General McArthur returns

MacArthur’s ‘Liberation’ of the Philippines

by Bill In Oz

ManilaBilibid001Most of us are ‘gifted’ with 20/20 hindsight !! We can look back on the past and see what others did wrong or poorly, because we now ‘know’ far more information than was available in the past. It is easy to do the same with MacArthur’s return to the Philippines in October 1944. For example some might say that the liberation was a mistake because the the US was developing atomic bombs which would force the Japanese to surrender in August 1945. But in October 1944 this weapons research was a closely guarded secret and nobody, not even the atomic scientist involved, actually knew if the atomic bombs would work. So it is not relevant at all in this discussion. I want to avoid that kind of fallacious 20/20 hindsight argument here.

I think that MacArthur’s ‘liberation’ of the Philippines was a massive strategic mistake by MacArthur. However he did not wear the costs of his mistake. In late August 1945 he left the Philippines to take up a new job as the effective ‘dictator’ of conquered Japan. He left behind a people & land devastated by the battles he had unleashed. The people, the society, the cities and land of the Philippines bore that burden of his massive mistake.

In the previous section I talked about Admiral’s King & Nimitz & their strategy against Japan. And I mentioned a fundamental principle of waging a war is that it is far better to attack & knock out the enemy, than it is to impose suffering & destruction & death on your own people. These insights are important.They are worth repeating now.

Nimitz & King’s’s use of submarines and carrier based aircraft to gain control of the seas & the air in Japan’s maritime empire was an outcome of this insight into waging war. The US navy attacked and defeated the Japanese army only at ‘key’ selected island locations in the western Pacific. The US navy with the US air force, then used those ‘key points’ as bases for waging war closer & closer to Japan to attack on it’s Japan on it’s home ground. This strategy was successful. From mid 1944 the USA air force started to mount mass bomber air raids directly on the Japanese home island cities. It’s merchant marine ships were unable to travel the East or South China seas without coming under attack and being destroyed. The areas conquered & occupied in 1941-42 to supply Japan with raw materials like crude oil, iron ore, coal, rice, cotton etc, were largely isolated from Japan. And the Japanese imperial troops could not be easily reinforced or resupplied. Effectively these numerically large occupying armies ( over one million ) scattered all over South East Asia were irrelevant to the future battles & outcome of the war.

I have said this once already but it is worth saying again : Australian, British & American troops mopping up the isolated remnant Japanese in late 1945 found that the Japanese soldiers had become farmers & gardeners to feed themselves. They army high command in Tokyo had no means to feed them or supply them with basic military equipment.

This strategy while it was successful in winning the war, also had it’s problems. The peoples of South East Asia & China suffered under Japanese army occupation. For example, Malaya, Singapore, Indochina, Thailand and almost all of the Dutch East Indies ( now Indonesia ) were still under Japanese army control after the Japanese surrender on September 3rd 1945. And local people suffered a lot as a result. Food stocks were seized and so was property. The local people suffered from lack of food & security. Some locals were arrested and executed right up until immediately before the surrender.

But in the days after the formal surrender on September 3rd 1945, the Japanese troops all over the conquered areas of Asia, handed over their arms to small parties of Allied (mainly Australian & British) troops. The Japanese occupation ended without any more major battles or massacres in these places. And far, far fewer of the local people were killed, injured than would have happened in the course of numerous land battles between the Allied forces and the Japanese throughout South East Asia & China, had a different strategy been adopted.

MacArthur was aware of this overall US Navy strategy to defeat Japan. He knew that it was successful. To some extent he adopted the strategy in military operations that he commanded in New Guinea and the eastern islands of Dutch East Indies. But he had other dreams and aspirations. He wanted to attack the Japanese, conquer them, and thus ‘liberate’ the Philippines. However “MacArthur’s liberation” was extraordinarily destructive to the Philippines. It is important to hold in mind that it was MacArthur who personally persuaded Roosevelt in July 1944, of the need to ‘Liberate’ the Philippines rather than attack the Japanese in Formosa as proposed by Nimitz & King. It was MacArthur’s vision and strategy. This is the story of what turned out to be a very destructive liberation.

The ‘liberation’ started with a huge invasion fleet sailing to the Philippines in October 1944. This army was composed almost entirely of US army troops who had been sent across the Pacific Ocean to northern Australia & New Guinea. There they had been trained some more and assembled for transport by a convoy of over 200 ships to Leyte.

I think MacArthur consciously modeled the whole thing on “Operation Overlord” and the D Day landing in France in June 1944, only 4 months earlier. I think he wanted to show that he could organise just as big an invasion as the one commanded by Dwight Eisenhower who was his former military assistant in Manila from 1935 to 1939. MacArthur waded ashore with the US invasion forces at Leyte Gulf on the 23 of October 1944. He had ‘returned’ as he promised in Terowie in March 1942.

The army landed on the western shores of Leyte island in the Visayas region of the Philippines. Leyte was chosen not for any particular reason. It was simply open to attack from the East by a US fleet in the Pacific ocean. MacArthur also thought it was poorly defended by the Japanese and so more vulnerable to attack. At the start this was partially correct but the Japanese sent additional troops there very quickly.

There are no records of how the local Filipino people fared during the Leyte campaign. Leyte in 1944 was mostly mountainous jungle with a relatively low population. There were also about 2000 Filipino guerilla fighters on Leyte fighting the Japanese in 1943-44. But major land battles took place in the one major significant northern valley which was closely settled with rice farming communities. I imagine that in the battles that took place, homes and rice crops and gardens were destroyed or damaged.

There were some Australians in the invasion force, only 3000. The Australian government wanted its troops to participate and offered the three divisions of men who had fought in the Middle East and then under MacArthur’s command in Papua & New Guinea. But MacArthur decided in mid 1944 that the Philippines should be liberated by Americans without help from ‘allied’ countries like Australia.

It’s important to be aware that the Japanese military knew that the US & its allies was winning the war in 1944. Japan was facing defeat in the war. This lead to the Japanese ‘prime minister’ Tojo & his cabinet resigning in July 1944 and a new cabinet being installed. The Allies had already decided together that they would only accept an end to the war if Nazi Germany & Imperial Japan agreed to ‘total & complete’ surrender. That was the Allied goal. Given this situation the Japanese military adopted a battle strategy of making a US victory so ‘expensive’ and so high in US dead & wounded, that the US would instead offer to Japan to end the war with terms that allowed it an ‘honorable’ negotiated peace.

In line with this war goal, as soon as Leyte was invaded, the newly appointed Japanese commanding general in Manila, General Yamashita ( the famous ‘Tiger of Malaya’ who defeated Britain at Singapore in 1942), sent substantial numbers of troops from Luzon to Leyte to make the American task of liberating the Philippines far, far harder. It took almost 4 months of grinding combat for the US forces to defeat the Japanese on Leyte. The Japanese army ‘dug in’ very well in the mountainous jungle areas. They wanted to draw US forces into combat as part of their ‘high cost of victory’ strategy.

On the other hand the USA army was mainly in Leyte to use the flat open lands to build air fields & other bases to use for advancing the attacks on other more important parts of the Philippines like Luzon. Maybe that is why MacArthur did not wait long for the Japanese to be defeated in Leyte. In December 1944 he ordered US troops to occupy Mindoro island. The reason was to again to build air fields for US Air Force aircraft to use in attacking & bombing Luzon. Mindoro was a lot closer to Luzon and to Manila. It was also occupied by far fewer Japanese troops who were quickly overcome.

In October 1944 as part of the ‘high cost of victory’ the Japanese navy & air force were also instructed to attack the landing convoys as well. A series of naval battles and air battles took place in the seas around the island and Surigao Gulf. It was the largest naval battles of WW2. At the end of it all, the Japanese Navy & Air Force were both very badly mauled. The Japanese navy did not engage in any more major battles in WW2. The seas of the Philippines were controlled by the US. And the Japanese air force and carrier air craft so reduced in numbers that they no longer controlled the air space above the Philippines.

And that made for an interesting situation where US forces under MacArthur could no pick & choose at will what he would next do. The US Navy commanded the seas around the Philippines. The US Air force and navy carrier aircraft dominated the air above the Philippines. And MacArthur commanded a dominant 230,000 strong army of US armored and infantry divisions plus Filipino guerillas which he could deploy. It was a larger force than the United States sent to North Africa or to Italy. It was the largest American campaign of the Pacific War.

MacArthur had in his own hands what happened next in the Philippines. Yamashita on the other hand held to his strategy of an extended war of attrition, causing as many American casualties as possible and so delaying the American attack on Japan’s home islands. He withdrew his most of army from Manila and from the open rice growing plains areas, to the hills and mountains of Luzon. He did this to minimise the advantages the US forces had with big navy guns, it’s tanks & armour and it’s planes.

MacArthur next move was a sea borne invasion of Luzon on January 6th at the Lingayen Gulf in the north west coast. It was the same area where Japanese forces landed in December 1941 with sheltered beaches. The Lingayen gulf leads directly into the central plain of Luzon which had the best roads and a railway line to help with moving the troops. It also allowed easy access to Manila. The landings were largely unopposed.

The only major Japanese response was a series of kamikaze attacks on the ships landing the troops. Once the landing was established MacArthur ordered US armored troops to move South towards Manila as quickly as possible. He was in such a hurry that he quarreled with his immediate subordinate General Kruger who wanted to attack Yamashita’s troops who had withdrawn to the hills just East of the gulf.

On the 26th of January the 1st Cavalry Division landed at Lingayen gulf. MacArthur met with the division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Mudge, and told him “Go to Manila, go around the Nips, bounce off the Nips, but go to Manila.” Mudge formed a mechanized flying column, This armored column rushed toward Manila. The cavalry armored flying column reached the northern outskirts of Manila on the 3rd of February while the rest of the division followed more slowly, mopping up the rear areas. US troops also landed just North of Subic bay and captured that important port very quickly. More US airborne troops landed 70 kilometers South of Manila and were unopposed.These troops then also moved quickly North towards Manila. Both columns were supported by Filipino irregulars.They were welcomed by a population that was overjoyed to be liberated after 3 years of Japanese occupation.

