December 1941 to April 1942. Over 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers retreated into Bataan, beside Manila Bay. Typhoon-sheltered Manila Bay was the only strategic feature of the Philippines. If the allies could hold out in Bataan the Japanese could not use the Bay.
The plan was to hold out for 6 months. America would send aid and reinforcements and drive the Japanese away.
Hot summer thermals pounded the airplane as I circled over Abucay, site of the first American defensive line in Bataan. Imagine what it was like down there – fevered palms clutching baking rifles, cracked lips, skin stinging in the oven waves reflecting from the parched ground. I’d rather be flying.
The “Abucay Line” stretched from Abucay town to the slopes of Mt. Natib. Another defense line continued on the other side of the mountain to Morong on the South China Sea. The defensive line across the Bataan peninsula thus had a gap in the center, where Mt. Natib was.
McArthur didn’t have enough healthy troops for an unbroken line. He didn’t think the Japanese had the sophistication to outflank him at Mt. Natib.
Guess what? The Japanese did exactly that.
After the Japanese 9th Infantry Division turned the left flank of the Fil-Am 51st Infantry, the whole line was imperiled, and the entire USAFFE fell back to the secondary line of defense. It was January, 1942.
Meanwhile, the Japanese landed behind the Philippine-American lines, in the southwestern tip of Bataan. They came ashore at Longaskawayan Point near Mariveles, and Quinauan Point
The fighter pilots of the 3rd, 17th and 34th Pursuit Squadrons, who had been bombed out of Iba, Nichols and Del Carmen (now Basa) airfields in December, were now fighting as infantry.
The US had over 100 fighters in the Philippines on December 7, 1941. The next day, more than 50 were destroyed at Iba and Nichols. By January, there were only 9 left.
By now everyone was on 1000-calorie rations — a handful of rice and a tin of tuna shared among several men. Per day.
The Japanese took their best men and went on to conquer the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Oil was more strategic than Manila Bay.
In April, the remaining Japanese troops attacked the starving Fil-Am army. The second defense line stretched all across the Bataan peninsula, from Orion to Bagac (see first map above), the middle anchored on Mt. Samat.
Mt Samat would have been a dominant position if the allies had any artillery left. Instead, the defense disintegrated with the first attack on April 5-6.
By April 7 the Japanese had broken through and were driving towards the allied rear areas at Lamao, Cabcaben and Mariveles.
Delaying positions at Limay and Lamao were abandoned without a fight on April 7-8. Faced with the prospect of Japanese spearheads breaking into hospital and supply areas, ranking US General King surrendered all forces in Bataan on April 9 at Lamao.
By that time of course USAFFE Commanding General Douglas McArthur had long abandoned his troops and fled to Australia. Over 65,000 Filipinos and Americans marched into captivity from Mariveles to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac. Tens of thousands died or were slaughtered along the way.
Corregidor now stood as a lone American outpost, in the middle of Manila Bay. It was April, 1942.
Posted from Vientiane, Laos, May 5, 2011