The story of the last two days of the defense of Bataan is one of progressive disintegration and final collapse. Lines were formed and abandoned before they could be fully occupied. Communications broke down and higher headquarters often did not know the situation on the front lines. Orders were issued and revoked because they were impossible of execution. Stragglers poured to the rear in increasingly large numbers until they clogged all roads and disrupted all movement forward. Units disappeared into the jungle never to be heard from again. In two days an army evaporated into thin air.
7 April: Disintegration
Action on the 7th opened with an attempt to wrest from the Japanese control of Trail Junction 6-8. This was to be accomplished by simultaneous attacks against the junction from the east and west, along Trail 8. The attack from the east was to be made by a force led by Colonel Lilly and consisting of two battalions of the 57th Infantry, plus the 201st and 202nd Engineer Battalions (PA) from corps reserve. The 45th Infantry and Company C, 194th Tank Battalion, were to drive east from Trail Junction 8-29 to meet Colonel Lilly. When contact was established between the two forces, the II Corps line would extend from the San Vicente River westward along Trail 8 to the Pantingan and tie in with I Corps, thus presenting a bent but unbroken line to the advancing Japanese.
The 45th Infantry’s plan for the attack against the trail junction was a cautious one. Of the regiment’s two battalions only one, the 2nd, reinforced with a platoon of two tanks, was to attack. The 3rd Battalion and the rest of the tank company would remain at Trail Junction 8-28, where General Lough had his command post, to prevent the Japanese on Trail 29 from cutting off the route of withdrawal. If the 2nd Battalion’s attack proved successful, the 3rd Battalion would move forward later.
General Nara’s troops at the trail junction were well prepared for the 45th Infantry’s attack. Just west of the junction they had established a strong defensive position, ideal for an ambush. South of the trail was a steep, thickly forested hill; to the north the ground dropped sharply to a deep, rocky ravine. The trail itself bent sharply at this point so that advancing troops, limited to the trail by the terrain on both sides. Would have no warning of an attack.
At about 0100, 7 April, the reinforced 2nd Battalion moved out in column of companies, with battalion and regimental headquarters bringing up the rear. In the van were the two tanks and a platoon of Company F. The Scouts and tankers, in almost continuous action since the night of the 5th, trudged along uncomplainingly in the darkness. An hour and a half after the first elements moved out, the point of the column reached the bend in the trail and marched unsuspectingly into the ambush. At almost the same moment that the Scouts sighted the roadblock, the Japanese opened fire and knocked out the lead tank. The second tank escaped with slight damage, but a jeep carrying six officers was destroyed, the driver and two riders killed, and three others wounded. Within a short time the infantry had formed a line and were laying down a heavy concentration of fire on the Japanese roadblock.
At the first burst of fire Colonel Doyle had gone forward to the head of the column to take command. The situation was confused and the units disorganized, but Doyle kept his men in action until the coming of daylight, when it became evident that there was no possibility of breaking through to the trail junction. At that time he ordered his troops to withdraw to the Pantingan River. Under cover of heavy machine gun fire, the battalion and the remaining tank turned around and began their weary march back along Trail 8, past their starting point, Trail Junction 8-29, and on to the Pantingan River. By about 1000 the withdrawal of the 2nd Battalion was completed. The 3rd Battalion and the remainder of the tanks, which had been under pressure from the Japanese advancing down Trail 129, had to fight their way out. Enemy infantrymen tried to cut off their retreat, but the tankers fought a successful delaying action and at 1800 the last of the 3rd Battalion reached the river.
The inability of the 45th Infantry to break the Japanese hold on Trail Junction 6-8 ended all hopes of uniting the separated elements of Sector D and General King attached General Lough’s headquarters, the 45th Infantry, and the remaining troops of Sector D still west of the trail junction to I Corps. These troops thereupon crossed the Pantingan and established a defensive line along its west bank. The 41st Infantry to the north was also ordered across the river that day and completed the maneuver without interference.
