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World War II: The Japanese Hostaged 10,000 prisoners to Force the Surrender of All Commands in the Philippines

Updated on July 22, 2014

A big gun in Corregidor fortress (photo by Liberty S. Fontanilla)

Bataan death march of 15,000 American soldiers and 60,000 Filipino soldiers (Facts and photo from Ely Maverick. Hubpages. July 23,2014)

Map showing Bataan, Manila Bay, Corregidor Island, Manila, Laguna de Bay and Los Baños (map by google)

A breach in the rules of war

The Japanese imperial army assigned to conquer the Philippines held in hostage 10,000 prisoners of war in Corregidor Island. These hostages were used to force the surrender of Filipino-American commands, one in the Visayas and another in Mindanao.

The Japanese threatened to kill all hostages in Corregidor Island if the two commands were not surrendered.

Compounding events

The US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) was given the responsibility to defend the Philippines from Japanese conquest. The Japanese attacked before a declaration of war with the US. The Japanese air force staged a sneak attack on the US navy fleet anchored in Hawaii on December 7,1941. On December 8 Japanese warplanes attacked the US air force stationed in Clark airbase in Pampanga, Luzon. Within the week, Japanese ground forces landed in Lingayen gulf in Pangasinan province about 110 miles north of Manila. Being the capital of the Philippines, Manila was the prime target of the Japanese forces. Manila is the seat of Philippine government from where the Japanese would set up their government once they had captured the Philippines.

The shortest route to Manila was landing directly in Manila. But that route was guarded by heavy guns installed in Corregidor Island located at the mouth of Manila Bay.

[Why USAFFE? The reason is that the Philippines was still a colony of US since 1902. However, independence was to be granted to the Philippines in July 1945. Before that, the Philippines was a commonwealth with its own president, legislature and judiciary. In a way, the Philippines was still under the custody of the US. The primary reason of the Japanese in attacking the Philippines is that it is a territory of USA. The President of the Philippine Commonwealth was Manuel L. Quezon. When he saw that USA could not defend the Philippines he proposed that independence be granted earlier, turn the Philippines neutral whose neutrality would be guaranteed by both the US and Japan, being the protagonists. But USA was not sure that Japan would honor neutrality of the Philippines. One reason is that several American soldiers and weaponry had been stationed in the Philippines. So USA made a commitment to defend the Philippines.

Several years before WWII Japan had already shown aggressiveness in China, Korea, and Indo-China, poised to set up the Co-prosperity sphere that would include Australia. Pres. Quezon appointed Gen. Douglas MacArthur as military consultant to set up an army in the Philippines. MacArthur had just retired from the US army at age 55. He took along Major Dwight Eisenhower to set up USAFFE. Eventually Gen. MacArthur was made commander of USAFFE then of Southwest Pacific theatre that includes Australia. Eisenhower choose to go back four years before WWII to the US. Benefited by his experience in the Philippines, he eventually became Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in the European theatre to subdue Hitler’s Germany.]

The USAFFE ground forces were divided into five commands. The North force assigned to defend Luzon was commanded by Gen. Jonathan Wainright (Hunt, F. The Untold Story of Douglas MacArthur. 1954). There were other commands assigned to defend central Philippines ( the Visayas) and southern Philippines ( Mindanao). The Mindanao command had 25,000 ground forces; the Visayas group had 20,000 ground forces. Brig. Gen. George F. Moore was appointed commander of Harbor Defense consisting of Corregidor Island and other island forts in Manila. Overall, the USAFFE consisted of 20,000 Americans and 100,000 Filipinos.

So it was the North force of Gen. Wainright that bore the brunt of the whole invading Japanese forces. It goes without saying that the North force was outnumbered and outgunned right from the start. The Japanese made decoy landings in northern tip of Luzon, in the southern tip and at the middle. But MacArthur and Gen. Wainright predicted that the main Japanese force would land in Lingayen gulf. They were right.

Gen. MacArthur knew that if battles were fought in Manila, this city would be devastated not to mention millions of civilian residents caught in the crossfire. MacArthur declared Manila an open city.

