Military history of the Philippines during World War II

Last updated

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was attacked by the Empire of Japan on December 8, 1941, nine hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor (the Philippines is on the Asian side of the international date line). The United States of America controlled the Philippines at the time and possessed important military bases there. The combined American-Filipino army was defeated in the Battle of Bataan and the Battle of Corregidor in April 1942, but guerrilla resistance against the Japanese continued throughout the war. Uncaptured Filipino army units, a communist insurgency, and supporting American agents all played a role in the resistance. Due to the huge number of islands, the Japanese never occupied many of the smaller and more minor islands. Japanese control over the countryside and smaller towns was often tenuous at best.


In 1944, Allied forces liberated the islands from Japanese control in a naval invasion.


In September 1940, Nazi Germany, Kingdom of Italy, and Empire of Japan had allied under the Tripartite Coalition as the Axis powers. The United States banned the shipment of aviation gasoline to Japan in July 1940, and by 1941 shipments of scrap iron, steel, gasoline and other materials had practically ceased. Meanwhile, American economic support to China began to increase.

Japan and the USSR signed a neutrality pact in April 1941 and Japan increased pressure on the French and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia to cooperate in economic matters. Japanese forces occupied the naval and air bases of southern French Indochina on 22 July 1941. The Philippines was almost completely surrounded.

General George C. Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff, stated, "Adequate reinforcements for the Philippines, at this time, would have left the United States in a position of great peril, should there be a break in the defense of Great Britain." [1]

A campaign for independence from the US which had been ongoing since 1919 resulted on 17 January 1933 in the passage by the US Congress of the Hare–Hawes–Cutting Act over the veto of President Herbert Hoover. [2] The law promised Philippine independence after 10 years, but reserved several military and naval bases for the United States, as well as imposing tariffs and quotas on Philippine exports. Philippine Senate President Manuel L. Quezon convinced the legislature to reject the bill. Subsequently, the Tydings–McDuffie Act, which eliminated provisions for US military reservations and substituted a provision for "ultimate settlement", became US law on 24 March 1934 and was accepted by the Philippine legislature on 1 May. [3] The impact of this on the future defense of the Philippines with the establishment was to prove disastrous. During the 10-year transition period, the Philippine Constabulary was vested with an ever-increasing responsibility for defending the borders of the Philippines.[ citation needed ] The forces of the US Army settled at around 10,000 men.[ citation needed ]

The US Army had, however, already spent millions constructing forts and air strips throughout Luzon. This included the harbor defenses in Manila Bay, at Fort Mills on Corregidor Island and at Grande Island in Subic Bay. There were also bases at Nichols Air Station (now Villamor Airbase), Nielson Air Base (now Ayala Triangle in Makati CityAyala and Paseo de Roxas Avenues lay over the original landing strips), at Fort William McKinley (now Fort Andres Bonifacio and the American Cemetery), Camp Murphy (now Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame) in Quezon City, Camp O'Donnell in Tarlac and a series of airbases and army installations in Pampanga including Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Air Base, as well as Camp Wallace in La Union, the Naval Station in Sangley Point, Cavite City, Camp Keithley in Lanao, Camp Eldridge in Los Baños, Laguna and Camp Henry T. Allen in Baguio City. Other fields in Tugegarao, Aparri, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Legaspi, Bataan, and Del Monte in Davao were also built using US funds prior to and during the first years of the 1935 provisional Commonwealth.

The Philippine Army

Philippine Commonwealth Army personnel in Davao Philippine Commonwealth Army personnel.JPG
Philippine Commonwealth Army personnel in Davao

The date for Philippine Independence and US military withdrawal was approaching, resulting in a reduction in funds from the US military to directly support the expansion of the Philippine Commonwealth Army. Twelve Million US dollars were provided to the Commonwealth for the establishment of the Philippine Army in 1936. In the early years of the Commonwealth, the Philippine Army was composed of an Active Duty and a Reserve Component. The Active Duty component was the Philippine Constabulary, which was a para-military organization. After the outbreak of the war, this was referred to as the First Philippine Division. Many of the officers of the Philippine Army and Philippine Army Air Corps came from the members of the Philippine Constabulary and Air Constabulary.

