submarines and aircraft as well as surface vessels were utilized in the desperate attempt to bring aid to the Philippine garrison. The use of submarines for this purpose, as has been noted, was opposed most strongly by Admiral Hart, commander of naval forces in Wavell’s headquarters. General Wavell supported this view and when he assumed command declared that with his present resources he could see no possibility of “affording General MacArthur support he appears to expect.” When, on 17 January, Marshall sent strong messages to Australia and Java calling for an all-out effort to break the Japanese blockade, Wavell had replied that the diversion of submarines to transport duty would reduce the opposition he could bring to bear against the enemy.
General Marshall granted the validity of Wavell’s and Hart’s objections and admitted they were correct in principle. But he also pointed out that Wavell had overlooked the moral effect of receiving even occasional small shipments. MacArthur, he reasoned, was containing a large number of Japanese, planes, and ship’s, and the longer he held out the more chance there was that the Japanese would be unable to put all their forces in the ABDA area. This consideration, he declared, justified the use of submarines to carry small quantities of critical items to Corregidor. “As you know,” he wrote Admiral King, “we are making strenuous efforts to organize blockade running on an extensive scale…‘. However, under present conditions, I think it is important that small shipments of supplies reach MacArthur by submarine or otherwise every ten days or two weeks.” King agreed with this view and Wavell’s orders to send aid to MacArthur, by submarine if necessary, remained unchanged.
Altogether, ten submarines made the effort to reach the Philippines. One, loaded with ammunition, had been sent out by Hart on King’s instructions. Another, with a cargo of 3-inch antiaircraft ammunition, had left Hawaii on 12 January. MacArthur reported the safe arrival of these two submarines in February, the last one reaching the Islands from Hawaii on 3 February. During that month three more submarines made the voyage to the Philippines: Swordfish arrived on the 19th and evacuated President Quezon; Sargo brought one million rounds of .30-caliber ammunition to Mindanao; and Permit, sent to evacuate General MacArthur, took on instead torpedoes and naval personnel.
The next month only two submarines reached the Islands. Seadragon, en route to patrol off the Indochina coast, was ordered to Cebu to carry a load of rations to Corregidor. Though she picked up 34 tons of rations and almost 12,000 gallons of petroleum, she was able to unload only one fifth of her cargo before being ordered out. Snapper, assigned the same mission, succeeded in unloading 46 tons of food and 29,000 gallons of diesel oil before leaving.
The Swordfish made one more trip. Leaving Fremantle in Australia on 1 April with a cargo of 40 tons of food, she was diverted en route and after a short patrol returned to port and unloaded her cargo. Searaven left the same port a day after the Swordfish with 1,500 rounds of 3-inch antiaircraft ammunition, but was also diverted and failed to deliver any of the shells to Corregidor. The final trip was made at the beginning of May, when the Spearfish, on patrol off Lingayen ‘Gulf, picked up twenty-five men and women, including twelve nurses, just before the surrender. One other submarine from Hawaii attempted to reach Corregidor with a cargo of 100 tons of medical supplies but turned back when Bataan fell.
The total effort by the submarines added only 53 tons of food to MacArthur’s stores enough for only one meal for two thirds of the men on Bataan-3,500 rounds of 3-inch antiaircraft ammunition, 37 tons of .50-caliber and 1,000,000 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition, and about 30,000 gallons of diesel oil. In terms of results the effort seemed hardly worthwhile.
The amount of supplies brought into the Philippines by aircraft from Australia and the Netherlands Indies was more substantial but limited to items which weighed little and were small in size. Obviously rations, which were most desperately needed, could not be sent in sufficient quantity to make any difference to the garrison on Bataan and Corregidor. Altogether, there were ten air shipments, starting on 26 January and continuing through 3 May. The first consisted of two planes, an LB-30 and a B-24, which carried 10,000 morphine tablets, other medical supplies, and ammunition. MacArthur reported their safe arrival at Del Monte Airfield in Mindanao to the Chief of Staff early in February. There was time for only one more shipment, including 50,000 quinine tablets, before the Japanese destroyed the hangar at Darwin, where the supplies destined for the Philippines were stored. As a result air transport operations were delayed until other supplies could be gathered at Bachelor Field near Darwin.