MacArthur had to intercept the invading Japanese army that had landed in Lingayen gulf. This he did with the Bataan side-slip that was set up early 1942. Bataan is some halfway between Lingayen and Manila. It is forested; its terrain familiar to the North force. The Japanese forces were trained to fight in the streets and among buildings of Manila, they were unfamiliar with the forests and terrain of Bataan.

The workable strategy in the battle of Bataan was to delay the capture of Manila, and to delay the overall occupation of south Asia including Australia. Right from the start the USAFFE, with its state in 1941, was unequal to the task to defend the Philippines from Japanese invasion, by sheer number, guns and ammunition, warplanes and navy.

That delay should buy enough time for the Allied Forces in the Pacific to gather forces to counter the Japanese onslaught. In fact, the Japanese schedule to occupy south Asia was delayed by two months. If not for that delay, the Japanese could have occupied half of Australia and deny MacArthur a base to assemble a counter force.

In nine months MacArthur launched the first counteroffensive in Port Moresby, New Guinea. On October 20,1944 his forces landed in Leyte, Visayas. In March 1945 Luzon was liberated; MacArthur prepared Luzon as a jumping board in the invasion of Japan. MacArthur could have launched a counter attack earlier. However, the European theatre was made priority. That is, conquer Italy and Hitler's Germany first before turning to the Pacific theatre. Italy was conquered before the invasion at Normandy to drive at the heart of Germany. Hitler committed suicide in end of April 1945; Germany surrendered in June 1945. Japan surrendered in August 1945.

In 1942 Gen. MacArthur was the senior US army officer in the Philippines, but still in retired status. He was recalled to active duty and was assigned as the commander of the army of the Southwest Pacific Theatre. The US navy had its Central Pacific fleet that was eventually commanded by Admiral Chester Nimitz. This theatre of WWII was never united in terms of command up until the surrender of Japan in August 1945 when Gen. MacArthur was made Supreme Commander of the Allied force who accepted the surrender of Japan aboard the US S.S. Missouri.

MacArthur moved to Australia

It was decided that Australia would be made the base of Allied forces to counter the Japanese Imperial army. Despite his wishes to stay with his command in the Philippines down to the last battle in Bataan, MacArthur moved to Australia to assemble the ground forces of the Southwest Pacific command.

At that time MacArthur and his staff were stationed in Corregidor fortress which is a few miles away from Bataan, separated by sea. While battles were raging in Bataan he would land there to help out in the task of Gen. Wainright in engaging the Japanese invading forces.

What worsened the situation in Bataan was the movement into Bataan of some 26,000 civilians. They might have hoped that since the North force was entrenched there they would get enough protection. USAFFE was obliged to provide food for these 26,000 civilians resulting in scarcity of food supply. The ration of soldiers fighting, 80,000 of them at the start, in the field was reduced some portions of which were fed to refugees.

The North force was defeated and the remaining live USAFFE soldiers (Filipinos and Americans) were forced to march from Bataan to prison camps in Tarlac in the infamous Death March in April 1942..

All captured Filipino and American soldiers numbering 78,000 marched for 65 miles. Each group took five days to walk this long stretch.

"Those who became unable to walk were stabbed to death with bayonets or beheaded. Prisoners were not allowed to carry the dead or weaker soldiers. Some men were burned alive" (Patty Inglish, MS. POW Greek Indian in the 1942 Death March Received Medals at Age 94. Internet. June 7,2014).

Events towards hostage taking

First event. Before MacArthur moved to Australia, cruising through the Japanese blockade of the Philippines, he revamped the USAFFE command.

To repeat, Gen. Wainright would lead the Luzon force. Gen. Wm. F. Sharp was made commander of the Mindanao force. Brigadier General Bradform G. Chynoweth was appointed commander of the Visayan group. Gen. George Moore was commander of Corregidor and other small islands in Manila Bay. Brigadier General Lewis C. Beebe was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of USAFFE with headquarters in Corregidor fortress. Gen. MacArthur was still supreme commander of the Philippines although he would be 3,000 miles away in Australia.