The scheduled attack of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 57th Infantry, was never made. The Japanese maintained steady pressure against these battalions whose left ( west) flank was unprotected and before the day was far advanced had worked around that flank. At the same time another Japanese force, consisting of elements of Colonel Sato’s 61st Infantry, moved into the gap between the southern extremity of the San Vicente line and the 57th Infantry. This space was to have been filled by the 201st and 202nd Engineer Battalions who were just moving in when the Japanese struck. The Filipinos promptly turned and fled into the jungle when they found themselves in the midst of the Japanese. With both flanks in danger of envelopment, the Scouts, at 1700, were forced to pull back to the east. The use of Trail 8 was now lost to the Americans.
The 33rd Infantry (PA), the only unit remaining west of Mt. Samat, met a disastrous end on the 7th. Isolated by the tide of battle and presumed lost, the regiment had spent the night of 6-7 April preparing for an attack that was inevitable now that its position had been discovered by the enemy. At 0600, after an hour-long mortar preparation, the Japanese infantry began the assault The Filipinos held up well at first but by midafternoon began to break. Once the reaction had set in, the regiment quickly became demoralized. The men, overwrought and jumpy after five days of intense mental strain and physical hardship, became panic stricken and fled into the jungle. Major Holmes, their commander, reluctantly issued orders for a withdrawal. The wounded remained in place with the medical officers to surrender. The rest of the men, singly and in small groups, slipped into the jungle to try to make their way back to safety. Few succeeded.
While the 65th Brigade and the 61st Infantry were consolidating their hold on the area formerly occupied by Sector D, the 4th Division and the Nagano Detachment, aided by artillery and air power, were reducing the recently established San Vicente River line. Signs of the disintegration of the units posted along the river were apparent almost as soon as the demoralized troops took their new positions. During the night of 6-7 April, even before the Japanese artillery had opened fire, large groups of soldiers began to move back to the rear. Some were stopped and put back into the line, but panic was spreading and the ominous signs of demoralization were too clear to be ignored. At dawn the Japanese artillery opened up with a repetition of the terrific bombardment that had preceded every attack since the 3rd, and Japanese aircraft appeared overhead. During the day the bombers flew 169 sorties and dropped approximately 100 tons of explosives on II Corps installations alone.
At least ten bombs fell on General Hospital No. 2 at Little Baguio which had been hit a week earlier. One ward was demolished, extensive damage caused to other buildings, and 73 men killed. Of the 117 injured, 16 died later. When the attack was over, the hospital area was covered with debris and fallen trees. The pharmacy was hit- and most of the drugs destroyed. Kitchen utensils were strewn over the grounds and the hospital records blew about like confetti. Under the wreckage were the mangled bodies of patients, and “the air was rent by the awful screams of the newly wounded and the dying.”
The Japanese infantry and armor moved out on the heels of the artillery preparation, hitting the Filipino troops before they could recover from the effect of the shelling. First to cross the San Vicente was the Nagano Detachment which, at 0730, struck the 32nd Infantry on the right of Sector C, then turned east along the Orion cutoff to strike the Provisional Air Corps Regiment in Sector B. Supported by tanks, Nagano’s men advanced rapidly into the area held by the grounded airmen who, lacking antitank weapons to oppose the armored point of the attack, fell back without a fight. The 31st Infantry (PA) in Sector A-not to be confused with the American 31st Infantry on the left of the San Vicente line-withdrew in disorder after a heavy air and artillery attack, leaving to the Japanese the last remaining portion of II Corps’ original main line of resistance.
