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Seed for Defeat

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The USAFFE HQ Building

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This is scanned from a 1944 US Army Map. The difference between the campaigns was thay the Americans retreated to Bataan, whereas the Japanese forces retreated to the mountains around Baguio where large units could not be used to their best advantage.

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The aim of War Plan Orange-3 was to delay the invading enemy forces until the US Navy could gather together it's Pacific Fleet and sail to the Philippines, on the way dealing with the Japanese Fleet. But there was no US Navy fleet to gather together, for it's might and glory now rested on the bottom of Pearl Harbour.

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The Japanese have secured the beachheads of Lingayen Gulf  against uncoordinated American counterattacks and soon hold the West Coast of Tayabas Province. The 14th Japanese Imperial Army, under the command of General Masaharu Homma, are almost as familiar with War Plan Orange (retreat to Bataan) as  the Americans. Throughout the 1930's, WPO  had been studied at West Point by  the Army's prospective second lieutenants, and by the Japanese exchange officers who studied there as well.  MacArthur had protested against WPO's policy since 1935. 

Now it is early 1942, and as commander of the United States Armed Forces in the Far Fast (USAFFE) he is more familiar with the terrain.   He is certainly no fool.  Realizing that the collapse of his anti-invasion troops at Lingayen  places him in a precarious position, he considers the second invasion at Lamon (on the east coast, 40 miles south-east of Manila) may catch him in a huge pincer. The Japanese move slowly, but the American and Filipino units, who are not mechanized infantry yet, are slower.  They can cope only with one army on one front.   Reluctantly, MacArthur had to apply the plan he had protested against all those years.

Retreat to Bataan becomes inevitable. On the Bataan peninsula the defending forces, following War Plan Orange-3, regroup for a last stand. Manila is declared an open city, but that doesn't prevent the Japanese from bombing it.

Delaying actions are fought to permit withdrawal to Bataan, the bloodiest of which is fought by the 11th and 21st Divisions on the Porac-Guagua line. The 26th Cavalry Regiment protects the west flank of the 21st Division. As the entire USAFFE struggles from south and north toward the Layac junction, the only approach to Bataan, the delaying forces hold their line on open and unprepared ground. From 1 January to 5 January they stand fast against massive enemy aerial and artillery bombardment, concentrated tank attacks and banzai charges.  Casualties on both sides are heavy. The first defensive in Bataan is the Hermosa-Dinalupihan line, where on 6 January 1942 the 71st Division, the American 31st Infantry Regiment and the 26th Cavalry Regiment fight off the pursuing enemy.

The main battle position of the USAFFE, the Abucay-Morong line, is attacked along its eastern flank on 9 January, but the 5th Regimental Combat Team, reinforced by the 57th Infantry of the 21st Division repulses the attack. On 14 January the Japanese attack the boundary of the 41st and 51st Divisions. The 43rd Infantry, holding the left lank of the 41st Division, which is reinforced by the 23rd Infantry, 21st Division sharply refuses its flank.   The 51st Infantry, holding the right flank of the 51st Division, withdraws creating a gap through which the enemy advanc to the Salian River. But a patrol of the 21st Division discovers the enemy, and elements of the Division rush to the Salian River valley where after a savage fight, they repulse the enemy. Farther to the west the enemy surprisedand rout the 53rd Infantry. Penetrating deep behind the main battle position along the Abo-Abo River valley, the enemy advance is held up by combined elements of the 21st Division of the II reserve, the 31st and the 51st Division of the Bani-Guirol forest area.

The American 31st Infantry and the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, succeed in partially restoring the abandoned line of the 51st Division.  Morale is high, and prisoners give the impression that Japanese morale is away down.

On 15 January the Morong sector, defended by the 1st Regular Division, is reinforced, and comes under heavy bombardment. But the line holds.

Homma has been ordered by Imperial General Headquarters to complete the conquest of Luzon in 50 days. He is now two weeks beyond that deadline and is bogged down in defensive positions with a virtually ineffective army.  His forces have suffered seven thousand casualties and between ten and twelve thousand men are out of action with malaria, beriberi, dysentery and other tropical diseases. For all intents and purposes, the 14th Army ceases to exist as a viable fighting force, and Homma finds it necessary to ask Tokyo for more troops.

(At his war crimes trial in Manila, Homma will admit that his 14th Army was "in very bad shape" with only three battalions capable of effective action. Had MacArthur/Wainwright attacked, they could have walked to Manila "without encountering much resistance on our part."   That might have been so, but the Japanese, with mastery of the air and sea,  can re-inforce their land troops at will, and the Americans once again would be forced again to fall back to Bataan.) But the American-Filipino troops have their own share of problems.

A few days later, the enemy penetrate through a huge gap in the Silangan-Natib area and establish a roadblock on the Mauban ridge,  cutting off the 1st Regular Division from the rear area. Gravely threatened, elements of the 71st and 91st Divisions and the 2nd Regiment repeatedly attack the roadblock but fail to dislodge the enemy.

