The Philippines

The Philippines

The Philippines is the north-eastern part of the Malayan Archipelago. It is made up of around 7,000 islands and on the outbreak of the Second World War had a population of around 19,000,000 people. Manila, is the capital and chief port and other important cities include Cebu, Davao and Zamboanga. The territory was ceded to the United States in 1898 under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.

During the first half of the 20th century the Philippines became of great strategic importance to the defence of the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt became increasingly concerned about the possibility of the Japanese Army invading the islands and in 1935 sent General Douglas MacArthur to organize the defence of the Philippines. He retired from the army in 1937 but stayed on the island where he became the country's military adviser.

When negotiations with the Japanese government broke down in June 1941, Roosevelt recalled MacArthur to active duty as a major general and was granted $10 million to mobilize the Philippine Army. It was also decided to send MacArthur 100 B-17 Flying Fortress to help defend the Philippines.

Most of MacArthur's troops were deployed to protect the two main islands of Luzon and Mindanao and by October 1941, MacArthur informed General George Marshall that he now had 135,000 troops, 227 assorted fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and this provided a "tremendously strong offensive and defensive force" and claimed that the Philippines was now the "key or base point of the US defence line."

The Japanese Air Force attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the 7th December 1941. The following day they carried out air strikes on the Philippines and destroyed half of MacArthur's air force. MacArthur was much criticized for this as he had been told to move his airforce after the raid on Hawaii the previous day.

The Japanese Army also invaded the Philippines and they soon held the three air bases in northern Luzon. On 22nd December the 14th Army landed at Lingayen Gulf and quickly gained control of Manila from the inexperienced Filipino troops. Although only 57,000 Japanese soldiers were landed on Luzon it had little difficulty capturing the island.

General Douglas MacArthur now ordered a general retreat to the Bataan peninsula. A series of Japanese assaults forced the US defensive lines back and on 22nd February, 1942, MacArthur was ordered to leave Bataan and go to Australia. General Jonathan Wainright remained behind with 11,000 soldiers and managed to hold out until the beginning of May.

Within a few months of leaving MacArthur argued that the US Army should make an attempt to recapture the Philippines. However, Admiral Chester Nimitz, US Pacific Commander and Admiral Ernest King, the Chief of Naval Operations, argued that this should wait until the US forces were guaranteed of victory.

It was not until 1944 that MacArthur was given permission to begin the campaign to recapture the Philippines. The first objective was the capture of Leyte, an island situated between Luzon and Mindanao. After a two day naval bombardment General Walter Krueger and the 6th Army landed on 22nd October, 1944.

The Japanese Navy now made a strenuous effort to save the Philippines. Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, deployed every surviving Japanese warship in two groups under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita and Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa. The strategy was to use Ozawa's smaller fleet to draw the US Navy away from Leyte.

On 24th October 1944 Admiral William Halsey fell into a Japanese trap when he headed north with 64 ships to attack Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa leaving the San Bernardino Strait unprotected.

Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita and his fleet now moved in to attack the Allied invasion force. However Vice-Admiral Thomas Kinkaid and the 7th Fleet was still in the area providing cover for the 175,000 members of the US Army landing on Leyte.

The battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval engagement in history. It was a decisive victory for the Allies with the Japanese Navy lost four carriers, three battleships and ten cruisers. It was now clear that the US Navy had control of the Pacific and that further Allied landings in the region were likely to be successful.

After the successful amphibious landings General Douglas MacArthur and General Walter Krueger pushed the Japanese 35th Army out of the central valley onto the mountainous inland backbone of Leyte. After bitter fighting the US forces captured the important port of Ormoc on 10th December. By the time the island was completely secured the US Army had lost 3,500 men. It is estimated that over 55,000 Japanese soldiers were killed during the campaign.

On 9th January 1945 Allied troops landed on Luzon, the largest of the islands in the Philippines. The Japanese Army, under General Tomoyuki Yamashita, fought a vigorous rearguard action but within a month General Douglas MacArthur and his troops had crossed the Central Plain and were approaching Manila. Yamashita and his main army now withdrew to the mountains but left enough troops in Manila to make the capture of the city as difficult as possible. An estimated 16,000 Japanese soldiers were killed before it was taken on 4th March 1945.

General Robert Eichelberger and the US 8th Army landed on Mindanao on 10th March and began advancing through the southern Philippines. This included the capture of Panay, Cebu, Negros and Bohol.