Far Eastern Command

On 25 July 1941, US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson requested that US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issue orders calling the military forces of the Commonwealth into active service for the United States. Stimson explained, "All practical steps should be taken to increase the defensive strength of the Philippine Islands."

The following day President Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets within the United States and issued orders to absorb the forces of the Philippine Army. That same day the War Department created the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) command, with jurisdiction over the Philippine Department and the military forces of the Commonwealth. At the same time General Douglas MacArthur was recalled to active duty and designated the commander of the USAFFE.

At the outbreak of war the United States Navy's Asiatic Fleet was stationed at Cavite Naval Base in Manila Bay. Also stationed there was the Offshore Patrol.

Mobilization and Reinforcement

MacArthur ordered the mobilization of the Philippine Army beginning on 1 September. Elements of 10 Filipino reserve divisions were to be called into the service of the United States Army by 15 December. Battalions were not organized by the time of the Japanese invasion in December. However, a force of a hundred thousand or more Filipinos was raised.

200th Coastal Artillery, New Mexico Army National Guard on Luzon 200th Coast Artillery NM Guard Philippines 1942.jpg
200th Coastal Artillery, New Mexico Army National Guard on Luzon

On 14 August Brigadier General Leonard T. Gerow argued that the Philippine Department could not resist a Japanese attack. He thus recommended that the Philippines be reinforced with anti-aircraft artillery, modern aircraft and tanks. On 16 August, MacArthur was informed that by 5 September he could expect the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment (AA), the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions and a company of the 17th Ordnance Battalion.

On 5 September Marshall asked MacArthur if he wanted a National Guard Division, probably the 41st. MacArthur replied that he did not need any additional divisions. He also stated, "Equipment and supplies are essential. If these steps are taken, I am confident that no such backing, the development of a completely adequate defense force will be rapid."

During September and October, in addition to the above-mentioned reinforcements, MacArthur received the 192nd Tank Battalion and 75 self-propelled 75 mm guns.

MacArthur strove to reorganize the Philippine Division from a square into a triangular formation. This plan involved shipping in an American infantry regiment and or complementing Stotsenburg and allow USAFFE control of 2 American combat teams. These plans also involved the formation of four tactical commands, each of corps strength, along with various additional support units.

By November the War Department had approved additional reinforcements of 1,312 officers, 25 nurses and 18,047 men. The 34th Infantry Regiment was scheduled to ship out from San Francisco on 8 December 1941. By 5 December fifty-five ships were en route from San Francisco carrying 100,000 ship-tons of cargo to the Philippines. On board were the personnel and equipment of the 26th Field Artillery Brigade, including the 147th Field Artillery, 75 mm, Truck Drawn, Regiment of the South Dakota National Guard; the 148th Field Artillery, 75 mm, Truck Drawn, Regiment of the Idaho National Guard and the 2nd Battalion of the 131st Field Artillery, 75 mm, Truck Drawn, Regiment of the Texas National Guard. These units were diverted to Hawaii and assigned to its defenses.

GEN MacArthur at the induction of the Philippine Army Air Corps CampMurphy.jpg
GEN MacArthur at the induction of the Philippine Army Air Corps

When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place, there were several air elements en route. This included 52 A-24 Banshee dive bombers of the 27th Bombardment Group, eighteen P-40s of the 35th Pursuit Group, 340 tons of bombs and 9,000 drums of aviation fuel. There were also two light field ground echelons of the 7th Bombardment Group, which arrived in the Philippines and were relocated to Mariveles after the evacuation of Manila. The air echelon squadrons of the 7th were en route to the Philippines and arrived in Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December 1941. They consisted of 9th, 463rd, 492nd, and 493d Heavy Bombardment Squadrons. The air echelon was diverted back to the US and then routed to Java through Australia.

Materiel and Training Deficiencies

The Philippine Army received clothing that was of poor quality. Their rubber shoes would wear out within 2 weeks. There were shortages of nearly every kind of equipment such as blankets, mosquito bars, shelter halves, entrenching tools, gas masks, and helmets.

During August, MacArthur had requested 84,500 M1 Garand rifles, 330 .30-caliber machine guns, 326 .50-caliber machine-guns, 450 37mm guns, 217 81 mm mortars, 288 75 mm guns, and over 8,000 vehicles. On 18 September, he was informed that, because of lend-lease commitments, he would not receive most of these items. As a result, the Philippine Army was forced to continue using the old Enfield and Springfield rifles.