There is a lot of dispute about what happened next. There is some evidence that Yamashita the Japanese commander intended Manila to become an ‘Open city”. Most Japanese army troops evacuated from the city to the hills East of Manila and North to the Cordillera mountains. This was ordered by Yamashita in mid-December 1944. There were no Japanese troops in large parts of the city and this allowed US troops to liberate the ring of outer barios in February 1945. However a force of almost 20,000 Japanese marines and some remnant Japanese army soldiers, commanded by Rear Admiral Iwabuchi , either by re-arrangement with Yamashita, or in defiance of his orders, remained in Manila. Their intent was to defend the Japanese naval positions around the port. They built defensive positions in the inner & central districts : Ermita, Malate, Intramuros, Quiappo, Binondo, the port area. These areas were the heart of the old Spanish era Manila and the heart of the US colonial period Manila.

There is a huge amount of evidence that in late January and February 1945, the Japanese marines and army troops commanded by Iwabuchi, started slaughtering Filipino civilians as revenge for welcoming the Americans or simply out of sheer barbaric brutality. Many thousands of people died: men, women, children, priests & nuns, locals and foreigners. The slaughter was indiscriminate. Perhaps they decided that if they were going to die that they would take as many Filipinos with them as possible.

So when the US troops and Filipino guerilla units arrived on the outskirts of Manila on the 3rd of February there was a difficult situation developing. Such a situation would have been a huge problem for any military commander. And I think it should have been the main issue for MacArthur to consider when he arrived in Manila in early February. But the evidence suggests that he did not think so. Here are 10 paragraphs about the battle in Manila published by MacArthur’s staff :

“When the US ( armored ) cavalrymen entered the northern suburbs of Manila, the hangars and airfield equipment at Grace Park were already ablaze and little could be saved. The “flying column” proceeded down Rizal Avenue to Santo Tomas University, meanwhile diverting one troop of cavalry and a platoon of tanks to Malacanang Palace. Resistance on the University grounds was stiff but, with tank support, the Americans forced the main gates and wiped out the enemy troops in the area. All internees were liberated with the exception of 221 who were held as temporary hostages and released the following morning.63 Malacanang Palace was also reached against sporadic rifle fire from across the Pasig River but only Filipino police guards and attendants were found to occupy the building.

After its brief contact with patrols of the 1st Cavalry Division at the Angat River, the 37th Division pushed along Highway No. 3 South against constant automatic and mortar fire. The Japanese had blown the bridges at every stream crossing and progress was relatively slow. Malanday and Caloocan were occupied on 4 February, and Manila was entered on the same day. The division effected its own rescue mission when some of its units entered Bilibid prison and discovered 800 American prisoners of war who had been abandoned by their jailers. The brilliant record of the Sixth Army in the release of prisoners of war and internees on Luzon was described in a communique of 6 February:

The 37th Infantry Division in capturing Bilibid prison released more than 800 prisoners of war and about 500 civilian internees including women and children. With the 3,700 internees from Santo Tomas released by the 1st Cavalry Division, this brings the total rescued to approximately 5,000. About 4,000 were Americans and the rest British, Australian and other nationalities. Every facility of the armed forces is being devoted to the care and attention of those who have been rescued …

As the 37th Division approached the Pasig River, it was met by a devastating enemy machine gun and rifle barrage. Incessant detonations and collapsing structures filled the air with deafening concussions. The entire sky was lighted with the roaring fires of conflagrant buildings and at times the mixture of smoke, heat, and dust became so overpowering that substantial progress through the city became an almost impossible task. Amid this holocaust and bedlam, elements of the division effected a crossing of the Pasig River near the Presidential Palace. The entire XIV Corps then began an envelopment from the east as troops of the 1st Cavalry and 37th Divisions pushed laboriously through the streets and avenues of the capital toward Manila Bay.

General MacArthur’s victorious entry into Manila was made on 7 February. A group of officers and men which included General Griswold, General Mudge, General Chase, and part of the “flying column” which had so recently distinguished itself, met him at the city limits. General MacArthur congratulated everyone on a job well done and then drove through the war-torn Philippine capital amidst the acclaim of a grateful populace. Sniping and artillery fire continued in almost every section of the city as he visited the Malacanang Palace and the front-line troops engaging the enemy along the Pasig River.

On 10 February, control of the 11th Airborne Division, drawn up south of Manila, passed from the Eighth Army to the Sixth Army.66 On the same day, XIV Corps artillery poured a steady  concentration from the north into the enemy concrete installations on Nichols Field, placing the shells with deadly accuracy in front of the forward paratroop positions. Under cover of this barrage the airborne division moved its tanks against the thick pillboxes. General Swing’s plan was to circle northward and move on the west flank of the Japanese defense line. By the end of the day, the paratroops had seized positions to within 1000 yards of the Polo Club – the main core of enemy resistance northwest of the airfield.

Thus, in the first week of February, General MacArthur had three divisions inside Manila the 37th Division, attacking south across the Pasig River and on toward the Intramuros area; the 1st Cavalry Division, moving southwestward across San Juan Heights toward Neilson Field; and the 11th Airborne Division, pressing north and east across Nichols Field toward Fort McKinley. Despite this sizeable force, the occupation and clearing of Manila was an arduous task. The Japanese troops in the city fought bitterly, knowing that their chances of escape were small. Improvised positions were set up behind piles of fallen debris, barricaded windows, and sand-bagged doorways. Every vantage point was manned and fiercely defended with a solid curtain of machine gun and rifle fire.

The heaviest fighting took place in the sector assigned to the 37th Division. The Japanese in this area struck out viciously from every position, fighting from building to building and from room to room without surrender. It was not until 17 February that the division was able to launch its assault on the Intramuros, the venerable XVI century citadel in western Manila near the mouth of the Pasig River. Even by modern standards this ancient “Walled City” was a formidable fortress, ringed with a stone wall 15 feet high and widening from 8 to 20 feet at the top to 20 to 40 feet at the base. Four of the main gates were covered by mutually protecting redoubts backed by a heavily fortified concrete building.

Complicating the problem of breaching this massive bastion was the fact that many non-belligerents, mostly women and children, were within the city. Because of these helplessly imprisoned civilians, all thought of pulverization of the Intramuros area by air bombardment had to be abandoned. A plea was broadcast to the Japanese entrenched within, either to surrender or at least to evacuate the civilian population and prevent unnecessary bloodshed. No answer was received. There was no choice but to order a time-consuming infantry assault to move in, after the way had been prepared by artillery and mortars.

The attack started with 105 mm and 155 mm howitzer shells blasting huge chunks out of the ancient walls. On the 19th, under cover of a heavy smokescreen, 37th Division troops began to pour through the breaches and over the rubble to meet the waiting Japanese. The enemy positions in the immediate vicinity of the walls had been effectively destroyed by the terrific power of the preliminary bombardment, and the initial incursions of the American forces met with comparatively light losses. Resistance mounted swiftly, however, as the troops advanced. To add to the difficulty, movement became greatly impeded by the streams of refugees that swarmed out of the buildings and milled around the streets. Fire had to be withheld until these scattered masses of civilians could be removed from the battle zone. By 24 February, after a week of savage fighting characterized by numerous hand-to-hand engagements and room-to-room combat, the entire Intramuros was in Allied hands. “

Reports of General MacArthur :The Campaigns in the Pacific, Volume 1, pages 273-75. These reports were prepared by MacArthur’s general staff & printed with his approval by his Tokyo headquarters in 1950. It is available online.

I have included this report of the battle to get an accurate idea what MacArthur thought important at the start of this major battle. Here is a situation where thousands of ordinary Filipino people were being killed, wounded, forced to flee, and their homes destroyed every day. They were being killed by the Japanese.Women were being rounded up & being raped and then killed by the Japanese.Children & babies were killed. It was a catastrophe.

But MacArthur’s own report says nothing about what the Japanese were doing to Filipinos in Manila. Nothing at all. Judging by the report here were the issues MacArthur and his officers were focussed on, as they liberated the city of Manila :

  1. The US and other foreign internees held imprisoned by the Japanese. MacArthur’s reports has almost 150 words about the rescue of 5000 American and other foreign nationalities interned & imprisoned by the Japanese since 1942. In fact these foreign internees get an entire separate paragraph.These expats were specially cared for by the US army.
  2. The presence of a 20,000 men strong armed resistant Japanese mainly marines in the heart & port of Manila commanded by Iwabuchi, which would not surrender and had not evacuated Manila as directed by Yamashita.
  3. Third & last, the fate of the many tens of thousands of Filipinos still in the Japanese zone of control in the old centre of the city. “many non-belligerents, mostly women and children, were within the city. A plea was broadcast to the Japanese…. to evacuate the civilian population and prevent unnecessary bloodshed. No answer was received” So the attack was launched.

I think it safe to say that MacArthur & his staff officers did not think the fate of the Filipino people of major importance. And that was a major moral flaw in MacArthur’s thinking as a military commander. A military commander taking control of a city in war, is morally responsible for the fate of it’s civilians.

The American troops attacked the Japanese held area North of the river Pasig : the China town areas, Quiapo, Binondo & Tondo. After severe fighting the Japanese were forced to retreat South across the river. As they retreated they set fire to the areas and then blew up the bridges over the river. And then US troops attacked across the Pasig, from the East and from the South. The battle lasted till the 4th. of March. In the course of that battle thousands of Filipinos were being killed by the American by ‘friendly fire in the artillery & mortar bombardments and in the intense house to house fighting.Towards the end they were also killed by US Air Force bombing & strafing.

At the end of the battle virtually all the Japanese were killed. The Americans took very few prisoners. Or else the Japanese fought until killed. The Japanese commander, Iwabuchi is reported to have killed himself towards the end of the battle in late February. Just 1010 US troops died and another 5565 were wounded out of a total US Military army force in the city of 35,000 ( Source : Gen Ricardo Morales Rappler )

And thousands of Filipino civilians were dead. Counting the Filipino dead was almost impossible. After the battle was over, the US army ordered Filipino ‘funeralistas’ to clear away the bodies in the battle zone. And the funeralistas gave a count of over 100,000 dead. But the heart of the city was pulverized, destroyed. It is said to the most heavily devastated Allied city next to Warsaw which was devastated by the Nazi Germans in 1944. How many more dead lay buried under the pulverized rubble of entire districts of the city ? No one knows.

