The Battle of Manila commenced on 3 February 1945. American forces had landed on the Philippine island of Leyte the previous October and had been making their way towards the capital, slogging through hellacious combat against the Japanese defenders. In Manila, a garrison of 17,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors held the city of million-plus residents. When the American and Filipino forces launched their offensive against the Japanese defenders, a brutal blood bath erupted. After a month of fighting the allied forces were able to seize the city, killing 98% of the Japanese defenders and destroying most of the capital city. The destruction of Manila highlighted the difficulty of urban combat and the issues faced with an eventual invasion of Japan.
The victory in Manila culminated the vow General Douglas MacArthur swore when he was forced to evacuate during the initial Japanese invasion in 1942. The Japanese launched their invasion of the Philippine Islands in the hours after the Pearl Harbor attacks on 8 December 1941. American and Filipino forces in the Philippines were grossly underequipped to face their Japanese counterparts. While the Japanese invasion force was smaller than the American and Filipino defense forces, they were supported by air and naval assets which overwhelmed the defenders. American forces were armed with World War I era Enfield rifles despite MacArthur’s request to the War Department for M1 Garand’s. Likewise, American artillery was outdated as well as underequipped, with divisions only operating with 20% of their artillery requirements.
The Japanese quickly overran the defenses, pushing American and Filipino forces back to the Bataan Peninsula. The American and Filipino forces put up a last stand at Bataan. Unlike their British counterparts at Dunkirk, the Americans lacked the naval support to evacuate the whole of their forces from Bataan. While some were able to escape via PT-Boats, submarines, and aircraft, the bulk of American and Filipino forces surrendered on 9 April 1942. Over 75,000 American and Filipino troops were captured and detained by the Japanese, and would later take part in the horrendous forced march from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell which became known as the Bataan Death March.
General MacArthur had been able to escape from the Philippines and made his way to Australia. In Australia he made the famous speech in which he declared that “I shall return” to the Philippines. MacArthur was instrumental in orchestrating the American offensive operations against the Japanese in the Pacific, and when American forces landed in Leyte in October 1944 he had fulfilled his vow of returning.
Look for more information regarding the history of the Battle of Manila in the upcoming World at War issue #43 with the article “The 1945 Battle of Manila” and join the conversation on Facebook!