The shipment of supplies depended upon the US Navy's limited cargo capacity. In September, the Navy announced its intentions to convert three transports into escort carriers, but this was not done after MacArthur observed that the loss of three transports would delay his reinforcements by more than two months.

The army then approved requests for 105 mm howitzers, 75 mm pack howitzers, 75 mm guns, .30-caliber machine guns, 37 mm guns, ten 250 ft station hospitals, one hundred and eighty sets of regimental infirmary equipment, jeeps, ambulances, trucks and sedans. By November, there were 1,100,000 tons of equipment, intended for the Philippines, piled up in US ports. Most of this never reached its destination. Meanwhile, the Navy did manage to transport 1,000,000 gallons of gasoline to the island. Much of this fuel would be stored on the Bataan Peninsula.

In 1941, many Filipino units went into battle without ever having fired their weapons. Many of the troops had also never even seen an artillery piece fired. The 31st Infantry Division (PA) signal officer was unable to establish radio communication with other units in the same camp. The commander of the Philippine 31st Infantry Division, Colonel Bluemel stated, "The enlisted men are proficient in only two things, one, when an officer appears, to yell 'attention' in a loud voice, jump up, and salute; two, to demand 3 meals per day."

Training and coordination were further complicated by language barriers. Enlisted Filipinos often spoke one language (such as Bikol or a Visayan language), their officers would speak another (such as Tagalog) and the Americans would speak English. There were some first sergeants and company clerks who could neither read nor write.

The Japanese decide to attack

Advancing Japanese troops moving toward Manila. Japanese light tanks moving toward Manila.jpg
Advancing Japanese troops moving toward Manila.

The Japanese viewed all the lands of Asia to be the rightful property of the Imperial Japanese Government and the Emperor. [4] The seizures of Korea, China and parts of Russia, which had begun at the turn of the 20th century, had been taking an upswing. [5] The Japanese had been kept from realizing their goal of unifying or dominating the Asian lands by the presence of foreign military forces in the Philippines (United States), Hong Kong, Malaysia (United Kingdom) and the Dutch East Indies. [6] Japan had hoped that they could strike fast and hold off reinforcements long enough to broker a peace accord from a position of strength. [7]

Central to the Japanese goals was the taking of all Asian lands. [8] To be successful US, UK, and Dutch forces were to be attacked simultaneously to prevent their ability to reinforce and aid their Asian possessions. Pivotal to the Japanese decision to attack was a tremendous need for crude oil as a result of economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands which was weakening the Japanese economy. The Japanese leaders were faced with a choice: end the war in China and their plans for Asian conquest, so as to end the sanctions, or declare war on three large military forces. The current war against Britain, and the Netherlands, and the strain of providing aid by the United States to these countries was seen as an opportunity by the Japanese to extend their "rightful" place as a ruler in Asia. [9]

The Japanese government decided to seize resources under the control of Britain, the United States and the Netherlands. Japan had already placed over ten divisions in Formosa (Taiwan). Japanese military planners argued that the British (and the USSR should they decide to declare war), would be unable to effectively respond to a Japanese attack, given the threat posed by the Third Reich.

List of conflicts

Propaganda poster depicting the Philippine resistance movement Propaganda poster depicts the Philippine resistance movement.jpg
Propaganda poster depicting the Philippine resistance movement
Congressional Gold Medal awarded in 2016 to Filipino WWII Veterans Filipino Veterans WWII Congressional Gold Medal.jpg
Congressional Gold Medal awarded in 2016 to Filipino WWII Veterans