After the battle was over MacArthur authorised the bulldozing of the devastated part of the city. I have read that the Americans wanted to clear away all the battle scarred ruins so the land could be used again. But that strikes me as totally bizarre. I suspect that this was psychologically an attempt to ‘clean up’ and assuage his own guilt. The ruins bulldozed included many churches hundreds of years old. The ruined bombed out Cathedral of Manila was almost bulldozed as well but saved at the last moment.

In 1974 I stayed in Manila for a few days. I wandered around the area & ruins of Intramuros. I remember wondering then why there was so much empty space in the heart of the city. A lot of that space had been turned into a golf course.

MacArthur report states “There was no choice but to order a time-consuming infantry assault to move in, after the way had been prepared by artillery and mortars.”

But did MacArthur have any other tactical choices for dealing with the situation he faced ? I think the answer is yes, he did have another choice. And one only has to look at what had happened to MacArthur himself three years previously to see that choice at work. When the Japanese attacked & occupied the Philippines, MacArthur had his forces retreat to Bataan and Corregidor. And General Homma after failing in his initial attack on Bataan imposed a siege on both these US outposts. The US & Filipino troops held out at Bataan from January till April. They then surrendered after a renewed Japanese attack because they did not have any food.They were starving. They did not get any more military supplies or medicines. They were forced to surrender.

In February/March 1945 the Japanese were cut off from support. MacArthur’s forces occupied the rest of the city and surrounding country side. The Japanese naval marines in Manila were isolated. The seas was controlled by the US Navy. The air was dominated by the US Air force. And that meant that the Japanese forces also had limited supplies of ammunition and other military supplies. And they had no possibility of being relieved by other Japanese troops. I think that MacArthur could have made a decision to impose a siege on the Japanese. The Pasig river & Manila Bay could provided good effective boundaries for most of a siege. I think that if he had imposed a siege on the area still controlled by the Japanese he would have forced them to surrender in a period of 6- 8 weeks. And I think this tactical decision would have saved many thousands of lives by giving them time to escape from the Japanese area. And it would have not destroyed the buildings and infrastructure and history that lay there in the heart of the 400 year old city. I asked my Filipina ‘agom’, “which would be better, to fight a major battle with bombs & artillery and destroy the city of Manila & kill the Manilena people; or to surround the Japanese held area and stop them moving in or out, stop food supplies and impose a siege and wait ? She immediately replied “ Surround the Japanese controlled area and wait”.

But that is not what happened. An important fact: Manila is the only example of the US military completely destroying an allied city and the civilian population in an allied country. MacArthur was the man in charge then.I think he must bear the moral responsibility for his ‘tactical’ decision in that campaign. Just as he must bear the responsibility for persuading the US president to adopt the strategy of ‘liberating’ the Philippines.

And I think MacArthur was aware of that moral responsibility. Peter Parsons in his “Battle for Manila – Myth & Fact’ says something very interesting about the ceremony held at Malacanang palace in June 1945, where he formally handed over the reins of government to President Osmena. Parsons says that MacArthur at one point ‘choked up and could not proceed’. He then quotes MacArthur as saying :

“..To others it might seem ( this is ) my moment of victory and my moment of monumental personal acclaim, but to me it seems only the culmination of a panorama of physical & spiritual disaster”.

MacArthur claimed that he loved the Philippines and the Filipino people. Yet in late August 1945 MacArthur left the Philippines and went to Japan. He did not return until 1960- 15 years later. Perhaps this is an indication of not wanting to be present and having to face the people who he had harmed in such an awful way.

* * * * * *

There is a bit more to examine about MacArthur in the Philippines. In March 1945 MacArthur was the supreme commander of the victorious US army in the Philippines. Effectively he ran the country until he left to take over Japan after the Japanese surrender. Yes there were still some Japanese troops at large. And they were armed & dangerous. But they knew they were isolated & defeated. MacArthur declared the Philippines ‘secure’ on June 30, 1945. And he staged a ceremony to hand over power to President Osmeña of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. But still MacArthur was the boss : Revere makes a telling remark on page 82 about MacArthur

“ He had ruled the Philippines with a strong hand through the first crucial months after liberation. True he formally turned over the liberated areas to the Philippine government.. headed by Sergio Osmeña. But it was symbolic that when the ( handover ) ceremony was over and the general and his aides tumbled into waiting cars, Osmeña was left without even a jeep & driver to help him find living quarters. MacArthur & his headquarters were to make all the vital decisions in the weeks ahead.”

MacArthur made many important decisions in those few months. A key one was what to do with Japanese collaborators. From March 1945 those Filippinos who had collaborated with the Japanese started to surrender to the US troops. Roosevelt had declared that those Filippinos who had collaborated should be ‘removed from authority and influence over the political & economic life of the country’. And MacArthur himself said “it shall be my firm purpose” he said in November 1944, “to run to earth every disloyal Filipino who has debased his country’s cause”. However MacArthur ignored Roosevelt’s orders.

The key example is Manual Roxas grandfather of Mar Roxas liberal party candidate for president this coming election.. Manuel Roxas was a very prominent political leader in pre war  Commonwealth of Philippines. He was a speaker of the legislature and an aide to President Quezon. After the Philippines was occupied by the Japanese, he did not flee into exile, but went to Mindanao. There he was captured by the Japanese later in 1942 and imprisoned. Later on he became a collaborator & member of the Japanese puppet cabinet responsible for food distribution. In April 1945 Roxas was captured by US troops near Baguio.

After the capture MacArthur announced that Roxas had been rescued from the Japanese along with the capture of 4 other members of the puppet cabinet.’ President Osmena asked MacArthur how he had arrived at this interesting distinction between rescused and captured, the general replied, ‘I have known Manuel Roxas for 20 years and I know personally that he is no threat to our military security.Therefore we are not detaining him” He later sought to justify his action by claiming that Roxas was ‘ one of the prime factors in the guerilla movement” . More likely Manuel Roxas like any sensible man followed a policy of placing a number of bets of each side (Revere page 82)
Karnow (page 336) has a black & white photo of MacArthur greeting Manual Roxas. Clearly MacArthur saw him as a friend despite Roxas having worked for the Japanese for two years.

MacArthur supported Manuel Roxas because he knew him & liked him but MacArthur thus settled the political future of the Philippines. In ‘rescuing’ Manuel Roxas MacArthur set in motion a process which would end by rescuing many leading collaborators. Instead of them being stripped of political & economic power they were restored to positions of power. Manuel Roxas argued that the puppets government had acted under duress and that Osmena should immediately restore all pre war officials to their jobs whether or not they had served under the Japanese. MacArthur himself insisted on reconvening the pre-war elected Philippine congress in spite of the fact it was filled with collaborationists.

MacArthur’s endorsement of Manuel Roxas in 1945 made possible his election as the Liberal party candidate for president of the new republic in 1946 instead of the nationalist party candidate Osmena who had gone into exile in 1942. The election of Roxas meant the recapture of power by all the rich, conservative groups who had ruled the Philippines as collaborators under the Japanese. ( Revere page 84). So the Philippines is still living with the consequences of that endorsement.

General Yamashita continued to hold out against the Japanese in the Northern Cordillera mountains. But on August 15th the Japanese Emperor ended the War with his acceptance of total surrender. Yamashita finally surrendered on September 2nd. The treaty ending the war was signed on September 2nd 1945 on a US Naval battleship in Tokyo bay. MacArthur was there at that formal ceremony. But he was not the person authorised to accept the Japanese surrender. That honor went to Admiral Nimitz. Nimitz had truly earned it. If you look carefully at the photos of the event you will see Nimitz signing the US acceptance of the surrender while MacArthur stands by looking on.

Yamashita was put on trial before a panel of US generals in February 1946. Yamashita no doubt was guilty of many war crimes from his time commanding Japanese troops from 1941-45. But he was charged with the destruction that happened to Malinenas and to the city in February 1945. Yamashita was in Baguio during all the time when Manila was destroyed. But he was found guilty by the US military War Crimes tribunal. He was hung shortly afterwards. But I wonder if he was rather more a ‘sacrificial offering’ to assuage American guilt at what had happened and appease Filippino anger.

MacArthur went on to become the effective ‘dictator ‘ in Japan after the signing of the peace treaty of September 1945. And here he did something quite different. He was determined that the Japanese land owning elite that had lead Japan into war would lose power & influence.Therefore their lands were compulsorily acquired at low price.And these lands were then redistributed to the peasants who had farmed them for generations. In this way MacArthur created an influential conservative but pro-american small farmer class in the heart of Japan.

MacArthur’s own statement after the Manila Massacre

On 28 February General MacArthur made the following address upon reestablishing the Commonwealth Government in the city of Manila:

More than three years have elapsed-years of bitterness, struggle and sacrifice-since I withdrew our forces and installations from this beautiful city that, open and undefended, its churches, monuments and cultural centers might, in accordance with the rules of warfare, be spared the violence of military ravage. The enemy would not have it so and much that I sought to preserve has been unnecessarily destroyed by his desperate action at bay but by these ashes he has wantonly fixed the future pattern of his own doom.

Then, we were but a small force struggling to stem the advance of overwhelming hordes treacherously hurled against us, behind the mask of professed friendship and international goodwill. That struggle was not in vain! God has indeed blessed our arms! The girded and unleashed power of America supported by our Allies turned the tide of battle in the Pacific and resulted in an unbroken series of crushing defeats upon the enemy, culminating in the redemption of your soil and the liberation of your people. My country has kept the faith!

Its soldiers come here as an army of free men dedicated, with your people, to the cause of human liberty and committed to the task of destroying those evil forces that have sought to suppress it by brutality of the sword. An army of freemen that has brought your people once again under democracy’s banner, to rededicate their churches, long desecrated, to the Glory of God and public worship; to reopen their schools to liberal education; to till the soil and reap its harvest without fear of confiscation; to reestablish their industries that they may again enjoy the profit from the sweat of their own toil; and to restore the sanctity and happiness of their homes unafraid of violent intrusion.

Thus to millions of your now liberated people comes the opportunity to pledge themselves-their hearts, their minds and their hands-to the task of building a new and stronger nation – a nation consecrated in the blood nobly shed that this day might be-a nation dedicated to making imperishable those sacred liberties for which we have fought and many have died.