Yamashita and his remaining men continued to fight from isolated mountain positions on Luzon. After hearing that Emperor Hirohito had announced that Japan had surrendered Yamashita and his 50,000 troops stopped fighting on 2nd September 1945.

Primary Sources

(1) James F. Byrnes, Speaking Frankly (1947)

A large Congressional party, headed by Vice President Garner, had gone to Manila to witness the inauguration of Manuel Quezon as the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth. There, Americans in all walks of life had expressed to us their concern over the increasing indications of Japan's aggressive intentions. Therefore, when we stopped in Japan I made a special effort to inquire into Japanese naval appropriations and naval construction. A study of the Japanese budget for 1936 readily revealed that at least half of the total was devoted to the army and navy. Members of our Embassy staff were convinced that the published budget disclosed only part of the naval appropriations. The published figures were alarming enough in themselves and when we returned to this country I urged the President to seek means for acquiring still more accurate estimates of Japan's naval strength.

(2) Winston Churchill, The Second World War (1950)

In the Philippines, where General MacArthur commanded, a warning indicating a grave turn in diplomatic relations had been received on November 20. Admiral Hart, commanding the modest United States Asiatic Fleet, had already been in consultation with the adjacent British and Dutch naval authorities, and,

in accordance with his war plan, had begun to disperse his forces to the southward, where he intended to assemble a striking force in Dutch waters in conjunction with his prospective allies.

He had at his disposal only one heavy and two light cruisers, besides a dozen old destroyers and various auxiliary vessels. His strength lay almost entirely in his submarines, of which he had twenty-eight. At 3 a.m. on December 8 Admiral Hart intercepted a message giving the staggering news of the attack on Pearl

Harbour. He at once warned all concerned that hostilities had begun, without waiting for confirmation from Washington. At dawn the Japanese dive-bombers struck, and throughout the ensuing days the air attacks continued on an ever-increasing scale.

On the 10th the naval base at Cavite was completely destroyed by fire, and on the same day the Japanese made their first landing in the north of Luzon. Disasters mounted swiftly. Most of the American air forces were destroyed in battle or on the ground, and by December 20 the remnants had been withdrawn to Port Darwin, in Australia. Admiral Hart's ships had begun their southward dispersal some days before, and only the submarines remained to dispute the sea with the enemy. On December 21

the main Japanese invasion force landed in Lingayen Gulf, threatening Manila itself, and thereafter the march of events was not unlike that which was already in progress in Malaya; but the defence was more prolonged.

(3) General Douglas MacArthur wrote about the invasion of the Philippines in December 1941 in his autobiography, Reminiscences (1964).

At 3.40 on Sunday morning, December 8, 1941, Manila time, a long-distance telephone call from Washington told me of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but no details were given. It was our strongest military position in the Pacific. Its garrison was a mighty one, with America's best aircraft on strongly defended fields, adequate warning systems, anti-aircraft batteries, backed up by our Pacific Fleet. My first impression was that the Japanese might well have suffered a serious setback.

We had only one radar station operative and had to rely for air warning largely on eye and ear. At 9:30 a.m. our reconnaissance planes reported a force of enemy bombers over Lingayen Gulf heading toward Manila. Major General Lewis H. Brereton, who had complete tactical control of the Far East Air Force, immediately ordered pursuit planes up to intercept them. But the enemy bombers veered off without contact.

When this report reached me, I was still under the impression that the Japanese had suffered a setback at Pearl Harbor, and their failure to close in on me supported that belief. I therefore contemplated an air reconnaissance to the north, using bombers with fighter protection, to ascertain a true estimate of the situation and to exploit any possible weaknesses that might develop on the enemy's front. But subsequent events quickly and decisively changed my mind. I learned, to my astonishment, that the Japanese had succeeded in their Hawaiian attack, and at 11:45 a report came in of an over- powering enemy formation closing in on Clark Field. Our fighters went up to meet them, but our bombers were slow in taking off and our losses were heavy. Our force was simply too small to smash the odds against them.

(4) William Leahy, I Was There (1950)

MacArthur was convinced that an occupation of the Philippines was essential before any major attack in force should be made on Japanese-held territory north of Luzon. The retaking of the Philippines seemed to be a matter of great interest to him. He said that he had sufficient ground and air forces for the operation and that his only additional needs were landing-craft and naval support.

