Manila, Philippines (1942 AD)
The Battle of Bataan was one of the most important strategic victories for the Japanese during the early Pacific campaign, and one of the largest military defeats in the history of the United States. Like Pearl Harbor, which had been attacked barely a few weeks before the war in the Philippines began, Bataan and the infamous death march that followed became a rallying cry in the United States for war against the Japanese Empire. The Battle of Bataan was also famous as the location of Douglas MacArthur’s famous escape to Australia, and his immortal words of defiance. The Bataan Peninsula was also the scene of fierce fighting during the Battle of Luzon in 1945 when the Americans retook the island.
In the wake of the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military began a naval and air version of the blitzgrieg on American and British territories in the western Pacific. The primary target was the Philippines, an American colony that effectively blocked Japanese access to the Indies and Australia. The first attacks were against Luzon Island, the northern-most and closest island to Japanese territory, and home to the colonial capital of Manila and the American Asiatic fleet.
As at Pearl Harbor, the American air forces were taken by surprise and largely destroyed in the first day of the war. Within a week, the initial Japanese assaults overcame the futile counterattacks from the American navy and secured landing sites and most of the airfields on Luzon. On December 22, the main invasion of the Japanese army began, and by Christmas it was clear that without immediate reinforcements the loss of Luzon was a foregone conclusion. The American commander, General Douglas MacArthur, ordered a withdrawal of all troops to the Bataan Peninsula, a strip of land which formed the western side of Manila Bay. The city of Manila was left undefended, and the Japanese secured it just after New Year.
The Americans, along with large numbers of Filipino auxiliaries, secured a series of defensive lines across the peninsula in an effort to delay the Japanese as long as possible. A week of skirmishing ensued before the real fighting finally began. On January 9, the Japanese army started assaulting the positions on Bataan. The defense was stubborn, and Japanese progress extremely slow. On at least two occasions, the Americans managed to pull off counterattacks at the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points that inflicted significant casualties on the Japanese.
However, with massive Japanese reinforcements, the defenses started to crumble. On March 12, MacArthur departed the island uttering his immortal phrase, “I shall return!” Amazingly, American resistance lasted almost another full month before the final surrender on April 9. The survivors were forced on the infamous eighty-mile Death March which resulted in horrific additional casualties. However, true to his word, MacArthur did return in 1945 and avenged his earlier defeat at the Battle of Luzon.
Fighting took place over much of Bataan, and there are dozens of markers and memorial sites commemorating the battle. The most important destinations include the Mount Samat Shrine and Museum; the Battle of the Pockets site; the Battle of Layac Junction site; the Fall of Bataan monument; and the Mariveles Zero KM marker where the Bataan Death March began.
The Battle of Bataan took place on the Bataan Peninsula, across the bay 15 miles from the city of Manilla. The battle locations are scattered across the area, with the museum located in the middle of the peninsula at the town of Piloar; and the Mariveles shrine located at the extreme southern tip of the peninsula. All of the related destinations are open sites accept the museum. No visitor information was available at the time of this writing. Web: www.bataantourism.com (official tourism website of Bataan).