On behalf of my Government I now solemnly declare, Mr. President, the full powers and responsibilities under the Constitution restored to the Commonwealth whose seat is here reestablished as provided by law. Your country thus is again at liberty to pursue its destiny to an honored position in the family of free nations. Your capital city, cruelly punished though it be, has regained its rightful place – Citadel of Democracy in the East.

Thank you to Bill in Oz for the entire McArthur series!

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 29. February 2016

McArthur in Australia

McArthur in Australia 1942-44

By Bill In Oz

Some Australian Background

Macarthur in parliamnetAt the start of 1941 Australia was still a ‘dominion‘ within the British empire. One of 4 such British dominions at the time : Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. They were all self governing with their own parliaments and laws but still with close bonds to Britain when it came to foreign affairs and defence. When WW2 started in September 1939, Australia was as part of the British empire, automatically at war with Nazi Germany & later Fascist Italy.

At that time Canberra was the recently designated capitol of Australia and the location of the newly built Parliament house. However Melbourne was still the effective capital of the Australian government, the public service and the military head quarters.

The Australian Labor Party was in government led by John Curtin as prime minister. He became PM in October 1941 after the previous conservative government lead by Robert Menzies lost it’s majority in the House of Representatives.

John Curtin was a former union official & journalist before entering parliament in 1928. He is remembered here as a very, very good prime minister in that time of major crisis. He is also remembered as a heavy regular drinker. Ironically he became leader of the ALP opposition only because he was an ‘outsider’ and neither of the two dominant factions in the ALP had the numbers to get their man up. By way of compromise the ALP party faction bosses agreed to back him as opposition leader, but only if he stopped drinking! And he did. Curtin also suffered from heart disease and this grew worse after he became Prime Minister especially during much of 1944-45. This affected his ability to be on top of the many problems he faced as prime minister during the war. Curtin died in his sleep in July 1945 while still prime minister from a heart attack.

In April 1942 the total Australian population was just seven million. Over the course of the war 1939-1945, almost one million served in the armed forces. More than 730,000 men served in the army during the war. The rest in the Royal Australian Navy & Royal Australian Air force.

Despite this there were very few trained and battle hardened troops in Australia when Japan entered WW2 in December 1941. Almost all “were overseas fighting the Germans and Italians in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean. The 8th Division was scattered across the northern approaches to Australia. Australia’s Air Force was mostly in England serving beside the Royal Air Force in the defence of Britain while Australia’s Navy was scattered around the world serving Britain’s interests in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific operational theatres.” James Bowen

Three divisions ( roughly 52,000 men ) were serving in North Africa with the British army fighting Germany & Italy. Another division the 8th, was sent in 1941 to Singapore & Malaya to support the British forces there against a Japanese attack in 1941. These men 17,000 men became prisoners of war when Singapore was captured by the Japanese in February 1942.

The Geopolitical Context in early 1942

In the early 1940’s Japan was the dominant conquering power in the East Asia & the Western Pacific. In 1941-2 all the colonies of the old European countries were occupied or conquered: French Indo-China; the Dutch East Indies, British Malaya, Singapore and Borneo, Portuguese East Timor, Guam, and the Philippines which Japan saw as a US colonies. Thailand became a Japanese ‘protectorate’. British controlled Burma was attacked and occupied. The Japanese army reached the eastern fringe of British India. Japan also launched attacks on the Australian controlled part of New Guinea, & the British controlled Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides. The Japanese started planning to attack & occupy Hawaii. The Curtin ALP Australian government believed that Australia would be invaded and occupied next. Prime Minister John Curtin said in an official press release on the 16th of February 1942. “The fall of Singapore can only be described as Australia’s Dunkirk…The fall of Dunkirk initiated the Battle for Britain. The fall of Singapore opens the Battle for Australia.”

The Japanese air force attacked Darwin & Broome numerous times in 1942-43. The Japanese navy attacked Australian shipping. There were 2-3 landings by Japanese on various isolated parts of the Northern coastline to check out possible future invasion points.

The Australian government wanted the 3 divisions fighting the Germans & Italians in North Africa to be sent home to help cope with this very dangerous situation. The British government lead by Winston Churchill was reluctant to allow this happen. He thought it would weaken the Allied position in North Africa and imperil the Suez canal and the oil fields in the Middle East.

Following the attack on Pearl harbor in December 1941, Churchill went to Washington to meet Roosevelt at the ‘Arcadia conference’. Also attending were their major military Chiefs. This major war conference decided that the Allied war strategy would give priority to defeating Germany. This reflected Churchill’s view the war with Japan in the Pacific could wait till later. In his view South East Asia was expendable. The Philippines was expendable. As for Australia in his view the Japanese were unlikely to invade Australia, but even if they did Australia was expendable. (A side note: In Churchill’s view British India was not expendable!) Fortunately for Australia, the Philippines and the other peoples of South East Asia, the Commander in Chief of the US Navy, Admiral King spoke up about the necessity for the US to also prevent further Japanese attacks & expansion. And Roosevelt listened to his views. The surprise attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor was viewed as treachery by the US public because there Japanese made no declaration of war & continued to negotiate with the US in Washington until the last days before the attack happened. Roosevelt listened to US public opinion despite Churchill’s attempts to persuade him against it.

The Australian government was not represented at the Arcadia conference. Neither was the government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines lead by President Quezon. But the Australian government heard about it and heard found out out that the Pacific war with Japan was not a priority & and in Churchill’s view Australia did not matter.

At this time of crisis Curtin decided that enough was enough. Curtin made a public New Year message at the end of 1941 in the aftermath of the fall of Singapore and the defeat of the US in the Philippines. It was a turning point in Australian history for Curtin decided to appeal to give Churchill and Britain ‘the flick’, and appeal for American help to defend Australia against the Japanese.

Curtin said “without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.”

Later Curtin also made a radio broadcast to the American people in which he referred to Australia as ‘the last bastion between the West Coast of America and the Japanese”. He was keen to establish direct communications between Washington & the Australian government. In March 1942 Curtin sent his foreign minister Herb Evatt to the USA and to Washington to ask for more US troops and equipment.

The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was annoyed. He claimed that the statement would `cause resentment throughout the Empire’. However in Australia public opinion massively supported Curtin’s declaration.

Curtin also continued to demand of Churchill that the Australian troops in North Africa be sent home to defend Australia. Perhaps Churchill realised that Australian troops would not fight for the empire if they found out he had refused to send them home to defend their own country. Perhaps someone told to stop being an arrogant bully. Starting in February 1942 Australian troops in the Middle East were sent by troop ships across the Indian ocean to Australia Most arrived in April 1942. But it took a year for all of three divisions to come home. Royal Australian Navy ships also came home at the same time. Australia also stopped sending it’s RAAF pilots to Britain.

The return home voyage of these troops was not without incident. Burma was under Japanese attack. Churchill ordered that the ships carrying 7th Division divert towards Burma. He did so without first seeking Australian approval. Curtin was enraged. Top secret cables flashed between the two leaders. Curtin told Churchill of the Australian government’s complete & total refusal to allow Australian troops to go to Burma. Churchill finally agreed to their return to Australia and the ships changed course for home. To save some of Churchill’s ‘face’ a brigade of troops was temporarily left at Columbo in Ceylon to boost the garrison there.

But the press in Australia published the details of what had happened. Churchill was not a popular man. He was seen as someone who had betrayed Australia’s trust. Since 1942 no Australian troops have fought under British command. On occasion they have fought with and alongside British troops ( Malaya 1950’s ) but never under British control. Really this was the moment that Australia left the British ‘empire’. Later on the Curtin government passed the ‘Statute of Westminster Adoption” Act which legally confirmed Australia’s international position as a nation independent from Britain not subject to any more British parliamentary or executive ‘oversight’.

Curtin & McArthur: The Odd Couple 1942-45

Curtin and McArthur (Source: Australian National archives)

When McArthur arrived in Australia in March 1942 he thought that there were newly deployed US army waiting for him to take command. It was not so. At that time there were just 32,000 US servicemen scattered all over Australia and many of them were Air Force personnel not army. He is reported to have said “ God help us” when he found out. Most of these US forces had arrived in Australia because they were diverted from their original mission of reinforcing US forces in the Philippines. The conquest of the Philippines by Japan & Japanese control the air and seas of the western Pacific meant no US convoy ships could safely reach the the Philippines.

After spending some days recovering from the long journey from the Corregidor, on the 26th of March 1942 McArthur travelled to the new national capital Canberra 400 kilometers North East of Melbourne.There he met John Curtin the Australian Prime Minister. Here is a photo of their meeting McArthur was also feted aa a war hero in Australia.He was invited to attend and make an address to parliament. There is a photo of McArthur seated close to Curtin on the floor of the House of Representatives. In April 1942 McArthur was appointed supreme commander of the South-West Pacific Area, with authority over all Australian & US and other allied naval, land and air forces in Australia. This happened with the support ( indeed the request ) of the Australian government led by John Curtin.

In placing the Australian forces under MacArthur, the Australian Commonwealth government surrendered a part of our national sovereignty. But it was seen as a necessity. Australia had a small population and limited limited military forces at the time. By contrast the Japanese threat seemed huge and imminent.

These two men quickly developed a warm and trusting relationship which lasted as long as Curtin was healthy enough to lead Australia as PM. McArthur is reported to have said to Curtin after his appointment : “ we two, you and I, will see this thing through together . . . You take care of the rear and I will handle the front”.

And in the 30 months that McArthur was in Australia up to 1945, there is no report that they ever had a major argument. But their relationship is curious because they were so very different in character and political sympathies. There were huge personal & political differences between these two men It puzzled Australians at the time and was a source of annoyance at times.

Curtin was the son of poor Irish immigrants to Australia. His father managed various ‘hotels’, licensed bar that sold alcohol. Curtin never finished secondary school. He gained his education from reading in public libraries. He was a dedicated unionist. He worked as a journalist and was employed as the ‘secretary’ of 2 different unions before entering Parliament in 1928. Politically he was a ‘democratic socialist’ and joined the Australian Labor Party at a time when the ALP’s main policy platform was the “nationalisation of the means of production and distribution”. A second major ALP policy was maintaining the “White Australia” policy which Curtin also supported. Curtin never joined the armed forces. In fact he probably had an anti military bent in his younger years. 1917 he was an ardent ‘anti conscription’ leader. He opposed Billie Hughes, the then ALP Prime Minister who wanted to introduce military conscription in Australia to support the British forces on the Western Front in WW1. Such was the character of the man.