Even before the Japanese ground forces attacked, the Sector C line had begun to crumble. The first unit to break under the impact of the air·artillery bombardment was the 51st Combat Team. It was followed soon by the 32nd Infantry (PA) and other elements of General Bluemel’s 31st Division which had fled at the appearance of Nagano’s troops. Soon a disorganized mass of Filipino troops, many without arms, uniforms, or equipment, began to stream to the rear. When General Bluemel, rifle in hand, attempted to place some stragglers in the line, they bolted at the first sign of an enemy air-artillery attack. “It seemed,” wrote Colonel Young, the 51st Combat Team commander, “that whenever a stand of any kind was made, low flying airplanes bombed or fired on the troops.”
The American and Scout units holding the left (south) half of the San Vicente line fared little better than the Philippine Army troops. They held firm under the heavy bombardment which began at 0700, but at about 1030, when Colonel Morita’s 8th Infantry, 4th Division, crossed the San Vincente, they, too, began to fall back. By noon Colonel Brady had ordered his 31st Infantry (US) to withdraw by battalions and to reassemble near the intersection of Trails 2 and 46, about 2,000 yards to the southeast. Though the 3rd Battalion, 57th Infantry, on the left of the line, had not yet come under attack, its position was now untenable and it began to withdraw. Its orders were to fall back to Trail 46 and to take up a position on the left of the 31st Infantry. By early afternoon the San Vicente line had evaporated.
The withdrawal of the 31st and 3rd Battalion, 57th, was a difficult one. With the Japanese in control of Trail 44 and a portion of Trail 2, the men had to travel cross-country to reach their new position. Many were wounded and all were weak from lack of food and sleep. Units, already partially disorganized, became further disorganized so that it was almost impossible to maintain contact. Before long, the line of march became a line of stragglers in which “it was almost every man for himself.”
Late on the afternoon of the 6th General King had taken the 26th Cavalry (PA) from I Corps reserve and ordered it to Trail Junction 2-10. By morning of the 7th the horseless cavalrymen were in position at that trail junction, only a short distance in front of the Mamala River and about one mile behind Trail 46, the destination of the last two elements to evacuate the San Vicente line. During the morning, when the disintegration of that line had already become evident, General King released the cavalry regiment, together with the 803rd Engineer Battalion (US) and the 14th 6 Trail 46 extended about five miles in a northeasterly direction from Trail Junction 8-44, across Trails 2 and 38, to join the East Road about a half mile south of Orion.
Engineer Battalion (PS), to the II Corps commander, who by now had decided to establish the next line at the Mamala River. Parker thereupon directed the 26th Cavalry commander, Colonel Lee C. Vance, to report to General Bluemel, who was now the only general officer on the front line. While the cavalrymen moved up to Trail Junction 2-46, Major William E. Chandler, the regimental S-2 and S-3, walked ahead to find General Bluemel whose exact where abouts was unknown. About 1,000 yards north of the junction he met the general, who “cheered up a bit” on learning of the presence of the 26th Cavalry. Bluemel and Chandler then traveled together to the cavalry command post where the general ordered the regiment to establish a holding position behind which he could form a line along the Mamala.
Colonel Vance quickly deployed his men in two lines. In front, on a hill at Trail Junction 2-46, was the 2nd Squadron; the 1st held a delaying position some distance to the rear, just north of Trail Junction 2-10. During the afternoon elements of the 31st Infantry (US) and the 3rd Battalion, 57th Infantry (PS), straggled through the cavaIry line and were directed to an assembly area on the south bank of the Mamala River, at Trail 2. Not long after, the 2nd Squadron of the 26th Cavalry, at Trail Junction 2-46, was hit by Colonel Morita’s 8th Infantry which was moving rapidly along Trail 2.
Unable to rout the cavalrymen by a frontal assault, Morita sent his men around the flanks, forcing the Filipinos back through the 1st Squadron to Trail Junction 2-10. As soon as this maneuver was completed, the 1st Squadron began to fall back, past the trail junction, toward the Mamala River. At that moment the Japanese artillery opened up and “a storm of interdiction fire fell on the junction.” Simultaneously, planes of the 16th Light Bombardment Regiment dive-bombed the men and vehicles on the trail. Losses, especially in the 1st Squadron, were heavy, and it was late afternoon before the decimated regiment crossed the Mamala River.
