Down but Not Out

Against all odds, as Japan marched to one overwhelming triumph after another, the U.S. scored a memorable victory

  • Share
  • Read Later

(5 of 11)

MacArthur's first moves were bluffs. His headquarters announced on Dec. 11 that the Filipino 21st Division had beaten off a major Japanese invasion in Lingayen Gulf (JAPANESE FORCES WIPED OUT IN WESTERN LUZON, said a New York Times banner headline). When LIFE's Carl Mydans traveled 120 miles north of Manila to photograph the battlefield, he found only a few Filipino soldiers idling on the peaceful beach. "There's no battle there," he reported to MacArthur's press chief in Manila. The officer pointed to his communique and retorted, "It says so here."

When Japanese transports actually reached Lingayen Gulf at 2 a.m. on Dec. 22, they met almost no resistance. Despite heavy seas, General Masharu Homma got a force of more than 40,000 men ashore and began marching south toward the capital. MacArthur, who had convinced Washington that his still largely imaginary 200,000-man Filipino army could defend the archipelago on its myriad beaches, now appealed desperately for air support from the U.S. Navy. CAN I EXPECT ANYTHING ALONG THAT LINE? he cabled Chief of Staff George Marshall. Learning that he could not, he unhappily issued the order, "WPO-3 is in effect."

War Plan Orange-3, granting that the Philippines' 21,000-mile coastline was indefensible, called for conceding the beaches and pulling back into defenses that, as in Singapore, theoretically could be held for six months. MacArthur declared Manila an open city the day after Christmas, moving his headquarters -- with his wife, his three-year-old son Arthur and the child's Chinese nurse -- to the fortress island of Corregidor in Manila Harbor.

Then he began moving his Luzon troops, 65,000 Filipinos and 15,000 Americans, into the mountainous Bataan peninsula, which juts out to the southwest of Manila. Admirers have praised MacArthur's skill in carrying out ! this tactical retreat. "A masterpiece," said his World War I commander, General John Pershing, "one of the greatest moves in all military history." Even the Japanese general staff called it a "great strategic move." But it was a great move only if reinforcements really were on the way. If not, MacArthur was simply marching his men into a death trap.

WE ARE DOING OUR UTMOST . . . TO RUSH AIR SUPPORT TO YOU, cabled Marshall, who specified that 140 planes had been shipped to Manila. But he never told MacArthur when they were later diverted to Australia. To Quezon and his people, Roosevelt publicly gave "my solemn pledge that their freedom will be retained. The entire resources . . . of the United States stand behind that pledge." Added Secretary of War Henry Stimson: "Your gallant defense is thrilling the American people. As soon as our power is organized, we shall come in force and drive the invader from your soil." So MacArthur told his trapped men, "Help is definitely on the way. We must hold out until it comes."

The promises from Washington were never kept. Roosevelt and Stimson had already told Churchill in private that the Philippines couldn't be saved. The defenders of Bataan had no real purpose except to delay the Japanese victory. Wrote Stimson in his diary: "There are times when men have to die."

The 80,000 troops and 26,000 civilians on besieged Bataan had less than a month's rations of rice, flour and canned meat. Medicine was in short supply. Malaria, dysentery and beriberi flourished. As the weeks dragged on, a chant grew popular:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11