Second event. MacArthur did not communicate to Gen. George C. Marshall, chief of Staff of the Joint Forces of USA, this revamp.

Third event. Gen. Marshall assumed command of USAFFE without informing Gen. MacArthur. Whereupon Wainright was promoted to Lieutenant General and made commander of ground forces in the Philippines.

Fourth event. The Japanese intercepted and decoded the message of Gen. Marshall to Gen. Wainright as the commander of the Philippines.

Fifth event. When Gen. Wainright, commander of II Corps that defended Bataan surrendered his forces, he was demanded by the Japanese to surrender the Visayan group and the Mindanao command. Gen. Wainright insisted that he did not have the authority to surrender these two commands. However, when he was confronted with the cable of Gen. Marshall making him Philippine commander, Gen. Wainright had no choice.

The Japanese commander, Gen. Homma, threatened to kill in cold blood all occupants of Corregidor island numbering 10,000. Corregidor Island is within range of Japanese heavy guns from the tip of Bataan.

The Mindanao command and the Visayan group surrendered without a fight. This hostage taking yielded to Gen. Homma some 45,000 ground forces: 25,000 under the Mindanao command; and 20,000 of the Visayan group.

"And so it was that the bravest of the brave were forced to surrender under the rumored threat of a ghastly reprisals on Corregidor. Had Gen. Marshall permitted MacArthur to continue to handle the whole Philippine situation from his command post in Australia and not interfere with MacArthur's arrangements, it is possible that guerrilla resistance in the central and lower islands would have long continued. It would have taken thousands of Japanese troops, needed elsewhere, to clean out the organized forces that the American officers, scattered throughout the islands, were forced to surrender at this time" (Hunt, F. The Untold Story of Douglas MacArthur. 1954:241).

"The Japanese conquerors were so bitter and angry at their failure to overrun Luzon and Corregidor in the two months that had been allotted them that they were prepared to go to the cruelest possible ends to force the surrender of all organized resistance in the islands" (same source as above).

Guerrilla's against the Japanese

MacArthur had given Gen. Sharp a free hand to decide what to do with his troops and area of operation. He wanted to preserve Mindanao, particularly Davao, as the landing area of his troops when he returns. He had in mind that these two commands would harass the Japanese in guerrilla warfare.

The Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (HUKBALAHAP) proved that Filipinos could engage in guerrilla warfare. The HUKBALAHAP of Pampanga province harassed the Japanese no end.

[HUKBALAHAP, led by Jesus Lava, Jose Lava and Luis Taruc, favored land reform. After WWII they were accused of atrocities during the war. In the first election after WWII in 1946 they ran for Congress of the Philippines and won. However, crimes were trumped up for them that criminalized them as having committed treason and electoral fraud. They were hunted down, captured by Ramon Magsaysay (as secretary of National Defense) convicted by a kangaroo court and jailed. The main reason was that USA and Russia were already engaged in the Cold War. Those in favor of land reform were considered as Left, just like the situation in the Korean peninsula (where the Russian army operated north of 38th parallel and American army operated south of it resulting in North Korea and South Korea). in the next presidential election the Central Intelligence Agency supported Magsaysay in his candidacy for president. Gen. Carlos P. Romulo (who was in the circle of MacArthur) also ran for president but withdrew from the race when he learned that the CIA was supporting Magsaysay. During his presidency, Magsaysay opened the gates of Malacañang, residence and office of the president, to the poor. On his way home after delivering a speech in Cebu province, the presidential plane he was flying on exploded after take off. Only his wrist watch and teeth remained uncharred.]

Some troops of Gen. Sharp remained as guerrillas. They aided Capt. Jesus Villamor, the ace Filipino pilot who had downed the greatest number of Tora Tora (Japanese fighter planes) during their attack on Clark field back in 1941. Villamor led the advance forces to make possible a safer landing for MacArthur forces in Leyte.

