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The Fall of Bataan

American prisoners-of-war on the infamous Bataan death march in the Philippines, 1942.

Japans attack on the Philippines began almost at the same time as their attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 22, the 14th Japanese Army under Lieutenant Masaharu Homma landed at Lingayen Gulf and began their assault on Manila, capital of the Philippines, just 180km away. A part of Hommas 43,000 troops and 80 ships proceeded southwards to Lamon Bay, landing two days later, launching a pincer movement to take the city. In charge of the US Armed Forces in the Far East (UASFFE) in the Philippines was General Douglas MacArthur, who had been called out of retirement to take over the Philippine forces since he had supervised the creation of the Philippines army in 1935. Fearing the destruction of Manila, MacArthur persuaded Philippine President Manuel Quezon to declare it an open city. MacArthur withdrew his administration and troops to the Bataan peninsula, across Manila Bay. The Japanese occupied the city on January 2, 1942. MacArthur with some 60,000 Philippine troops, 11,000 Philippine Scouts and some 19,000 American troops established his headquarters on the fortified island of Corregidor, off the tip of the peninsula. By the end of February, the situation became untenable and President Franklin Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to move his headquarters to Australia. Against his will, MacArthur left Corregidor and made his way to Mindanao, before flying to Australia. From Australia, he made a broadcast in which he uttered his famous words, I shall return. With MacArthur gone, Lieutenant-General Jonathan Wainwright became the new Allied Commander of the Philippines. Wainwright took up his post on Corregidor and command of the Bataan troops passed to Major General Edward King. After a Japanese offensive that began on April 3, 1942, American and Philippine troops many of whom were

seriously malnourished and suffering from malaria buckled, and many surrendered to the Japanese. By April 9, 1942, the Battle of Bataan was over and King surrendered. Over 70,000 troops were taken as prisoners-of-war (POW). General Homma who still had the Battle for Corregidor on his hands ordered all Allied POWs to be moved to the town of Balanga where they were to assemble and receive food. They were then to march 50km to San Fernando where they would be put on trains to be transported to another station 40km away, for a further walk of 14.5km to Camp ODonnell, a former military base that would serve as a POW camp. Corregidor fell on March 6, 1942. Hommas orders were not obeyed. On April 10, the Japanese assembled the 78,000 POWs (12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos) and marched them up the east coast of Bataan this was the infamous Bataan Death March. Contrary to Hommas intentions, his officers were determined to make the journey hell. Most of the POWs were weakened by disease and hunger and could not keep the pace set by the guards. The Japanese soldiers continuously taunted, baited and humiliated the POWs during the march. The prisoners were also made to stand in the scorching sun for hours on end. Anyone found stopping, even to relieve himself, was killed. The POWs were beaten with rifle butts, and those who strayed were shot or bayoneted to death. Worst of all, the prisoners received no food and almost no water on the march. A few lucky ones stole a drink from filthy, stagnant pools along the route. Fresh drinking water was available from artesian wells throughout the Bataan peninsula and the Japanese soldiers delighted in showing their prisoners the wells. The Japanese laughed as their prisoners were denied fresh water to drink. And any sympathetic villagers who offered the POWs water or food ran the risk of being killed for their kindness. The POWs marched 110km over six days to reach San Fernando, where up to 115 men were crammed into rail cars designed for 30 or 40 people. Many more POWs died of heat exhaustion and suffocation on trains. By the time the remaining POWs made the trek to Camp ODonnell, some 11,000 had died. But their misery did not end with their arrival at the camp. Almost twice as many POWs died in their first two months of imprisonment due to malnourishment, exhaustion, disease or execution. And in August 1942, even more POWs died when they were forced to work in the Japanese war industry in coalmines, factories and iron mines. By the end of the war, only a third of the defenders of Bataan had survived.