This character emerged during his years as Prime Minister. Curtin in 1943 started the process of creating the Australian welfare state. He introduced “a wide range of nationally based social service benefits including unemployment benefits, widows’ pensions, health and medical benefits and services and allowances for ex-service men students” (David Black page 7)

General Douglas McArthur was a complete contrast to Curtin. MacArthur was the son of a US Army officer. His father was sent to the Philippines as an army officer to suppress independence the revolution in 1899. Later on his father became the Colonial governor of the Philippines. Later on McArthur went to West Point to become a US army officer as well.He served in the US army on the western front when US troops arrived in 1917. In the 1920 & 1930’s McArthur again served as an army officer in the Philippines. After the war he was gradually moved up the hierarchy and became a general. But McArthur was not just an army officer. He was also profoundly conservative politically. During the depression when the Veterans March on Washington took place McArthur mobilised 800 troops and evicted the veterans from public buildings with bayonets and tear gas. He then issued a comminique saying that an insurgency and insurrection had been suppressed. (Karnow 268-9 ) Curiously (in contrast to Curtin’s support for the white Australia policy) McArthur was extremely liberal in his views on Asians. He was against racial segregation in the Philippines.

So why & how did the two so different men get along so well ? Well it helped that at the start McArthur’s strategic ideas and ambitions were almost the same as those of the Curtin Labor government. McArthur wanted the US government to send as many US troops, ships and air force planes to Australia as quickly as possible. Even at this early stage McArthur had in mind returning to the Philippines with a major invasion force to attack & defeat the occupying Japanese forces. And courtesy of Admiral King’s advocacy to Roosevelt for strengthening US forces in the Pacific, as troops, equipment and aircraft became available, this started to happen in April & May 1942.

This is exactly what the Australian government wanted to happen. Fearing a Japanese invasion they wanted military support from the US. And in fact there is some speculation that the Australian government supported McArthur’s appointment as Supreme Commander of the South West pacific Area in order to encourage it to happen. McArthur also realised that the return to the Philippines could,only happen through using Australia as a base for building up the invasion army. He also decided that the road to the Philippines lay through New Guinea just North of Australia.

The Japanese had in early 1942 occupied a large part of Dutch New Guinea, New Britain with it’s large deep water port at Rabaul, and part of the northern coast of Australian controlled Papua &  New Guinea.

McArthur & The Australian Military

Roosevelt, MacArthur & Nimitz in Hawaii

Roosevelt, MacArthur & Nimitz in Hawaii

After arriving in Australia in March 1942. McArthur made his headquarters in Melbourne. At the time this was also the head quarters of the Australian armed forces. And while relations at the political level, between McArthur & Curtin were good, things were very different at the the military levels. McArthur was Supreme Commander of the South-West Pacific Area. But until late 1943 the only trained and battle hardened troops available were Australian. There was just one single division of US army troops in Australia but it was untrained and inexperienced ‘green’. So it was Australians who did the fighting. And many of these troops were men who had come back after doing well fighting the Germans & Italians in North Africa for 2 years. They were experienced, they were battle hardened & they were proud men with their own military traditions. They arrived back in Australia to be told that ‘the man in charge’ was a just arrived foreign general named Douglas McArthur who had just been defeated & lost the Philippines to the Japanese. They did not respect him. And as time went by they discovered other reasons for loathing him.

This situation could have been managed if there had been a level of recognition and mutual understanding by McArthur of his military ally. But McArthur had trouble cooperating with US Navy & Air Force staff. Cooperating with lesser local Australian military was beyond his capacity. Here is an example. McArthur was ‘ordered’ by Washington to include Australian, British & Dutch officers in his head quarters staff. However McArthur headquarters staff consisted almost entirely of Americans with members of his defeated ‘Bataan gang’ at the heart of it. There was just one exception: General Sir Thomas Blamey, the commander of the Australian Army. As a member of McArthur’s command Blamey was given the title “ Commander Allied Land Forces”. But as he later said,he had little practical control over any American troops during the entire war. (Karl James page 45)

Major problems between the Australian military and McArthur emerged in July 1942 when the Japanese landed troops on the North coast of Papua New Guinea at Gona/Buna. They then pushed South over the Owen Stanley range to try and capture Port Moresby.

This lead to a very famous and well remembered series of battles between Australian & Japanese troops on the Kokoda Track.

The Kokoda track in 1942 was a single file walking 120 kilometer trail over the Owen Stanley Ranges from the North coast to Own’s Corner 60 kilometers from Port Moresby. The mountains range up to 2500 meters high. They were covered in jungle and were so tortuous, steep with razer backed ridges. No roads existed. Malaria & dengue fever were endemic. Both the Japanese attackers and the Australia defenders had to carry by hand everything they needed to fight and survive. Australian wounded had to be carried out over the steep terrain by stretcher.

There were Australian troops posted on the Kokoda track in July 1942. Initially these were ‘mobilised’ militia battalions rushed North from Australia because there were no regular troops available. And they were few in number just a few hundred. The Japanese invaders were specialist attack troops and numbered in thousands. The Australian troops were forced into a series of managed fighting retreats back Southwards on the Kokoda track in July-September 1942. It was savage jungle warfare. This was a successful way of stopping the Japanese. For as they got further & further into the Owen Stanley mountains they had greater & greater difficulty supplying their men. They also got sick from malnutrition and disease. And as the Australians retreated it became easier for them to be supplied and reinforced.

Meanwhile McArthur based back in Melbourne, roughly 3500 kilometers away was furious & blind panic. He feared that this the first battle he commanded in Australia would be a defeat. He feared that a defeat at Kokoda, after the loss of the Philippines would lead to him being dismissed from his new command. He ordered General Blamey to immediately send reinforcements to Port Morseby. He demanded that Blamey go to Port Moresby himself to oversee the battle. Curtin who was also the minister for Defence, later on admitted that he “did not know that the commander of the national military forces cannot afford to be supervising a brigade of 3500 men on the front line’.

McArthur also moved his own headquarters from Melbourne to Brisbane so he could be closer to the battle. But it was still over 2000 kilometers away from Kokoda and neither he or his staff went there during the course of the campaign. And though he had no knowledge of the Owen Stanley Ranges he started trying to order the Australian troops there to stand & fight to the death rather than stage a fighting retreat. He commanded the Kokoda troops to ‘dynamite the passes’ to stop the Japanese advance. What ‘passes’ ?

General Blamey was sent to Port Moresby by McArthur to take charge and stop the retreat at Kokoda. Blamey without actually checking the terrain sent up fresh troops & removed 2 brigade officers who has been in charge of the fighting retreat. Then to top it off he addressed the Australian troops who had just been relieved from the fighting at Kokoda on the parade ground at Port Moresby. He told them ‘not to run like rabbits’ & hold their ground. The men were furious. The officers still with the units were furious. Usually at the formal end of a parade ground event the troops will salute & do an “eyes right” to acknowledge a commanding general officer’s presence. On this occasion they ignored him and marched straight off with no salute or eyes right. They snubbed him. He could get away being short and tubby. He could get away with being a womaniser and a drunkard. But calling them cowards and being McArthur’s lap dog was beyond their
limit. It took considerable efforts on Blamey’s part over the next three years to regain the respect of his army. He was known as “that Bastard”. Standing up to McArthur for his own fellow Australian men was a necessary part of that process.

In the face of tenacious Australian resistance, the Japanese push over the Owen Stanley Ranges over the Kokoda track petered out. Then the Australian troops went on the offensive. Gradually the Japanese retreated fighting back to the North coasts at Buna/ Gona. For the first time since the Pacific war started the Japanese army was defeated in a battle campaign.

Thus MacArthur discovered that the Australian Army was very capable of winning battles. And over the next 2 years he built his own reputation as their victorious commanding general fighting the Japanese on the the abilities of these Australian troops. The Battle of Buna-Gona is a good example. Initially MacArthur keen to show how good his US troops were, sent in The US 32nd Infantry Division, But it was ‘green’ just out of training camp and had had no training in jungle warfare, The result was a disaster. MacArthur relieved the division commander and instructed Lieut. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, commander of the US I Corps, to go to the front personally with the charge “to remove all officers who won’t fight … if necessary, put sergeants in charge of battalions ..I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive.” However it was only after the battle hardened & experienced Australian 7th Division joined the battle that Gona fell to the Australians on 9 December 1942, Then Buna to the US 32nd on 2 January 1943.

After this the Australian army went on to defeat the Japanese at Milne Bay, Lae, Markham Valley, Salamis, Nazdab and Finsdchafen. All these battles happened in Papua New Guinea. (Stanley 2003)

And all of these battles were reported in the press & radio in Australia & America. However all,of them were reported by communiques released by McArthur. And in all of the communiques McArthur reported victories “By allied troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur”. In truth they were Australian victories fought without much benefit from being “Supremely Commanded” by MacArthur.

This sort of behavior breed a deep resentment among all the Australian army against MacArthur and his “Bataan gang’. But it was specific and did not extend to the US forces in Australia as a whole. There was close cooperation between the Australian & US navy & Air Force personnel. And when US Army forces started arriving in the region, they too cooperated closely together. A key driver in this was that McArthur’s press releases & communique’s did not even acknowledge the role of his US colleagues. As in the Philippines he kept the limelight for himself. And so generated animosities against him by his fellow US military officers.

Animosities can linger for a long time and be passed down the generations. I had an odd experience a few days ago when I met a 60 year Australian friend. He asked me what I had been doing since retiring and I mentioned writing this blog about MacArthur. His immediate response was to tell me about his father who served in the Australian Army in WW2 in North Africa, Greece, New Guinea & Borneo. He served as a RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major, the highest non commissioned rank in the Australian army). The last two campaigns in New Guinea & Borneo were served under McArthur’s ‘Supreme” leadership. “My dad thought he was an arrogant a******e”. This is very anecdotal..But the force of the expression 70 years later was unmistakable.