See also


  1. Catlett 1947 , p.  70
  2. Agoncillo 1990 , p. 328
  3. Agoncillo 1990 , p. 347
  4. Saburo Ienaga (16 June 2010). "The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: Liberation or Exploitation?". Pacific War, 1931–1945. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 153–180. ISBN   978-0-307-75609-1.
    Ellis S. Krauss; Benjamin Nyblade (2004). Japan and North America: First contacts to the Pacific War. Taylor & Francis. pp. 168–169. ISBN   978-0-415-27515-6.
  5. Alice Miller; Richard Wich (20 January 2011). Becoming Asia: Change and Continuity in Asian International Relations Since World War II. Stanford University Press. p. 7. ISBN   978-0-8047-7151-1.
  6. Alice Miller; Richard Wich (20 January 2011). Becoming Asia: Change and Continuity in Asian International Relations Since World War II. Stanford University Press. pp. 7–8. ISBN   978-0-8047-7151-1.
  7. "Chapter 23: World War II: The War Against Japan". Center of Military History. United states Army. 27 April 2001.
  8. "Imperial Japan". History. AETN UK. Archived from the original on 17 September 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  9. "Japan's Quest for Power and World War II in Asia". Asia for Educators. Columbia University. 2009. Retrieved 13 November 2014.

Related Research Articles

Corregidor Island in the Philippines

Corregidor Island is an island located at the entrance of Manila Bay in southwestern part of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Due to this location, Corregidor has historically been fortified with coastal artillery to defend the entrance of Manila Bay and Manila from attacks by enemy warships. Located 48 kilometres (30 mi) inland, Manila has been the largest city and the most important seaport in the Philippines for centuries, from the colonial rule of Spain, Japan and the United States, to the establishment of the Philippines in 1946.

Philippine Scouts former military organization of the United States

The Philippine Scouts was a military organization of the United States Army from 1901 until after the end of World War II. These troops were generally Filipinos and Filipino-Americans assigned to the United States Army Philippine Department, under the command of white American commissioned officers. Philippine Scout units were given the suffix "(PS)", to distinguish them from other U.S. Army units.

The Offshore Patrol (OSP), also known as the Mosquito Fleet was a small naval branch of the United States Army, intended for inshore defense of the Philippines. It was active from February 9, 1939 to June 30, 1946. The OSP became part of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) in July 26, 1941, with General Douglas MacArthur as Commander. During the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the Patrol engaged in limited naval operations along the coastlines of Bataan and Corregidor, against the tight enemy blockade, to bring much-needed provisions to the beleaguered Filipino and American troops during the battle. Undaunted by enemy superiority, the ubiquitous patrol boats fought with zeal, courage and heroism, hitting Japanese warships with torpedoes when given the opportunity. The unit relied on speed and surprise to attack larger vessels at close range.

United States Army Forces in the Far East military formation of the United States Army

United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) was a military formation of the United States Army active from 1941 to 1946. The new command's headquarters was created on 26 July 1941, at No. 1, Calle Victoria, Manila, Luzon, the Philippines, with General Douglas MacArthur as commander. The Chief of Staff was Brigadier General Richard K. Sutherland and the Deputy Chief of Staff was Lieutenant Colonel Richard J. Marshall. The core of this command was drawn from the Office of the Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government.

Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays U.S. defense command for Manila and Subic Bays, Philippines consisting of five forts

The Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays were a United States Army Coast Artillery Corps harbor defense command, part of the Philippine Department of the United States Army from circa 1910 through early World War II. The command primarily consisted of four forts on islands at the entrance to Manila Bay and one fort on an island in Subic Bay.

Fort Mills fort on Corregidor island, the Philippines

Fort Mills was the location of US Major General George F. Moore's headquarters for the Philippine Department's Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays in early World War II, and was the largest seacoast fort in the Philippines. Most of this Coast Artillery Corps fort was built 1904–1910 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The fort was named for Brigadier General Samuel Meyers Mills Jr., Chief of Artillery 1905–1906. It was the primary location of the Battle of Corregidor in the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941–42, and of the recapture of Corregidor in February 1945, both in World War II.

Philippine Division

Philippine Division, or from 1946-1947 the 12th Infantry Division, was the core U.S. infantry division of the United States Army's Philippine Department during World War II. On 31 July 1941, the division consisted of 10,473 troops, mostly enlisted Filipinos, known as the Philippine Scouts who formed the 45th and 57th US Infantry Regiments. All of the division's enlisted men, with the exception of the 31st Infantry Regiment, and various military police and headquarters troops, were Philippine Scouts.

Fort Hughes

Fort Hughes was part of the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays built by the Philippine Department of the U.S. Army in the early 1900s. The fort was named for Major General Robert P. Hughes, a veteran of the American Civil War, Spanish–American War, and the Philippine–American War.