General Bluemel had spent the afternoon assembling his forces along the south bank of the river. In addition to the cavalry regiment he now had the remnants of 31st and 57th Infantry, and the 14th and 803rd Engineer Battalions. None of his men had eaten since breakfast, and many of them had had their last meal on the morning of the 6th. He had few vehicles and almost no heavy weapons. The prospects of holding off a determined Japanese attack with these troops were not bright.
Around dusk, when he began to receive artillery fire and when Japanese troops were observed working their way forward, firing sporadically, General Bluemel decided “that the Mamala River line could not be held.” Actually, the Japanese had not yet crossed the river. Forward elements of the 4th Division had reached the north bank, but the Nagano Detachment was still north of Trail 46. Since the high bluffs on the north bank “completely commanded” the line on the south shore, it is doubtful if the position would have been tenable in any event. Hoping to gain twenty-four hours to rest and feed his men and prepare a stronger position, Bluemel ordered a withdrawal to the Alangan River, 4,000 yards to the south. The men were to break off all contact with the enemy, withdraw under cover of darkness, and be in position by dawn of 8 April. There he hoped to have time to prepare for a fresh Japanese attack. Corps headquarters approved this plan and at Bluemel’s request ordered the retreating troops of Sectors A and B to fall in on Bluemel’s right the next morning.
During the day both Wainwright and King had sought desperately to find some way to stem the Japanese advance. While Bluemel was striving to establish a line at the Mamala, General King had decided “to place everything possible” there.
Since all his reserves as well as the reserves of both corps had already been committed, he took a desperate chance that the Japanese would not attempt to land behind the lines and ordered Jones and Parker to withdraw the troops on beach defense-the 1st and 4th Philippine Constabulary Regiments-and throw them into the line then forming. To General Wainwright he sent word by his chief of staff, Brigadier General Arnold J. Funk, that the situation on Bataan was critical. Wainwright’s scheme for retrieving the situation was to launch an attack eastward from I Corps along the general line of Trail 8. He hoped in this way to tie in I Corps with the troops along the Mamala River and again form an unbroken line across the peninsula.
Unaware that the Mamala line was already being evacuated and that II Corps had so far deteriorated that even if the attack succeeded the I Corps troops would find no line to tie into, General Wainwright ordered the attack at 1600. The 11th Division (PA) would make the assault. On receipt of this order, General King sent his G-3, Colonel James V. Collier, to I Corps headquarters to transmit the order orany. When General Jones received the order he expressed his belief that it was impossible of execution. In his opinion the men of the 11th Division were too weak to cross the Pantingan gorge even if unopposed; certainly they would be unable to drag any heavy equipment or artillery with them. Furthermore, Jones told Collier, at least eighteen hours would be required to get the division out of the line and in position to attack. After telephone conversations between Wainwright, King, and Jones, the USFIP commander decided to leave the execution of his order to General King’s discretion.
The decision was now King’s. On the basis of Jones’s estimate, he withheld the order to attack. Instead, he directed Jones to pull back to the line of the Binuangan River, about five miles south of the main line of resistance, in four phases. This move would place I Corps’ right flank, exposed by the withdrawal of II Corps, on the slopes of the Mariveles Mountains, and reduce substantially the lightly defended beach line. That night General Wainwright could report to Washington only a succession of retreats. Continued heavy enemy pressure, constant bombing, strafing, and shelling of front line units [he wrote] forced all elements of the right half of our line in Bataan to fall back. A new defensive position is forming on the high ground south of the Alangan River. . . . The left half of our line, due to an exposed flank, withdrew on orders and is taking up a defense position south of the Binuangan River. Fighting is intense, casualties on both sides heavy.