Even when Gen. Wainright had surrendered the Philippines some Filipinos came together to form guerrilla units like those in Los Baños, Laguna. The leader was Romeo Espino, aided by his right hand man, Efigenio Suiza. They operated in the Makiling forest. Their unit made possible the rescue mission to liberate 2,000 American and Filipino internees jailed in St. Therese Chapel and Baker Hall of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Like those held in hostage in Corregidor Island, they were threatened with massacre when the liberation forces of MacArthur had landed.

MacArthur dispatched a mercy mission through Gen. Robert Eichelberger (commander of the Luzon force), then Maj. Gen. Joseph Swing of the 11th Airborne Division. who chose Col. Robert Soule of the 188 Glider Regiment to lead the rescue team. Soule brought along 32 Americans and 80 Filipino guerrillas. The Swing troops came in via Laguna de Bay and attacked the Japanese garrison on February 20,1945.

At St. Therese chapel Suiza's mother, father, brother, sister-in-law, nephew and several prominent civilians of the town were imprisoned by the Japanese. He opened the door of the chapel with a hand grenade. However, his relatives did not make it. He himself sustained a grenade shrapnel wound in his back, his daughter, Rene Suiza Fontanilla (named after Efigenio's brother) told me. .

[Espino later on became a general. He was the army chief of staff of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. when he declared martial law, a dictatorship, in the Philippines in 1972. Suiza was accredited to the Philippine army and as a Filipino veteran of WWII.]

MacArthur dispatched other mercy missions to rescue Filipino and American soldiers and civilians jailed in the University of Sto. Tomas, Manila and in Cabanatuan City. That is, behind enemy lines because these mercy missions had gone ahead of the main body of liberation forces of the Allies that landed in Lingayen gulf.

MacArthur could not undo the snafus that led to the hostage taking. He made up for it in coming back with Allied forces to repulse the Japanese by "island hopping" from Port Moresby to Marianas to Saipan to Leyte to Lingayen gulf then to Manila. He had retaken Manila by March 1945.

He was about to launch an invasion of Japan when USA dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 6 and 10 that forced Japan to surrender on August 15,1945.


Submit a Comment

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from Philippines

    grand old lady,

    At last I am able to understand why there had been little organized resistance to the Japanese, thanks to Gen. Marshall. The rescue of prisoners in Cabanatuan City had been filmed with Cesar Montano among the actors. I agree that the death march deserves another film. National Scientist in History Teodoro A Agoncillo had an article published in a journal on the death march. Our father was part of an informal guerrilla unit in Cagayan province. He took charge of cutting up telephone lines of the Japanese garrison. He had to climb coconut trees where the wires were tied. If spotted he was an easy target to shoot at, he told me. I was born over a year after the Philippines was granted independence by USA on July 1946.

    I am suspicious about the death of Magsaysay. It could be that he was pro poor and pro land reform that it was decided he must go for being stubborn vis-a-vis the CIA. The capture of the Lava brothers and Luis Taruc was facilitated by a famous politician in Tarlac who tipped Magsaysay.

    The Agoncillo family once lived in Tondo, Manila sometimes visited by the Lavas. One time soldiers out to capture them were searching the neighboring house; all the while they were in the Agoncillo residence. This was related to me by Mrs. Agoncillo when I interviewed her for the biography of Agoncillo I wrote which is part of the book "National Scientists of the Philippines 1978-1998."

    Taruc was released from the Bilibid prison on the condition that he preaches the land reform of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. the dictator. So Taruc would say in his talks, "According to Marcos...."

  • grand old lady profile image

    Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

    4 years ago from Philippines

    This is very interesting, and it's amazing to know that so many events happened close to where I live. I'd been to Corregidor, but didn't know these details such as 80,000 Filipinos living with the troops, and interesting details about how only Magsaysay's teeth and wristwatch were uncharred. I wish we would make a movie about the Bataan Death March. That would be a great movie. I was told that farmers would throw candy cane in the air to feed the soldiers (because the Japanese didn't allow them to eat) and soldiers would quickly drop and pocket them. The farmers found so many sneaky ways to get food to the soldiers as they marched and it made you realize how Filipinos can really stick together. Overall, this was a great hub, voted up.


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