Although the II Corps Sector prevent a similar envelopment in the Salian River battle, the I Corps position is now untenable. The Abucay-Morong tine is abandoned on 24 January. The Orion-Bagac line is established two clays later. Again in a desperate attempt to outflank the I Corps, the enemy land crack units on the west coast of southern Bataan. The aim is to outflank and to isolate the frontline units from headquarters and supplies.

There are three ferocious battles in the Lapiay-Longoskawayan Points area, and the fighting continues from 23 to 29 January; in Quinawan-Aglaloma Points area, fighting continues from 23 January to 8 February; and Silaiim-Anyasan Points, it continues from 27 January to 13 February. Of the 2,000 enemy troops committed to these battles, only 34 wounded soldiers return to their lines.

On 24 January, MacArthur orders the removal to Corregidor from Bataan's depots of food stocks sufficient for 20,000 men through to July 1. There are only 12,000 on the island at this point.

On 27 January enemy troops are discovered in the rear of the Orion-Bagac line, the Tuol River valley behind the 11th Regular Division and in the Gogo-Cotar River valley behind the 1st Regular Division. A series of engagements to eliminate these enemy salients will become known as the Battle of the Pockets,  and will be fought from 27 January until 17 February. Of the 2,000 Japanese troops committed to this battle, only 377 will be  reported to have escaped.

After the battles of the Points, Pockets and Trail 2, which are brilliant triumphs of the USAFFE, the Japanese forces withdraw to regroup   and to wait for reinforcements.

On 12 March, General MacArthur, his family and some staff officers of the USAFFE leave from South Dock [1] on Corregidor on four battleworn PT boats for Mindanao, from where they were flown to Australia. MacArthur's departure, ordered by the President, marks the end of the USAFFE on 22 March. The defending army is renamed United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP), under the command of Lieutenant General Jonathan M. Wainwright.

The Japanese High Command reinforce Homma's 14th Imperial Japanese Army, and strike toward the end of March.  Only twenty thousand of the US-Filipino troops on the peninsula are now combat effective.  Daily rations are at a quarter of the normal levels. Their diet is being supplemented with carabao, mule, dog, iguana, edible roots and leaves, monkey and fish. Thirst crazed men are drinking from carabao wallows and stagnant pools.  The entire Orion-Bagac line is subjected to vicious artillery and aerial bombardment, with incendiaries turning the Mount Samat area into an inferno. The forest is set on fire, men are buried alive in their foxholes and every inch of the ground is covered by enemy fire. The dust flames and smoke darken the mountain. The USFIP artillery, which had backed the defenders, is immobilized.

At 1500 hours on 3 April, the enemy infantry, spearheaded by tanks will roll over the bodies of the dead and living Filipino defenders, and will break through the main line of resistance of the 41st Infantry at Trail 29. Along Trail 6, the enemy infantry, also spearheaded by tanks, crash through the main line of resistance of the 21st Infantry. By nightfall the enemy will penetrate about 1,500 yards behind the main line of resistance of the 41st infantry, 1,000 yards behind the 23rd infantry.

On 4 April the enemy infantry attack the 23rd Infantry crashing through the line along Trail 4. The enemy swerve toward the east and strike the flank of the 22nd Infantry. By nighttime the enemy penetrates 1,000 yards beyond the main battle position of the 23rd Infantry. By the 6th of April Mount Samat is surrounded. But the 21st Division, reforming its line to resemble a horseshoe, still holds the slopes of the mountain. The battle of Mount Samat will be called the most vicious encounter of the second battle of Bataan.

On the evening of 8 April 1942, MacArthur, now in Australia, orders Wainwright to counterattack.  The order is withheld by Major General Edward P. King, Jr., who has been told by Wainwright that "under no circumstances would the Luzon Force surrender."  A series of earthquakes rocks Bataan, two of which are of nature's making. 

During these next two days, lines are formed and abandoned before they can be completed. Communications break down and higher headquarters can no longer find out the situation at the front lines. Stragglers pour to the rear, until the roads and junctions are clogged. Units disappear into the jungle never to be heard of again. The USFIP Army disappears into thin air.

In the morning of 9 April 1942, a heavy rain falls. Then the sun shines again. At high noon, Major General King,  senior American officer on the battle-torn peninsula surrenders 78,000 men.   It is done before Wainright's orders telling him "not to do it" can be delivered.  It is the largest capitulation of US forces in history.

Physical exhaustion and sickness, due to a long period of insufficient food and a lack of medical supplies, is the root cause of the disaster.    

The infamous 65 mile Death March from Marivales to San Fernando begins.  Men in good health may have been able to undertake the march, but there are none in good health left. But no-one on Corregidor will know of the barbarity of this march. Neither will the world know for over a year, for the reports will have to await the freedom of  the witnesses fortunate enough to escape.

Japanese forces, already reducing Corregidor's strengths by constant aerial and artillery bombardments, can now concentrate upon the reparation of an invasion. 

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Photo by Carl Mydans,
Courtesy of the Digital Journalist