For the Japanese, the offensive which General Homma had expected to last a month was all but won by the night of the 7th. They had gained possession of the entire main line of resistance in II Corps, and forced the evacuation of the Mamala River line where they had supposed the Americans and Filipinos had their main defenses. “That,” remarked General Homma, “was beyond our expectation.”
The cost had been light. The 4th Division, the spearhead of the assault, had lost 150 men killed and 250 wounded during a rapid advance which had netted about 1,000 prisoners and a large number of small caliber weapons. Losses in the 65th Brigade, which captured over 100 prisoners and considerable equipment, totaled 77 dead and 152 wounded. The Nagano Detachment had suffered no casualties.
With the Americans and Filipinos in full retreat, General Homma decided to push on “without delay” instead of pausing at the Mamala River as he had originally planned. His next objective, he decided, would be Cabcaben on the southeast tip of the peninsula, and at 2300 he issued orders for the next day’s attack. The 4th Division would strike for the Real River west of Cabcaben. The 65th Brigade to its west would occupy Mt. Limay and the heights of Mariveles, and the Nagano Detac hment would advance down the East Road on the left (east) of the division toward Cabcaben itself. The 16th Division, then assembling near Balanga where Homma had his headquarters, was to advance behind Nagano’s troops and prepare for the final thrust toward Mariveles.
As before, the attacking units would have the support of 14th Army artillery and the 22nd Air Brigade. For the first time the artillery commander received orders to open fire on Corregidor when he got within range of the island fortress.
8 April: Chaos
Orders for the establishment of a line along the south bank of the Alangan River called for a withdrawal during the night of 7-8 April by the forces under General Bluemel and Colonel John W. Irwin, and the occupation of the new position by dawn of the 8th. The units under Bluemel-the 31st Infantry (US), the 57th Infantry (PS), the 26th Cavalry (PS), the 803rd Engineer Battalion (US), and the 14th Engineer Battalion (PS ) -were to hold the left (west) of the line, from Trail 20 to the confluence of the Alangan and the Paalungan River, a distance of about 2,500 yards. Colonel Irwin’s force, consisting of the 31st Infantry (PA) and Constabulary troops taken from beach defense; was to hold the right portion of-the line and block the East Road. Artillery support would be provided by the intact 21st Field Artillery (PA), a Provisional Field Artillery Brigade formed from three battalions of Scouts, a few fixed naval guns, and the three remaining 155-mm. guns of Colonel Alexander S. Quintard’s 301st Field Artillery (PA).
[Trail 20 extended for about eight miles in an arc from Limay southward to Lamao. It crossed the Alangan, which is midway between the two villages, about two and a half miles from the coast. The Paalungan River joins the Alangan about one and a half miles east of Trail 2 and the two then £low east as one stream to empty into Manila Bay.]
The positions taken by the troops on the morning of the 8th did not conform to plan. In the confusion of the withdrawal, units crossed and took up positions some distance from those assigned. The American 31st and the Scout 57th Infantry, for example, had to exchange positions. The 803rd Engineer Battalion did not occupy its position at all but continued south after it crossed the river. Only the 14th Engineers and the 26th Cavalry went into their assigned positions.
The engineers took over the left of the line astride Trail 20, and -the cavalrymen fell in on their right (east). From there·eastward there were large gaps in the line. Between the cavalry regiment and the 31st Infantry (US) was an open space of over 1,000 yards. To the right of the Americans was another gap, and the 57th Infantry, Bluemel’s right flank unit, had both its flanks exposed. The unauthorized withdrawal of the 803rd Engineers had made the establishment of contact between Bluemel and Irwin a physical impossibility.
All units on the line were so decimated as to make their designations meaningless. The 31st Infantry (US) had but 160 men; the 26th Cavalry, 300; the 57th Infantry, 500. Altogether Bluemel had 1,360 men in the three regiments and one battalion under his command. Irwin’s force of two regiments numbered but 1,200 men. All the troops were half starved and exhausted. “We were all so tired,” wrote one officer, “that the only way to stay awake was to remain standing. As soon as a man sat or laid down he would go to sleep.” After five days under intense air and artillery bombardment and successive defeats, it was doubtful if the men “cared very much what happened.”
