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Rising Sun, Descending Darkness: How the Philippines Fell to Japan in World War II

Drake also ordered that the peninsula’s wildlife, particularly the water buffalo, be slaughtered and rice procured from local farmers. For a time, Bataan’s fishermen were hard at work supplying the defenders, but the Japanese found out and targeted their boats. The men of Bataan and Corregidor now faced starvation.

After occupying Manila, General Homma brought the balance of his forces to the borders of Bataan. Since the Japanese believed the attack on Bataan would meet little resistance, the 48th Division was withdrawn and replaced by the 65th Brigade.

On January 9, the advance began with one reinforced regiment moving down the west coast while another advanced to the east; contact was not made with American and Filipino forces until January 11. There was little action in the west, while in the east the Japanese attack fell on the 41st Division.

After a preliminary bombardment, Homma’s troops advanced across open country, where American artillery blasted the Japanese, sending them back into the jungle. The next day, the Japanese attacked along the coast, hitting the 57th Philippine Scouts. The Scouts decimated the Japanese, who again attacked in the open. One company of Scouts did temporarily lose its positions but counterattacked and retook them.

For a few brief moments, it looked like the defenders might actually stop the invaders. A Yank reporter wrote, “[Bataan] was a hot and bloody place. The Japs came down from Aparri in the north and Lingayen Gulf in the northwest. They came by the thousands, like an army of ants, and there were not enough defenders to stop them. It was like a knife through cheese, the Japs thought. Easier than China.

“Then Bataan got up and hit the Japs in the face with the old one-two, the uppercut, the right cross, the hook. The Japs got a GI kick in the teeth and a GI boot in the behind and a GI slap in the puss. That was Bataan.”

Ultimately, though, the attack was shifted back to the 41st Division and, after three days, the Filipino lines were finally breached. The Japanese attack shifted inland where it gained ground against the 51st Division. Two regiments, the 51st and 53rd Infantry, took heavy losses and were forced to give, creating a great bulge in Parker’s line.

The 51st Division counterattacked on the 16th but was unable to make any headway. Parker sent his reserve—the 31st Infantry and 45th Philippine Scouts—into the fray but, after a week of fierce fighting, they failed to dislodge the Japanese.

After absorbing the American/Filipino counterattack, Homma renewed the offensive. Two regiments pushed east while a third drove south and threatened to turn II Corps’ entire flank. As Parker’s corps began to disintegrate, MacArthur decided that the main line of resistance would be abandoned in favor of a second line about two miles to the south.

The new, shorter line ran east from Bagac to Orion. Just before the withdrawal commenced on January 22, Homma sent the 2nd Battalion of the 20th Infantry Regiment on an amphibious flanking maneuver against Bataan’s west coast. As luck would have it, the Americans captured a Japanese courier who carried detailed plans of the operation.

As a result, the Japanese first effort—a night landing on Caibobo Point—was intercepted and scattered by a pair of PT boats from Lieutenant John Bulkeley’s Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3. However, several barges managed to land 600 troops below Caibobo at Quinanuan Point and another 300 men even farther south at Longoskawayan Point.

A two-week battle began during which the Japanese sent a company to reinforce Quinanuan Point. After being strafed by American P-40s, this force, too, landed at the wrong position, Anyasan Point. While all three landings were contained by improvised battalions of Air Corps and Navy personnel armed with .50-caliber machine guns scavenged from wrecked aircraft, the beachheads were not wiped out until a concerted attack was made by the 45th Philippine Scouts, 57th Philippine Scouts, and 194th Tank Battalion. Some of the Japanese on the points took refuge in nearby caves and had to be blasted out by American gunboats.

The failed amphibious attacks were launched in conjunction with a new thrust against Wainwright’s front. Initially, the drive by the remainder of the 20th Japanese Infantry Regiment met with some success and penetrated the gap between the 1st Regular and 11th Philippine Army Divisions. However, the regiment became bogged down before dogged resistance and was pulled back by the end of the first week of February.

For the moment at least, the Japanese assault had been stopped. Thinking that he had won a great victory rather than a temporary respite, MacArthur hectored his superiors for a national effort to relieve his isolated outpost. Meanwhile, Washington was desperately trying to get MacArthur to leave the Philippines to avoid giving the Japanese such a high profile prisoner and therefore a propaganda coup.

Under direct orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on march 15 MacArthur left for Australia, where he took command of all Allied troops.

After MacArthur’s departure, Wainwright took overall command. I Corps went to Maj. Gen. Jones while Maj. Gen. Edward King replaced Parker as head of II Corps.

Despite American and Filipino successes in January and February, the situation was dire. American bases in the Philippines were almost totally isolated. Even if the Imperial Japanese Navy could be swept aside, the troops necessary to relieve the Philippines were simply not yet available.

Worse, the army was running out of food; many soldiers were living on 1,000 calories a day. And the men in the trenches suffered from any number of tropical maladies for which the supply of medicine had been exhausted.