During the month of March three shipments by air were made to Mindanao–on the 11th, 16th, and 26th. These flights were more notable perhaps for what the planes brought out than for what they took in. Of the four B-17’s that left on the 11th, only one reached Mindanao with a cargo of 1,600 pounds of medical supplies, some signal equipment, and antiaircraft spare parts. The group of B-17’s that made the flight on the 16th and 17th brought back to Australia General MacArthur, his family, and his staff. The final March flight took in 5,000 pounds of critical signal equipment and 1,160 pounds of medical supplies (including 1,000,000 quinine tablets). On the return journey the planes carried President Quezon, who had gone only as far as Panay by submarine, and his staff. The largest number of shipments was made in April, and a respectable quantity of medical, signal, and ordnance equipment reached Mindanao during that month. The pilot of the last flight, made on 3 May, found the airdrome occupied by the Japanese and hastily turned around.
The total air effort from Australia resulted in the accumulation of a large quantity of critically needed supplies on Mindanao. Some reached Corregidor by air, in small aircraft which flew in at night to land on the navy strip on the tail of the island. But the bulk of the supplies could not be moved northward where they were desperately needed. Like the rations brought in by the blockade-runners, only a very small amount of the precious air cargo ever reached the battlefield.
By mid-March the opportunity to bring supplies to Bataan and Corregidor had been lost. During the first month and a half of the campaign such an effort might well have been successful. But time was required to gather vessels and cargoes and to organize the men and resources. The Japanese did not give the Allies the time so badly needed. They advanced so rapidly in the Netherlands Indies that they closed the routes between Australia and the Philippines before the blockade-running program was well under way. The route northward from Mindanao and the Visayas to Manila Bay was blocked not long after. Thereafter, no matter how many tons reached the depot at Cebu or the airfield at Del Monte, they would be of little use to the men on Bataan.
While the effort to run the blockade may not have paid dividends in terms of tonnages delivered to the troops, it was nevertheless one that could be amply justified on military and political grounds. The effort had to be made, no matter what the cost. The American people demanded that much at least. Strategically, any measure that might upset the Japanese timetable and contain a large number of Japanese troops was worth trying. Nor could the moral eff crt on the troops in contact with the enemy be overlooked. No one could be sure in January and February that the blockade would prove unbreakable; politically, strategically, and morally it was necessary to make the attempt. The gallant stand of the Philippine garrison required it; MacArthur demanded it; and the American people supported it.
Toward the end of March, with Wainwright’s assumption of command, a final and frantic effort was made to get food, vitamin concentrates, and medicine. In the messages to Washington a new and desperate note of urgency became evident. For the first time the War Department received concrete figures on the number of troops in the Philippines when Wainwright reported that he had 90,000 men on Bataan alone. This fact could hardly be believed in Washington and Marshall asked for specific figures, declaring that 90,000 “is greatly in excess of what we understood was there.” When Wainwright’s reply arrived it proved even more startling than his first statement. On Bataan and Corregidor alone, the strength of the command, including naval elements and civilians subsisted by the Army, was 110,000.
There was not the slightest possibility that sufficient food for even a fraction of this force could be sent, but Marshall told Wainwright not to hesitate to ask for any assistance that was practicable. “It is a matter of continuing concern to me,” he assured the recently appointed USFIP commander, “as to what additional measures the War Department might take to strengthen and sustain your gallant defense …. Your recommendations always receive my immediate personal attention.” Similar assurances had already been given by the President.
Following a lengthy, eleven-page requisition to the War Department, which could not possibly have been filled even under more favorable circumstances, Wainwright reviewed for General Somervell the supplies received from outside sources since the start of the campaign and explained his present situation. “Our desperate needs at the moment,” he told the War Department G-4, “are subsistence and limited medical supplies, particularly quinine sulphate.”
The urgency of the request was emphasized in a separate message to the War Department in which he spoke of the high incidence of malaria and other diseases on Bataan and asked for a one-month supply of various drugs essential to the health of his command. Two days later he bluntly warned the Chief of Staff that disaster was imminent unless supplies arrived soon. There was only enough food on Bataan, he stated, to last until 15 April “at one-third ration, poorly balanced and very deficient in vitamins.” If, by that time, supplies did not reach him, “the troops there will be starved into submission.”
To this estimate, MacArthur, who received a copy of the message, took sharp exception. Without minimizing the critical conditions on Bataan he maintained that there had been enough food there before he left to last until 1 May. “It is of course possible,” he told the Chief of Staff, “that with my departure the vigor of application of conservation may have been relaxed.” To Wainwright he expressed his confidence that the efforts then being made to break the blockade would bring in enough food to last for an indefinite period and categorically repudiated any idea of surrender. “I am utterly opposed,” he asserted, “under any circumstances or conditions to the ultimate capitulation of this command. If food fails,” he directed Wainwright, “you will prepare and execute an attack upon the enemy.”