Philippines campaign (1941–1942) Battle fought 8 December 1941 – 8 May 1942

The Philippines campaign, the Battle of the Philippines or the Fall of the Philippines, fought 8 December 1941 – 8 May 1942, was the invasion of the Philippines by Imperial Japan and the defense of the islands by United States and Filipino forces during the Second World War.

Battle of Corregidor culmination of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during World War II

The Battle of Corregidor, fought May 5–6, 1942, was the culmination of the Japanese campaign for the conquest of the Commonwealth of the Philippines during World War II.

Battle of Bataan Intense phase of Imperial Japans invasion of the Philippines during World War II

The Battle of Bataan was a battle fought by the United States and the Philippine Commonwealth against Japan during World War II. The battle represented the most intense phase of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during World War II. In January 1942, forces of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy invaded Luzon along with several islands in the Philippine Archipelago after the bombing of the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Battle of Corregidor (1945) WWII battle in the Pacific Theater

The Battle for the Recapture of Corregidor, which occurred on the 16th until the 26th of February, 1945, pitted American forces against the defending Japanese garrison on the island fortress. The Japanese had captured the bastion from the United States Army Forces in the Far East during their 1942 invasion.

Jose Calugas United States Army Medal of Honor recipient

Jose Cabalfin Calugas was a member of the Philippine Scouts during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for actions during the Battle of Bataan.

Philippines campaign (1944–1945) campaign which started on October 20, 1944 during WWII

The Philippines campaign, Operation Musketeer, Battle of the Philippines or the Liberation of the Philippines, , was the American and Filipino campaign to defeat and expel the Imperial Japanese forces occupying the Philippines during World War II. The Japanese Army overran all of the Philippines during the first half of 1942. The liberation of the Philippines commenced with amphibious landings on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte on October 20, 1944. United States and Philippine Commonwealth military forces were progressing in liberating territory and islands when the Japanese forces in the Philippines were ordered to surrender by Tokyo on August 15, 1945, after the dropping of the atomic bombs on mainland Japan and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.

Philippine Army Ground warfare branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

The Philippine Army is the main, oldest and largest branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) responsible for ground warfare. The Commanding General of the Philippine Army, its professional and overall head, is Lieutenant General Gilbert I. Gapay, who took office on December 6, 2019. Its main headquarters is located at Fort Bonifacio, Metro Manila.

South West Pacific theatre of World War II

The South West Pacific theatre, during World War II, was a major theatre of the war between the Allies and the Axis. It included the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, Australia and its mandate Territory of New Guinea and the western part of the Solomon Islands. This area was defined by the Allied powers' South West Pacific Area (SWPA) command.

Japanese occupation of the Philippines 1942–1945 Japanese occupation of the Philippines during WWII

The Japanese occupation of the Philippines occurred between 1942 and 1945, when Imperial Japan occupied the Commonwealth of the Philippines during World War II.

Malinta Tunnel

The Malinta Tunnel is a tunnel complex built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers on the island of Corregidor in the Philippines. It was initially used as a bomb-proof storage and personnel bunker, but was later equipped as a 1,000-bed hospital. The main tunnel, running east to west, is 831 feet (253 m) long, 24 feet (7.3 m) wide and 18 feet (5.5 m) high. Branching off from this main shaft are 13 lateral tunnels on the north side and 11 lateral tunnels on the south side. Each lateral averaged 160 feet (49 m) in length and 15 feet (4.6 m) in width.

Philippine resistance against Japan organized guerilla group

During the Japanese occupation of the islands in World War II, there was an extensive Philippine resistance movement, which opposed the Japanese and their collaborators with active underground and guerrilla activity that increased over the years. Fighting the guerrillas – apart from the Japanese regular forces – were a Japanese-formed Bureau of Constabulary, the Kenpeitai, and the Makapili. Postwar studies estimate that around 260,000 persons were organized under guerrilla groups and that members of anti-Japanese underground organizations were more numerous. Such was their effectiveness that by the end of World War II, Japan controlled only twelve of the forty-eight provinces.

History of the Philippine Army History of the 1935–1946 land warfare branch of the Philippine military

The Philippine Army was established on December 21, 1935 as the Army of the Philippines, with a general headquarters in Manila, and units and formations based throughout the provinces of the Philippines.