So McArthur’s arrogance, ignorance and stupidity was obvious to all in the Australian military. But this was happening in a war with extensive censorship. The Australian public were kept completely ignorant. So was the public in the USA. The only ‘news’ that could be published were the propaganda communiques released and often written or edited by McArthur himself. His communiques unique. And they were entertaining. Here is what one Australian historian has written about them. “McArthur as a general had an unrivaled ability with propaganda… The American public were bombarded with stories about valiant defenders, and glorious victories. Not only were the Japanese dying in their thousands, and being shot out of the sky, but their battleships were being sunk apparently at will by McArthur’s vastly outnumbered but indomitable forces. For an American public receiving a steady diet of failure and disaster in the Pacific and Atlantic, MacArthur was presented as a shining beacon of steadfast endurance and indomitable will.” (Source: Nigel Davies)

The US Navy & The war against Japan

I have missed out asking an important question so far in my discussion of the Kokoda Track campaign in Papua New Guinea. It is a crucial question.

Why did the Japanese try to attack and capture Port Moresby by walking 120 kilometers over the Kokoda track across rugged Owen Stanley Ranges?

It would have been far easier & quicker to send an invasion force by sea around the coast from Rabaul. And in the answer to this question lies part of the reason why Japan lost the Pacific war with the USA : the US Pacific fleet.

In fact in May 1942, Japan did send a strong convoy or troops and warships to attack & conquer Port Moresby. But the convoy was forced to turn back and return to Rabaul after Japan lost the battle of the Coral sea. The attempt to capture Port Moresby via the Kokoda track was not the preferred option at all. It was a ‘last throw of the dice’ to capture Port Moresby.

What happened to force the Japanese to try such a desperate measure ?

In the Pacific theatre 1942 – 45, a second very different war was being waged with Japan : the war between the ‘allied’ navies and the Japanese Imperial Navy. I just used the word ‘allied’ here. But after the British warships, the Rodney & the Prince Of Wales were sunk off the coast of Malaya in December 1942, after Singapore surrendered in February 1942, there were no British ships in South East Asia or the Pacific. The British fleet retreated to the Indian ocean & did not return until late 1944. The war at sea against Japan was fought in the Pacific, overwhelmingly by ships of the US Pacific fleet with Australian navy ships having returned from the Mediterranean, helping & taking part.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7th 1941 the US Pacific fleet was badly damaged with 12 battleships sunk and 3000 men killed. The US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Kimmel ,was effectively sacked because of that defeat. In his place Admiral Ernest Nimitz was appointed by Roosevelt, to command the US Pacific fleet. Nimitz became the “Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas“, with operational control over all Allied units (air, land, and sea) in Pacific, & the seas of Australia, The Pacific islands, The Philippines and the rest of South east Asia. Nimitz first action was to go to Hawaii to inspect Pearl Harbor. After the inspection, he is reported to said to his officers and men that the situation was not as dire as he had been told. When they asked him ‘why’ in great surprise, he replied:

  1. The Japanese attack happened early on a Sunday morning and most of the crews of the fleet were on shore leave. Only 3200 men were killed while another 30,000 navy seamen, were ashore and uninjured.
  2. The massive US navy fuel tanks storage site with 5 million gallons of fuel, remained undamaged. The Japanese had not attacked it even though it was 4 ks. away ‘over the hill’ from the ships.
  3. The carrier fleet (of four carriers) was out at sea conducting exercises when the Japanese attacked. None of the US Navy carriers were damaged or sunk.
  4. The submarine fleet was not targeted or damaged in the Japanese attack and was available for immediate offensive operations.

All of these things were major miscalculations by the Japanese. And sowed the seeds of their future defeat. Another major factor was that Admiral King the Commander in Chief of the US Fleet & Admiral Nimitz were determined that whatever the British Prime Minister Churchill thought, Japan would be punished for it’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. King became known for his “Anglophobia ‘ in these years. But these two Admirals, King & Nimitz were the real American ‘Commanding heroes’ of the Pacific war.

With King directing from Washington, it was who Nimitz implemented the key USA military strategies of the Pacific war to defeat Japan. In 1942 Japan was an island ‘maritime’ empire scattered across South east Asia and the Pacific Ocean. It depended on it’s navy and air force to move men, supplies, and diesel fuel. It depended on it’s merchant marine to move essential supplies like crude oil, iron ore, rubber, rice, sugar and other commodities to Japan itself. And this were it’s major weak spots.

Thus Nimitz first adopted the practice of unrestricted submarine warfare targeting any Japanese shipping to shut down the Japanese merchant marine, & prevent the Japanese occupying forces from being resupplied, re-equipped or reinforced. And as mentioned already the US submarine fleet based in the Philippines and the submarine fleet based at Pearl harbor were not damaged at all in the initial Japanese attacks. The US submarine fleet increased in strength gradually in 1942-3. And their range & design also improved. They became thus more effective.

From 1943 the US submarine fleet operated at will in the seas of Japan’s maritime empire. And Japan gradually lost the capacity to resupply it’s armies with food, ammunition or fuel. They lost the capacity to reinforce or reposition their occupying army units scattered over the Pacific Islands and South east Asia. These army units became isolated and as far as the war was concerned of no value at all. This had major consequences in the conduct of the war.

Second in a series of major naval battles Nimitz targeted the Japanese carrier fleet to degrade and destroy it. It was aircraft from ships of the Japanese carrier borne fleet arm which attacked at Pearl harbor. It was aircraft from ships of the carrier fleet which attacked the Philippines on the 8th of December. It was aircraft from ships of the carrier fleet which sank the British battleships the Rodney & Prince of Wales at the start of the invasion of Malaya. So destroying this Japanese carrier fleet was crucial to defeating Japan. These naval battles In the Pacific were :

  • The Battle of the Coral Sea in 4-8th of May 1942, : this prevented the sea borne attack on Port Morseby
  • The Battle of Midway 3-7 of June 1942 : this prevented the Japanese from occupying Hawaii which was planned for August 1942
  • The battle of the Eastern Solomons 24-25 of August 1942: this prevented the Japanese from cutting off the sea lanes & communications between Australia & the USA.
  • The battle of Santa Cruz 25-27 of October 1942 Prevented the Japanese winning in the US Navy’s campaign ( using US Marines ) to defeat the Japanese occupying Guadalcanal

As a result of these navel battles many of the Japanese carriers were either sunk or damaged and forced to return to Japan. Also most of the aircrew of Japan’s carrier fleet were killed or wounded. of the seas & the air in the Pacific ocean. Thus of the 750 aircrew who took part in the PearL harbor attack over 400 were dead by the end of 1942. In the latter stages of the war, Japan adopted ‘Kamikaze’ tactics with young inexperienced pilots being instructed to crash their planes into US ships. They did this because they no longer had an elite ‘corps’ of experienced highly trained carrier pilots. All they had were young newly trained & commissioned inexperienced ones.

Japan gradually lost control of the air above it’s scattered maritime empire. By 1945 it had lost control of the air even above the Japanese home islands. This in combination with loss of control of the seas laid the ground for Japan defeat in 1945.

Nimitz had a third strategy against Japan : attack and defeat the Japanese army only at ‘key’ islands locations in the Pacific. These ‘key points’ then became jumping off points for waging the war closer to Japan and thus attack Japan on it’s home ground. The names of these ‘Key points “ are remembered well in US history of WW2 and especially in US naval history : Guadalcanal, the Mariana Islands, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Okinawa, Iwo Jima. The Japanese realised the nature of the US strategy. So they resisted and fought to the end. These battles were mostly fought by US marines not the US army. And they were under the operational command of Admiral Nimitz. They were not under the command of General McArthur. As each of these key points was captured it became a base for US Air Force air craft who also helped to ensure that the Japanese lost control of the air above their maritime empire.

Meanwhile Nimitz ordered that most other Japanese occupied areas be ignored and isolated. He decided that there was no point in attacking every island that the Japanese army had occupied. The Japanese could not be resupply them. They were isolated and neutralized. Towards the end of the war in 1945 some of these positions were gradually mopped up. The Australian & American troops found that the Japanese soldiers had become farmers & gardeners to feed themselves.

This strategy meant that local inhabitants suffered under Japanese army occupation for more time. But had the virtue that far fewer of the local people were killed, injured or destroyed in the course of endless land battles between the Allied forces and the Japanese. Nimitz & King both believed that destroying Japan in it’s home ground would be better than ‘liberating’ the people that Japan had occupied and in the process destroying them. One of the fundamental principles of waging war is that “it is far better to hit & hurt the enemy’ than it is to impose suffering & destruction & death on your own people or allies I think this was very important. Unfortunately this strategy was not employed in the Philippines.

McArthur Launches the Campaign to Return to the Philippines

At this point we need to return to General McArthur in Australia. He was the Supreme Commander of the Australian forces during 1942-43 & they gradually degraded, defeated and isolated the Japanese forces in New Guinea. Toward the end of 1943 more & better trained US army troops started arriving in Australia and New Guinea. They were integrated into his strategy. McArthur saw how successful the ‘island hopping’ strategy devised by Nimitz & King was. So after 1943, he implemented the same strategy in his own South West Pacific Army command area with a series of attacks along the North coast of New Guinea in early to mid 1944. Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea and then Morotai Island were attacked and became bases for further advances. However McArthur’s long term goal was very different to Nimitz or Kings’.

In early 1944 Nimitz and King proposed to Roosevelt that the US an invade the Japanese island of Formosa. Formosa had been a Japanese colony since 1894. It had been settled by many Japanese and it’s original inhabitants brought up to think of themselves as Japanese citizens. Many Formosan men were part of the Japanese armed forces. So from attacking Formosa would be hurting the enemy. Also Formosa had been developed by Japan as one of their industrial & military centres. Nimitz & King believed that capturing Formosa would weaken significantly weaken Japan’s capacity to continue the war and also cut off Japanese communications with occupied Philippines, Indo-China, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies.