But the chief problem, to reach Wainwright with supplies, still remained unsolved. From Washington General Marshall used all his authority to send Wainwright the things he so desperately needed. In messages to Australia and Hawaii he ordered that every means at hand be utilized to send aid; all supply agencies in the War Department . were impressed with the urgency of the situation; and the Navy was asked to make submarines available. Lieutenant General Delos C. Emmons, Hawaiian Department commander, was directed to send a vessel loaded with 3,600 tons of concentrated food to Manila Bay immediately. “Spare no effort to push this movement,” the Chief of Staff ordered. “You are authorized to pay crew liberal bonus.” Within the week a vessel manned by a Navy crew and loaded with 1,000,000 rations, 340 tons of meat, 20 tons of cigarettes, 158 tons of milk, 200 tons of rice, and 548 tons of ammunition had left Honolulu. The journey would take twenty-two days, sixteen more than the Japanese were to allow the Bataan garrison.
MacArthur was asked to intensify his efforts from Australia to relieve Wainwright and to send small boats capable of running the Japanese blockade between Mindanao and Corregidor. The need for quinine was so pressing, Marshall told MacArthur, that he was to send all he could collect by air immediately to Mindanao. Submarines furnished by the Navy would carry other supplies. “Report date of initial shipment by plane, type, and quantity of items,” the Chief of Staff directed. In reply MacArthur asserted that he had already, at Wainwright’s request, sent all the quinine and vitamin concentrates he had been able to gather on short notice. In addition he was planning to send another load by air soon and would station the plane in Mindanao to fly supplies northward.
Marshall even sought to get Wainwright help from China. On 30 March he asked Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell to look into the possibilities of sending food to the Philippines by ship. Stilwell replied that there was no chance of getting blockade-runners, but that he would try to secure planes and food for such a venture. While he was still trying, Bataan fell.
As each expedient failed to bring in supplies, more and more desperate and extreme measures were proposed in a vain attempt to break through the blockade. When Wainwright requested three submarines to transport supplies from Cebu, they were quickly made available although their transfer seriously limited naval operations. Two underwater craft on patrol west of the Philippines were ordered to Cebu to load supplies for Corregidor, and two others were readied at Fremantle for the trip north. The meager results of this mission have already been recounted.
Wainwright proposed, on 27 March, still another scheme to break through the blockade. This proposal, first made to MacArthur, called for a surprise attack against Japanese naval forces in Visayan waters and in Subic Bay by medium or heavy bombers sent from Australia to Mindanao. Such an attack would have a fair chance, Wainwright thought, of temporarily disrupting the blockade so that some of the food tied up in Cebu could be brought in. As a last resort, he suggested that ten B-17’s be stationed at Del Monte and, “by making a round trip each day, deliver a few days reduced ration for Bataan troops.” Where these heavy bombers would land was never made clear.
MacArthur agreed to send the bombers at some indefinite date in the future and Wainwright completed his arrangements. Within a few days all was in readiness. Two ships of 500 tons each, one loaded with food and the other with gasoline, were waiting at Cebu and Iloilo. Others were standing by and would be loaded and ready to sail when the first bombers attacked. During the voyage to Corregidor, the vessels would be covered by three P-40’s then being assembled in Mindanao.
Wainwright had convinced himself by this time that the air attacks would disrupt the blockade “for a considerable period of time,” and that he would be able to move all the supplies on Cebu, an amount sufficient to subsist the Bataan garrison for one month, to Corregidor. All he needed to carry out this ambitious plan, he told MacArthur, was heavy bombers. On the 4th MacArthur told him that the planes were being prepared and would “be available sometime the following week.”
Days passed but no planes came. At Cebu and Iloilo eight ships, fully loaded with rations and medicine, lay at anchor. They were still there when the Japanese occupied Cebu on the morning of 10 April. The bombers finally reached Mindanao the next day, too late to help the men on Bataan. Despite every effort it had proved impossible to relieve the men on Bataan. The beginning of April found them at their weakest-their fighting edge blunted and their capacity to resist at the lowest ebb. The effects of a three-month-long starvation diet, incessant air and artillery bombardment, and the ravages of disease could be seen in the gaunt bodies and sunken eyes of Americans and Filipinos alike. The loss of hope and the psychological impact of war are recorded only in the diaries and speech of those fortunate enough to survive. By 1 April, wrote General King’s surgeon, the combat efficiency of the troops in Luzon Force “was rapidly approaching the zero point.”
SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)