Even before the Japanese infantry struck the· Alangan line it was already crumbling under heavy and sustained air bombardment lasting most of the morning. Japanese observation planes had spotted the troops hastily organizing their positions and at about 1100 fighters and light bombers appeared over the Alangan. Flying low, they dropped incendiary bombs on the area held by the 31st Infantry (US) and the 57th Infantry, setting fire to the dry cogon grass and bamboo thickets. The infantrymen turned fire fighters to avoid being burned out of their positions.
Farther east Colonel Irwin’s 31st Infantry (PA) along the East Road came under heavy air attack about the same time. The Filipinos, who were digging their foxholes when the planes came over, fled for cover and had to be rounded up after the planes had passed. When the bombers came back again, the men again threw down their entrenching tools and fled, and again they had to be brought back. With each successive attack, the number of men on the line, some of them forced into position at pistol point, became fewer. The Constabulary troops east of the 31st Infantry also fled, and by about 1500, before a single Japanese soldier had appeared, Colonel Irwin’s portion of the line was entirely deserted.
Enemy planes did not limit their attacks that morning to the men along the Alangan River. They struck at artillery positions, supply points, troops, and vehicles. The most profitable targets were the trails, clogged with dazed and weakened men stumbling to the rear. A Japanese pilot could hardly miss on a strafing run over this uninterrupted line of disorganized troops, and the ditches along the trails were lined with the dead and wounded.
The Japanese infantry reached the Alangan River at about 1400, when advance patrols appeared in front of the 57th Infantry. Before long the enemy infantrymen found the exposed right flank and began to filter to the rear of the Scouts. At about the same time other small groups of Japanese struck the 31st Infantry (US) to the west. The Americans, reduced to less than company strength, were forced to fall back at 1700, and the 57th, with both its flanks exposed, followed suit.
The main Japanese effort that afternoon was made against the 14th Engineer Battalion and the 26th Cavalry by a force consisting of the 8th Infantry and the 7th Tank Regiment. The tanks, advancing along Trail 20, reached the engineers shortly after 1600, but were stopped in their tracks at the block the Scouts had established.
The tanks could not turn on the narrow trail, and the crewmen were kept inside by small-arms fire from the engineers. Without the help of infantry, the Japanese tanks became, in effect, pillboxes from which the tankers fired their small arms, machine guns, and 47-mm. guns without visible effect on the block. The engineers, though they had the tanks at their mercy, lacked the antitank guns to knock them out.
To the right (east) of the roadblock, the 26th Cavalry had come under attack from the 8th Infantry whose advance elements had forced back the 31st and 57th. The Japanese worked their way around the hastily refused right flank of the cavalrymen, threatening to take them from the rear. By late afternoon it appeared doubtful if the 26th Cavalry, which was now under fire from the tanks at the block, would be able to maintain its position.
About this time, General Bluemel, whose only communication with the front-line units was by runner, learned that the 31st and 57th Infantry were falling back. “To hold the Alangan River line,” he concluded, “was now an impossibility.” Reluctantly he gave the order for the 14th Engineer Battalion and the 26th Cavalry to. withdraw, and at 1830, as darkness settled over the battlefield, the men began to fall back again. That evening, the main force of the 4th Division crossed the river and pushed on toward Cabcaben.
The advance of the Nagano Detachment along the East Road met with little resistance. By 1700 Nagano’s troops were on the river line and ready to move on behind the rapidly retreating Philippine Army and Constabulary troops. Only the tanks and the remaining 75-mm. guns (SPM) stood in the way of the advancing Japanese. But the effectiveness of the armor and self-propelled 75’s was severely limited by the absence of infantry support and their inability to move freely along the crowded trails. Though they made every effort to organize a holding position they, too, were forced to pull back. The East Road, which the Japanese had carefully avoided since their disastrous assault early in January, now lay open.