There were additional reasons for attacking and occupying Formosa. The US military were seeking an easier way to supply arms & other military equipment Chiang Kai Chek’s Kuo Min Tang (Nationalist) government in China in it’s fight against Japan. China was being supplied with at great cost & great difficulty from India via planes flying over the Himalayas. Attacking & seizing Formosa would make it much easier to supply Nationalist China via the Chinese coastal ports. Finally Formosa would become a base to mount major attacks on Japan itself. Such was the plan and it had the support of some of the US Chiefs of staff in Washington. It had the definite support of the US navy.

However it did not have the support of McArthur. He saw the plan to attack Formosa as a direct threat to his personal crusade to return to the Philippines. And so he turned his attention and his considerable propaganda abilities to having the Formosa plan scuttled and replaced by his own to ‘return’ to the Philippines. There is no doubt McArthur was sincere. He believed that the USA had a moral ‘obligation’ to liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation. And he had made his own personal pledge to return.

McArthur wanted his share of military glory so he would not be overshadowed by his former assistant General Eisenhower who in June 1944 commanded the D-Day Invasion in June 1944 that lead to the liberation of France. Winning victories over the Japanese in New Guinea was all very well for MacArthur but it was a minor part of the world war. Returning to & liberating the Philippines would provide him with a place in history.

In July 1944 McArthur, Nimitz & Roosevelt met in Hawaii. Among the major topics discussed was the the alternative strategies for pursuing the the next stage of war with Japan : invading & liberating the Philippines or Formosa. It has been suggested that 1944 was a US Presidential election year. Roosevelt wanted to avoid alienating US voters who saw McArthur as America’s national war hero. Vetoing MacArthur’s plan to return to the Philippines would have done just this. So Roosevelt instead of approving Nimitz & King’s gave the go ahead to McArthur plans for the ‘liberation’ of the Philippines. It can be argued that Roosevelt with this decision betrayed the Filipino people. But he had already done it before in 1941-2 at the ‘Arcadia conference’. Remember that is when Roosevelt & Churchill decided to give priority to Britain’s war against Germany and let the US Troops on Bataan and Corregidor go unsupported until they were forced to surrender.  Such are the decisions made in war.

What happened next ? Instead of Formosa, Nimitz & King went on to plan and execute the attacks on the Japanese islands of Okinawa & Iwo Jima. The US marines who fought there had a hard battle and many died. But they won the battles. And Okinowa & Iwo Jima islands then became the US bases used for more intense air attacks on Japan. And Formosa was spared an American invasion. Yes it was bombed in air raids by the Americans as a part of the Japanese empire. But in large part at the end of WW2 it was still functioning normally. It’s major cities had not been destroyed and the inhabitants had not been forced to flee their homes. In August 1945 Hirohito told the Japanese military to surrender and obedient to the emperor, this is what they did. Little damage was done to the infrastructure or the people of the island. Thus when the Chinese nationalist government took the island over at the end of 1945 and renamed it Taiwan, it inherited an
already well developed province which in the next 20-30 years was well on the way to being a prosperous modern society. This was also helped by the fact that the Japanese sugar plantation ‘settlers’ in Formosa were expelled back to Japan. This lead to a massive redistribution of land and other property.

The Philippines however was propelled along a different path. The fate of the Philippines was to be liberated.

Sources Used :

Thanks once more to Bill in Oz for this entire McArthur series, which is excellently researched and detailed.

The next article about the return to the Philippines shall be most interesting.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 20. February 2016

General McArthur leaves

McArthur goes to Australia

00680_1lby Bill In Oz

McArthur in his public communiques from Corregidor in January/February 1942 announced that he would stay at Corregidor in the Philippines and share the fate of his troops. But in late February Roosevelt ordered him to leave and go to Australia. In March 1942, he was instructed to go to Mindanao & fly to Australia from an airfield on the Del Monte pineapple plantation near Bukidnon. Traveling with McArthur were his family and 13 US Army officers from his staff and two naval officers.

McArthur and his party left Corregidor at dusk in three PT Boats on at 6:30 pm on 13 March 1942. The PT boats travelled at night & hid during daylight hours, because of the danger of being spotted by Japanese aircraft or warships. The PT boats travelled the western route past Mindoro & Panay island & then South through the Sulu sea. There was a severe storm during the journey with high 6 meter waves. The boats arrived at Cagayan De Oro on Mindanao on the morning of the 13th of March after a journey of 1200 kilometers.

McArthur then had to wait for the US Air force to send aircraft to pick him up from the Del Monte air field. Two B17’s arrived from Australia just before midnight on the 17th of March.The aircraft were unloaded and then MacArthur party quickly boarded. The aircraft took off again at 1.30 am. for the flight to Australia. The intended destination was Darwin but a Japanese air raid was happening there so they flew on another 50 miles to Batchelor airfield.They landed at 9.00 am after a journey of 2400 kilometers.

After he arrived in Australia, McArthur told the press “that his aircraft had been closely pursued by Japanese fighter planes and had narrowly escaped Japanese bombers as it was landing at Batchelor Field.” This story was good headlines stuff & captured the public imagination but it was all a lie. The wireless operator on McArthur’s flight from Del Monte Field in the Philippines, Master Sergeant Dick Graf, later said that McArthur’s story was a figment of his imagination. The flight to Australia was uneventful & McArthur’s aircraft was never under threat from the Japanese. ( James Dunn )

There is a photo of McArthur standing next to the US Air force B17 just after it landed at Batchelor airfield with his assistant General Sunderland.

(An Aside : Philippine President Manuel Quezon, his family, doctors, chaplain, and senior staff also escaped from the Philippines via the Del Monte airfield on Thursday, March 26, 1942. Quezon & his party escaped from Corregidor before MacArthur by a US submarine. they were then landed at Cagayan De Oro. Two US Air force B-17’s flew from Batchelor near Darwin to collect the Filipino Commonwealth government party. )

At Batchelor Field there were 2 new Australian National Airways DC3’s waiting to take the McArthur party to Melbourne. The DC 3’s cruised at 330 kilometers an hour with a range of 2,400 km. So flying to Melbourne would have taken about 3 days with a refueling & rest stops in Alice Springs and Adelaide. However Mrs MacArthur refused refused to fly any further. McArthur’s young son Arthur was suffering from severe airsickness. McArthur asked for cars to take them all to the nearest railway station. But the nearest rail way station was at the small town of Alice Springs 1600 kilometers away on an unsealed track across dry hot dessert country. The McArthurs then agreed to board the DC3’s to Alice Springs.

While flying to Alice Springs in the middle of Australia, McArthur had the opportunity to see the nature of the Australian continent below him : generally flat, dry & hot dessert country with no rivers and no large towns or cities. In fact the only sign of human presence were a few scattered homesteads of the large 1000 square kilometer cattle ‘stations’ or properties. Similarly in March 1942 the ‘town’ of Alice Springs itself had a population of just 950 people. But in March 1942 there were also roughly 3000 Australian military personnel recently deployed there because of the war. The only important thing about Alice Springs was that it was the end of the narrow gauge railway South to Adelaide.

At Alice Springs, the US party split up. On the 19th of March McArthur, his family and some close officers took a train organised by the Australian government. His son was still sick and his wife refused the offer of flying to Melbourne. The rest of MacArthur’s staff flew down to Melbourne via Adelaide in the DC-3’s McArthur and his family then traveled the 1531 kilometers of narrow gauge track to Adelaide in South Australia. It was not a luxurious train. It was just three wooden carriages with a steam locomotive. Passengers sat in a carriage with two hardboard seats running lengthwise along the carriage. The second carriage was a dining car with a long wooden table. It also had some washtubs full of ice and a wood stove for cooking. To move from one carriage to another the train had to stop.

This journey took another 70 hours. The train travelled through yet more hot flat ‘outback’ desert & salt lake country. There was no air conditioning. In March in this part of Australia the temperature can reach 48 degrees. At night because of the lack of clouds the temperature can fall almost to zero. So it was not a comfortable journey for the US Army commander & his family. They must have been exhausted.

But once again MacArthur had a hands on experience of the Australian ‘Outback.” and it’s physical nature. I think MacArthur realised that in Australia he had a a major military advantage he completely lacked in the compact and vulnerable islands of the Philippines : ‘Depth in defence’ with over 3000 kilometers of desert separating the North coast of Australia from the major populated areas & big cities in the South.

The MacArthur train stopped on 20 March at a very small town named Terowie then a major railway junction. Locals had heard from journalists that MacArthur was on the train and greeted him at the station. It was here in this tiny town that he was asked by Australian newspaper men if he would keep going to the USA. He then made his famous speech :

” “The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed “from Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organising an American offensive against Japan, the primary purpose of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return.” ( Peter Dunn website)

Finally on the 21st of March, MacArthur’s journey ended eight days after leaving Corregidor, when his train arrived at Spenser Street Station ( now renamed Southern Cross Station ) in Melbourne. The total distance travelled was 7400 kilometers by small PT boat, planes & 3 different trains. He was welcomed by Frank Forde the Australian Minister for the Army.

I have looked at the various photos of MacArthur available on the WWW. All of them show a fit well built older man. And that is interesting. When the Americans & Filipino troops retreated to Bataan & Corregidor in mid January, they were all placed on a ration of 2000 calories a day. By mid March they were very malnourished and prone to disease like malaria and A G E. Look again at the photo of MacArthur immediately after his arrival at Batchelor on 21/3/1942 (photo above, credits: John Curtin). Or take a look a the Youtube film clip of MacArthur arriving at Spenser’s St. Station in Melbourne. He does not look thin or malnourished at all. He looks fit, strong and proud. Sometimes a picture really does tell a thousand words, if you know what to look at !

Thank you once more to Bill in Oz for this informative article!

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 15. February 2016

General McArthur’s debacle

Gen. Douglas McArthur Statue, CorregidorMcArthur’s Role in the Philippines Debacle in 1942-3

by Bill in Oz

In 1934 Quezon president elect of the new Commonwealth of the Philippines in Washington, asked Douglas McArthur if the islands could be defended after independence. MacArthur replied “I don’t think so, I know they can defend themselves.” Quezon was reassured and asked McArthur to be his military adviser for the new republic. Later Quezon made McArthur Field Marshall of the new Philippines defence forces.

