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Battle of Bataan

The Japanese landed troops on Luzon on December 10 and 12, and on Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, on December 20. At the time of the invasion, MacArthur’s troops  numbered some 31,000 well-trained forces composed of both American and Filipino (12,000 of the men were the crack Philippine Scouts) in addition to a largely reserve, poorly trained, and poorly equipped Philippine army of approximately 100,000.

The Japanese plan had been to take the Philippines in fifty days. While the Allied forces were ultimately defeated, ‘the valiant American defense of Bataan held up Japan for several months, ‘one historian notes, a delay that “may have  . . . saved Australia”.

The evacuation to Bataan, which one observer said “looked like a small Dunkirk”,  has been described by historians as a minor miracle, strategically important in delaying the Japanese advance throughout the western Pacific by several months. “MacArthur’s forces executed the . . . movement with masterly skill . . . By this decision and movement, MacArthur averted immediate defeat [and] delayed the Japanese timetable by four months.

On Christmas Eve [1942] the American headquarters in Manila was evacuated. General MacArthur and his family, Filipino President Manuel Quezon, and the U.S. high commissioner to the Philippines, Francis B Sayre, and their staffs retreated to Corregidor. [1]

[However] “The defense of the philippines . . . gave an enormous lift to American mora and will to win. The ‘battling bastards of Bataan,’ ‘the Rock,’ MacArthur’s dramatic escape, the heroic doctors and nurses of Corregidor – all became part of American folklore.” [2]

The Battling Bastards of Bataan

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam’
No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces;
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces;
And nobody gives a damn.

Written by Frank Hewlett, a war correspondent with United Press International who spent a lot of time at the front with the men in their foxholes. The poem traveled faster than news, faster even than scuttlebutt, it reached farther than food, and it spread like a contagion. The troops made up verses of their own, but there was one verse that everyone recited, as the truth . . . [3]

The seige of Bataan began in early January 1942 and ended 0n April 9, 1942, when the U.S. forces under Major General Edward P. King, Jr. surrendered. At the Beginning of January the American Troops numbered approximately 15,000; they were fighting alongside approximately 65,000 Filipinos. By the surrender the total force was between 76,000 and 78,000, of which 11,500 to 12,000 were Americans. [4]

Despite the heroic efforts. . . to transport food, medicine, and supplies to Bataan from the Manila area, they proved inadequate. On January 5, rations to the troops were cut in half, and in March they were reduced to a third. This meant that in January rations averaged about two thousand caloris per peron a day; they were down to fifteen hundred calories in February and one thousand in March. Half-rations meant 3.7 ounces of rice, 1.8 ounces of sugar, 1.2 ounces of canned milk, 2.4 ounces of canned fish, an an occasional can of vegetables. [5]

Many don’t understand the value of the fighting men of Bataan. Their sacrifices delayed Homma’s conquer of the Philippines which lasted five months instead of the projected two. Their efforts resulted in Homma being relieved of his command. [6]

1. William Donovan, M.D., POW in the Pacific, Memoirs of an American Doctor in World War II (Delaware:  Scholarly Resources Inc. 1998), 2-3.
2. Ibid.,  xiii.
3. Gavan Daws, Prisoners of the Japanese, POWs of World War II in the Pacific (New York, William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1994), 67.
4. William Donovan, M.D., POW in the Pacific, Memoirs of an American Doctor in World War II (Delaware:  Scholarly Resources Inc. 1998), 17.
5.  Richard C. Mallonée, The Naked Flagpole:  Battle for Bataan, ed. Richard C. Mallonée (San Rafael, CA: Presidio, 1980) 84.
6.  Jonathan M. Wainwright, edited by Robert Considine, General Wainwright’s Story (New York, Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1946), 133.

Photo Courtesy:  The National Archives