The situation everywhere along the front was obscure. With troops jamming all roads and with communications so uncertain as to be nonexistent, even front-line commanders did not know where their units were at any given moment. Higher headquarters, forced to rely on runners and the armored group radio net for information, were even less informed than the unit commanders. It was not until 1800, for example, that General King learned that the Alangan line had been penetrated on the east. By that time the two Japanese columns-the Nagano Detachment and the 4th Division-were already south of the river and pushing forward rapidly along the East Road and Trail 20.
[Of Material on the action of the tanks and SPM’s during the last days of the campaign is scanty and vague. This account is based upon: Capt L. E. Johnson, 194th Tank Bn, 5-3 Rpt, 14 Sep 43, in Diary of Lieutenant Colonel E. B. Miller, CO 194th Tank Bn; Prov Tank Gp Rpt of Opns, p. 24; Bluemel, 31st Div (PA) Rpt of Opns, pp. 30-31. The Japanese aircraft were under orders to pay particular attention to vehicular movements. 5th Air Gp Opns, pp.74-75.]
To Luzon Force headquarters, the chief threat seemed to be developing along the East Road, which provided the enemy clear passage to Mariveles. With the tanks and 75-mm. guns (SPM) in retreat and already nearing Cabcaben and with his last reserves committed, General King attempted to form a line with the only organized unit remaining, the Provisional Coast Artillery Brigade (AA). At about 1900 he directed Colonel Charles G. Sage, the brigade commander, to destroy all his antiaircraft weapons except those which could be used by infantry and to form his men along the high ground just north of Cabcaben. At the same time he released the 1st Philippine Constabulary, then in transit from I Corps, to II Corps and ordered it into position on the left of the brigade.
While the artillerymen were attempting to establish a line at Cabcaben, Bluemel’s scattered force was nearing the Lamao River. The retreat from the Alangan had been a difficult one. The men of the 31st Infantry (US) and the 57th Infantry had been forced to fall back through the jungle and by now were in the last stages of exhaustion. The 14th Engineer Battalion and the 26th Cavalry, which had withdrawn along Route 20, had found the march less trying, but had suffered other mishaps, and one element of the 26th Cavalry, covering the withdrawal, had been lost in the jungle and never again joined the regiment.
[The brigade had been formed on 7 April from Groupment A and consisted of the 200th Coast Artillery (AA) and the 515th Coast Artillery (AA), both composed of Americans. The former was a New Mexico National Guard unit and had provided the personnel for the latter when it was organized just after the start of war. Prov CA Brig (AA) Rpt of Opns, Annex IX, USAFFE-USFIP Rpt of Opns.]
It was about 2130 when General Bluemel and the last of the covering force reached the Lamao. At that time he received telephone orders from General Parker to form a line along the Lamao River and within the hour he had his men across the river and in an assembly area.30 But the establishment of a line was not so easily accomplished. None of the officers knew the area and the moonless night made it difficult to find defensible positions along which to deploy the troops. After a discouraging reconnaissance in the darkness Bluemel, who by now was using the 26th Cavalry staff as his own, concluded that a line behind the Lamao “was not feasible.”
Unable to reach either corps or Luzon Force headquarters, he finally turned for aid to General Wainwright, who could only advise him to use his own judgment. Even without precise information on Bluemel’s situation it was already evident to General King that II Corps had disintegrated. Reports from officer patrols and from the tanks and the self-propelled 75’s clearly reflected the chaotic state of the command.
There was no chance that the 1st Philippine Constabulary would reach Colonel Sage before daylight, and little possibility that any of the retreating troops could be organized in time to be placed on the line Sage was trying to establish near Cabcaben. Nevertheless orders were issued directing the 26th Cavalry to fall in on the right of Provisional Coast Artillery Brigade. The cavalrymen evidently did not receive these orders and when the artillerymen, a half hour before midnight, occupied the last remaining line, they stood alone.
