Bataan. Where was it? Why did it play such an important roll in 1941 at the beginning World War II? Bataan was a peninsula on the main island of Luzon in the Philippines. Its location made it very important to the war plans to defend the islands in case of war. Corregidor was an island fortress in the center of the entrance to Manila Bay.
The war plans by USAFFE were, if the islands were attacked, to withdraw all American and Philippine troops back into Bataan where the big guns on Corregidor could help defend the troops from sea or land attack. Making no plans for defense against air attacks on Bataan. The planners at USAFFE Headquarters thought the airfields would serve as a good defense against any air attack. Clark Field and Nichols Field were built to handle the largest planes at that time. The B-17 Flying Fortresses.
December 8th in that part of the world was the same day as December 7th east of the International Dateline. That day the Japanese surprised the world with an attack on Pearl Harbor. They were to hit the Philippine Islands at the same time, with long range bombers from Formosa Island. Due to bad weather their planes could not take off for the attack planned to coincide with their Pearl Harbor attack. So, six hours later their planes flew south for the first strike against the Philippines.
Word of the attack on Pearl Harbor had reached the Philippine Islands. All troops were put on alert for attack from the air and sea.
The mistakes were many, but the most important ones were as follows: First, our B-17’s were capable of striking the Japanese bombers on the air field in Formosa, but were ordered to stay on the ground. As a result the Japanese hit Clark Field, Nichols Field, Cavite Naval Base and Corregidor plus many other targets. Killing several thousand troops and civilians, almost all our B-17’s were destroyed on the ground, plus P-40’s and ships at the Navy station. It was a devastating blow that could have been prevented.
General Douglas MacArthur, the commanding officer of USAFFE had no comment why our planes were not in the air, because they had at least one hour warning that formations of long range bombers were flying south to attack the Philippines because there was no other target within their range.
Second, USAFFE made very few plans to prepare for the invasion that was already underway. General MacArthur said he was waiting to see what their intentions were. Our loss of most all the aircraft left us so few that an attack on the landing party ships were not enough. Their ships weigh anchor before coming ashore at Lingayen Bay, the Japanese 14th army, one their best walked ashore with very little counter attack by the ill trained and equipped Philippine army. None of the defenders were any match to the Japanese 14th army that moved south toward Manila. USAFFE Headquarters waited two weeks to order withdrawal into Bataan.
Third, the withdrawal was not organized. The roads were jammed and they let about 40,000 old men, women and children back into Bataan, a war zone. They were expecting the army to feed them. USAFFE forbid movement of food, that was only 70 miles away, to be moved into Bataan. With direct orders not to move it, men and medical supplies were left behind. Food was short from the beginning. History said rations were cut in February 1942, but it was in short supply to begin with.
Fourth, the long wait before ordering the withdrawal into Bataan was a great mistake; most Philippine troops did not know what was happening. They became scattered and large number took off into the general public. By the time the Japanese forces closed the roads and Bataan was shut off, some Philippine units were lost and could not reorganize a defense. If better trained forces were sent in to begin with, the withdrawal could not have been slower. But, since our planes were destroyed the first day the Japanese took control of the airways leaving our only defense, the land troops that were on the run.
Fifty, our radio station on Corregidor broadcasted the wrong messages – it gave us a false hope. At once they were telling us help was on its way, only hold off the invading forces for a few weeks. They knew then that the Japanese Navy and troops were moving south. Washington had already said Europe was more important that the Far East. General MacArthur told President Roosevelt things were under control and that the withdrawal into Bataan was a great success.
The records show that the great General came to Bataan once. He sure did not go to the front lines or give the front line forces any help. When the American and Philippine scouts got backs to the first line of defense in Bataan, the Japanese 14th army was stopped. The real colors of our troops showed them we were going to give them a fight. Each time our line pulled back it got stronger.
The Japanese plans were to take Bataan by February 1st, 1942. They were unable to break through our lines and on January 23rd, 1942 they sent a landing force by water to establish a beachhead on the end of Bataan. This was known as the Battle of the Points. Its intentions were to link up with a push through our front-lines and cut off our China Sea area from supplies. Not only did our front-line hold, but also the Battle of the Points was the first big defeat they had since the war started. They had taken all the British and Dutch forces. In the Far East, most fell in about two weeks. The landing force troops were all killed; the Japanese said it was impossible to reinforce the landing troops, so a small amount was withdrawn. At that point the Japanese commanding General Homma notified their headquarters that reinforcements had to be sent in to taking Bataan.
If food and medical supplies only could have arrived, the forces on Bataan could have held off much longer or may have never given up. Once the lines were drawn in Bataan the troops, with their field commanders, did what they had to do to hold off the Japanese. The Battle of Points saved General MacArthur from quick defeat. Also, had it not been for the Battle of Points’ success, he would have been unable to go to Australia. Bataan saved the nation of Australia. If Bataan had fallen like other places the Japanese would have taken the entire Far East. It would have given them time to reinforce their navy, effectively blockade the Pacific Ocean and prevent movement of troops and supplies from as far away as Hawaii. The war would have lasted much longer, costing millions and loss of thousands of troops on both sides.
Bataan gave time for the allies to prepare for the sea battles of Midway and the Coral Sea. Bataan slowed the Japanese advances into the southern Pacific. They had to pull troops back to take Bataan and Corregidor. They could not fight an effective war with the Philippine Islands still in the hands of Americans. Taking it was a must, regardless of the cost.
That little old group of sick, worn-out troops on Bataan held out four months without much food and old equipment. The fighting spirit would have been better if our leaders would have told us the facts to begin with. Keep the flowers and praise and give us the ammo and food. Then the end would have been a different story. Bataan never got the credit it deserves, because America was not ready to face the fact that they had made a grave mistake. They underestimated what Japan was capable of doing in the first place. General MacArthur was not willing to accept the fact that his great strategy did not work in the beginning. When twenty-one of us turned ourselves in at his headquarters in Tokyo, Japan on September 4, 1945, he didn’t have ten minutes to speak to the cowards from Bataan that saved his skin three and half years earlier. They disobeyed his orders to fight to the last man. That was easy for him because he was not among the last men.
Our song in the Prisoner of War Camp – “No mom, no pop, no aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces, no military pieces, no Uncle Sam and no one gives a damn.” The Battling Bastards of Bataan.