Nimitz developed the Navy's plan of by-passing the Philippines and attacking Formosa. He did not see that Luzon, including Manila Bay, had advantages that were not possessed by other areas in the Philippines that could be taken for a base at less cost in lives and material. As the discussions progressed, however, the Navy Commander in the Pacific admitted that developments might indicate a necessity for occupation of the Manila area. Nimitz said that he had sufficient forces to carry out either operation. It was highly pleasing and unusual to find two commanders who were not demanding reinforcements.

Roosevelt was at his best as he tactfully steered the discussion from one point to another and narrowed down the area of disagreement between MacArthur and Nimitz. The discussion remained on a friendly basis the entire time, and in the end only a relatively minor difference remained - that of an operation to retake the Philippine capital, Manila. This was solved later, when the idea of beginning our Philippine invasion at Leyte was suggested, studied and adopted.

(5) The Manchester Guardian (20th October, 1944)

American landings on Suluan, a small but important island in a commanding. position on the eastern fringe of the Central Philippines, were reported yesterday by the Japanese. This news, which so far is unconfirmed by Allied sources, follows heavy "softening" raids on Formosa, the supply base between the Philippines and the Japanese mainland.

It may indicate the first step towards the fulfillment, of General MacArthur's promise that he would return, eventually to these islands, which were overrun by the Japanese in 1942. The Japanese report, which was contained in a message from Manila, said that "enemy forces started landing operations on Tuesday morning."

Another Japanese broadcast, also unconfirmed, said that an Allied '"fleet sailed the same day into the Gulf of Leyte and bombed and shelled the coast. It added that the Allied forces were

being opposed.

The Japanese News Agency last night reported that American forces have "attempted a landing " on the island of Leyte. The agency said that a new large task force, comprising the Fifth United States Fleet under. Admiral Spruance and another fleet '"under the command o General MacArthur," on Tuesday penetrated, into the Leyte Gulf between Luzon and Mindanao islands.

(6) The Manchester Guardian (21st October, 1944)

General MacArthur's invasion forces have established three firm beachheads on the east coast of the island of Leyte, in the Central Philippines, and last night were reported to be pushing inland against stiffening Japanese resistance. According to a broadcast from the Leyte area, picked up in San Francisco. Tacloban airfield, on the north-eastern tip of Leyte Island, has been captured.

Earlier President Roosevelt announced in Washington that the operations are going according to plan, with extremely light losses.

The Japanese were taken by surprise because, as General MacArthur explained in his announcement of the landing, they were expecting attacks on the large island of Mindanao, south of Leyte. "The strategic results of the capturing of the Philippines will be decisive." MacArthur said. " To the south 500,000 men will be cut off without hope of support and the culmination will be their destruction at the leisure of the Allies."

Thus General MacArthur has fulfilled the promise to return that the made two and a half years ago when his forces left the Philippines. An American broadcaster said that the Commander-in-Chief waded ashore with one of the landing parties and quoted him as saying, "I will stay for the duration now."

The President of the Philippine Commonwealth, Sergio Osmena, with members of his Cabinet, went with the American forces and already has established the seat of government on Philippine soil.

(7) General Douglas MacArthur wrote a report for Harry S. Truman where he advocated that Tomoyuki Yamahita should be tried as a war criminal.

It is not easy for me to pass penal judgment upon a defeated adversary in a major military campaign. I have reviewed the proceedings in vain search for some mitigating circumstances on his behalf. I can find none. Rarely has so cruel and wanton a record been spread to public gaze. Revolting as this may be in itself, it pales before the sinister and far reaching implication thereby attached to the profession of arms. The soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason for his being.

When he violates this sacred trust, he not only profanes his entire cult but threatens the very fabric of international society. The traditions of fighting men are long and honorable. They are based upon the noblest of human traits-sacrifice. This officer, of proven field merit, entrusted with high command involving authority adequate to responsibility, has failed this irrevocable standard; has failed his duty to his troops, to his country, to his enemy, to mankind; has failed utterly his soldier faith. The transgressions resulting therefrom as revealed by the trial are a blot upon the military profession, a stain upon civilization and constitute a memory of shame and dishonor that can never be forgotten. Peculiarly callous and purposeless was the sack of the ancient city of Manila, with its Christian population and its countless historic shrines and monuments of culture and civilization, which with campaign conditions reversed had previously been spared.

It is appropriate here to recall that the accused was fully forewarned as to the personal consequences of such atrocities. On October 24-four days following the landing of our forces on Leyte - it was publicly proclaimed that I would "hold the Japanese Military authorities in the Philippines immediately liable for any harm which may result from failure to accord prisoners of war, civilian internees or civilian non combatants the proper treatment and the protection to which they of right are entitled."