At 2330, when his position was already hopeless, General King received fresh orders from Corregidor directing him to launch an offensive with I Corps northward toward Olongapo, the Japanese base at the head of Subic Bay. In issuing these orders Wainwright was merely carrying out his own orders from General MacArthur, who, on 4 April, had instructed him to “prepare and execute an attack upon the enemy along the following general lines,” when the situation became desperate.
- A feint by I Corps in the form of an “ostentatious” artillery preparation.
- A “sudden surprise attack” by II Corps toward the Dinalupihan-Olongapo Road at the base of the peninsula, made with “full tank strength” and “maximum artillery concentration.”
- Seizure of OIongapo by simultaneous action of both corps, I Corps making a frontal attack and II Corps taking the enemy “in reverse” by an attack from the west, along the Dinalupihan-Olongapo Road.
“If successful,” MacArthur explained, “the supplies seized at this base might well rectify the situation. This would permit operation in central Luzon where food supplies could be obtained and where Bataan and the northern approaches to Corregidor could be protected.” Even if the attack did not succeed, many of the men would be able to escape from Bataan and continue to fight as guerrillas.
Even before he issued the orders for an attack, Wainwright already knew it was impossible of execution. Earlier that day he had notified the War Department that the withdrawal of both corps had become necessary because of the weakness of the troops who had subsisted for so long on one-half to one-third rations. Even the best of his regiments, he said, “were capable of only a short advance before they were completely exhausted.”
In his message to MacArthur he had given clear warning that the end was near. The tactical situation, he explained, was fast deteriorating and the men were so weakened by hunger and disease that they had “no power of resistance” left. “It is with deep regret,” he had written, “that I am forced to report that the troops on Bataan are fast folding up.” When he received no change in orders, he had no recourse but to direct General King to launch the attack toward Olongapo.
The attack order was received at Luzon Force headquarters during the height of confusion and chaos caused by the disintegration of II Corps. Except for a single issue of half rations, the food stocks on Bataan had been exhausted. Already the depot commanders were standing by for orders to destroy their equipment and the Chemical Warfare Service was dumping its chemicals into Manila Bay. At Mariveles the Navy had begun demolitions an hour before and the flames were already lighting up the sky. Nevertheless General King put in a call to the I Corps commander and explained that he had received orders to launch an attack immediately. General Jones replied that his corps was in the midst of a withdrawal to the Binuangan River, ordered the night before. Moreover, he declared, the physical condition of his troops was such that an attack under any condition was impossible. General King accepted this estimate without question and with it the responsibility for refusing to transmit to Jones an order which he knew could not be executed. Apparently he did not inform General Wainwright of this decision.
As the precious hours went by and no word reached Corregidor about the attack, General Wainwright had his chief of staff, General Beebe, telephone directly to General Jones to ask if he had received the order. When Jones replied that the order had not been transmitted, Beebe told him that he would probably receive instructions to attack shortly. General King soon learned of Beebe’s call and at three o’clock in the morning, 9 April, he telephoned USFIP at Corregidor to inquire if I Corps had been removed from his command. Through his chief of staff who took the call, Wainwright assured the Luzon Force commander that he was still in command of all the forces on Bataan. There was no further discussion of the attack order, but Wainwright apparently still believed that an effort would be made to carry it out. This telephone call at 0300 of the 9th was the last conversation Wainwright had with King. Already two emissaries had gone forward with a white flag to meet the Japanese commander.
[Wainwright, General Wainwright’s Story, pp. 81-82; USAFFE-USFIP Rpt of Opns, p. 61. Colonel Alexander, who was in King’s command post that night, confirms this telephone conversation. King, he says, declared, “I want a definite answer as to whether or not General Jones will be left in my command regardless of what action I may take.” Alexander, Personal Recollections of Bataan, pp. 123-24.]
SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)