How to defend the new Commonwealth of the Philippines was an urgent problem. Starting in the 1890’s Japan embarked on a policy of making war and seizing territory. Formosa was occupied in 1894 and made into a Japanese colony. In 1905 Korea was attacked & occupied. During WW1 Japan seized the German colony ( Tsingtao ) in China’s Shandong province. The Japanese navy seized Germany’s island colonies in the Pacific – the Marianas, Caroline and Marshall Islands. In 1931 Japan attacked the Chinese province of Manchuria and made it a ‘province’ of it’s own empire. In 1935 Japan started an all out war to occupy China and incorporate it into it’s empire. In July 1941 50,000 Japanese troops occupied French Indo-China. The key to Filipino fears was the simple fact of geography. The Japanese colony of Formosa ( now named Taiwan ) with large Japanese army, air force & navy bases, was just 250 kilometers north across the straits of Luzon.

In the period from 1935 till 1941 under McArthur’s leadership the Philippino defence forces developed into a force of one hundred thousand American & Philippine troops. They were largely poorly trained and poorly armed. But McArthur issued press releases and reports saying that that they new Filipino army was an effective defence. In July 1941 after the occupation of French Indo-China President Roosevelt appointed McArthur the commander of US Army forces in the Far East. Thus from 1935 until 1942 MacArthur was thus the man responsible for developing the Philippines defence forces. He also commanded the US forces. McArthur was also responsible for the ‘strategy’ adopted for the defence of the Philippines. This was also a key aspect of what happened. The US defence forces had since the 1920’s adopted a defence strategy of attempting resist any attack by holding on to just the Bataan peninsula & Corrigidor Island at the entrance to Manila bay, until US relief forces arrived. This was the US “Orange Plan”. This strategy required concentrating troops, vehicles, weapons, medicines , munitions & food in these strategic locations.

But in late 1941 McArthur ditched this strategy. He decided that the whole of the Philippines must be defended from a Japanese attack.And so the armed forces started dispersing weapons, vehicles, munitions, medicines and food stocks all over the country. This had enormous consequences once the war started in December 1941. Within weeks it was obvious that it was impossible to defend all of the Philippines from the Japanese attacks.The only available strategy was to try and defend key defendable points like Bataan & Corrigidor island. But by then the weapons, munitions, food, fuel, vehicles & medicines were not there. The attempt by Philippine & Us forces to withstand Japanese attacks at Bataan and Corrigidor in early 1942 were undermined by  MacArthur’s strategic stupidity.

The start of the War

On Sunday morning the the 7th of December 1941 Japanese naval forces attacked the US Navy base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. This attack was a surprise. But the fact that Japan had started the war was not. US cryptographers were already able to decode Japanese radio coded signals. An attack was expected. In early November 1941 the US War Department ordered MacArthur to prepare for hostile action by Japan “at any moment”.

McArthur decided to ignore this warning and order. He announced to his US colleagues that he knew ‘from the existing alignment & movement of Japanese forces” that there would be no attack until the Spring. When the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, happened, in Manila it was Monday the 8th. of December. That morning Japanese air force planes in Formosa and carrier based aircraft were warming up ready to fly and attack. The attacks on the Philippines were supposed to happen simultaneously with the Pearl Harbor attack. Meanwhile in Manila it was the last day of a long weekend. It was the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception. Following McArthur’s ‘knowledge & expertise’ Philippine & US defence personal were all enjoying the last day of a nice relaxing long weekend. The US bomber force having been asked to relocate all it’s planes to Mindanao out of range of Japanese aerial attack, had huge party in Manila on the Sunday night.

But all was not yet lost.There was some time to mobilise the defence forces. The weather early on the 8th was very foggy in Formosa and on the surrounding seas.The planes could not take off to launch their attack at the planned time. They were delayed for over 7 hours by the weather. If McArthur had acted immediately some defence could have been mounted. But this did not happen.

MacArthur was awakened very early on that Monday morning by one of his staff with the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Shortly afterwards at 5.00 am his air commander Major General Brereton attempted to ask McArthur for approval launch an attack on Japanese bases in Formosa and the convoys bringing troops to invade Japan. McArthur’s chief of staff General Sutherland denied him access to McArthur and told him to await further orders.

McArthur stayed in his office that day and saw nobody except Sutherland. Later he said he was studying intelligence reports. There were no orders for 7 hours after he was told of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then McArthur issued an order allowing an an initial attack o take place at sunset that day. Some aircraft ignoring the lack of orders form McArthur did take off. But It was all too late and too uncoordinated. Clark & the other air force bases were attacked.Virtually all the US air force bombers & fighters in the Philippines were destroyed in these attacks as they were being serviced, before they could get off the ground..

The Japanese air force also attacked the US Naval bases at Cavite. It was a ruin. Faced with no effective base from which to operate from and no air cover, most of the US Navy ships in the Philippines left for the the Dutch East Indies or Australia within a few days. This included the the 27 strong US submarines force. Only a few patrol oats remained. In the space of a few days the US & Philippines lost all their air force and naval power. It was a total disaster.

In the fog of war many things can go wrong. Commanders can lose their nerve just as much as privates. Stalin went missing for 3 days when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. And in these key hours at the start of the Japanese attack on the Philippines, McArthur, the commander, the field marshal, the hero, for the first time since WW1, went ‘missing’ & hid in his office.

Japanese Invasion

The destruction of US Air power & the destruction or withdrawal of US naval power opened the Philippines up to Japanese invasion. There was no way to prevent this invasion. It started on December 22, 1941 when 43,000 Japanese troops landed in Lingayen Gulf 200 Kilometers North of Manila. On the 24th of December a second force of 10,000 Japanese troops landed at Lamon Bay in South Eastern Luzon. A third Japanese force landed at Legaspi in Bicol at the same time. A fourth invasion force landed in Mindanao. It was planned well in advance and the forces well equipped with tanks and artillery..

The Commonwealth of the Philippines armed forces & the US army forces were no match for the Japanese. Philippine & US troops could not defeat the Japanese. Philippine troops were unable to defend the Philippines from the invasion. In a month the Japanese had control of Northern Luzon and of Southern Luzon & Mindanao.

There were a number of reasons for this. One major reason was that McArthur’s policy was to recruit conscripts on low pay from all over the Philippines for the Commonwealth armed forces. This meant that they new troops spoke many different languages or dialects. And the low pay did not attract men with high levels of schooling. Also most did not speak English or spoke very limited English.They spoke Visayan, Tagalog, Illocano, Bicolano etc etc. This was true both among the troops and among the lower officer levels. The higher officer levels were filled by Americans. And while they spoke English well often they had no local language skills. This made for massive communications problems and a lack of understanding or empathy between the troops and American officers. A more sensible, effective policy would have been to offer good pay to selected volunteers with a higher level of education who knew some English language.

A second major reason was that the Commonwealth Philippines forces were very poorly equipped compared to the Japanese.There was a shortage of rifles and light artillery. And many of the rifles sold to the Philippines were old WW1 ex US army vintage. Modern armaments were promised by the US after July 1941.But most did not arrive before the Japanese invasion. Again the cheap defence had a price.

The third reason for Japanese victory was that the Commonwealth Philippines forces were completely inexperienced.They had not fought in battle before. By contrast the Japanese army had been training and engaged in battles since 1932. They were battle hardened.

The fourth reason was that McArthur had committed the stupid strategic mistake of spreading his troops thinly across the islands of the Philippines, instead of concentrating them on the main target of Japanese attack in Luzon and Manila.

The Retreat To Bataan & Corregidor

Faced with defeat in the plains of northern Luzon and Batangas, MacArthur decided to reverse his strategy. On the 24th of December he abandoned defending Manila and the rest of the Philippines. The US army headquarters & the Commonwealth of the Philippines government lead by President Quezon relocated to the Island fortress of Corregidor the small fortified island at the mouth of Manila Bay. Manila was declared an ‘open city’ that is ‘ an undefended city’. He did this to spare Manila being bombed or attacked by Japanese troops .He ordered all US & Philippine troops to retreat to the Bataan peninsular . However he made this declaration without any consultation with Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commanding the US Navy Asiatic Fleet at Cavite. Although most of the ships had already left this uncoordinated action forced the Navy to destroy all their valuable stockpile of military supplies at Cavite.

In the midst of all this major defence activity on the 28th of December 1941, McArthur is reported to have called from Corregidor & asked the mayor of Manila Jorge Vargas to buy $35,000 worth of shares in Lepanto mining company for him. This single special purchase was done the following day. It made McArthur a millionaire by the end of the war.

This fighting retreat to Bataan took three weeks up to the middle of January 1842. By all accounts it was well done. And for this McArthur was given a lot of credit. One wonders why as it was a consequence of his incompetence.

This did not stop him from seeking ‘awards’ for what he had achieved. James Bowen says of McArthur on Corregidor that he

“spent his first two weeks … pestering President Quezon for rewards for his “distinguished service” to the Philippines… Quezon responded to McArthur’s pressure for rewards by granting him the sum of $500,000 from the impoverished Philippine Treasury on Corregidor. MacArthur’s closest staff officers received smaller sums.”

Some may ask also why Bataan ? Why not defend Manila itself and the surrounding plains ? The problem was that the US & Philippine troops were not equipped to defend the city. And an attempt at defending Manila would have meant a huge number of civilian deaths. So But McArthur reverted to the original US “Orange Plan” which he had abandoned in July 1941.

Karnow says that McArthur also

“knew Bataan’s rugged terrain from his days as a young engineer. It’s five hundred square miles, dangling like an ear lobe from Luzon, are dominated by a spine of jungle clad mountains…..Few regions in the Philippines were better equipped for defensive warfare- on condition that it’s defenders had adequate supplies.” ( Karnow page 292 )

A total of 90,000 troops on Luzon reached the Bataan Peninsula in the fighting retreat. They were immediately all put on half-rations. Adequate military equipment and supplies for a lengthy defence of the peninsula were not there. In July August 1941 McArthur had ordered that huge quantities of military equipment, food, and medical supplies be spread across the nine major islands of the Philippines.

US army ‘Plan Orange’ developed in the early 1030’s with the threat of Japan in mind, required the Bataan Peninsula to be stocked with sufficient food and medical supplies to enable 43,000 troops to withstand a siege for six months. In the three weeks of the retreat only enough food was shipped to Bataan by barge from Manila, for a thirty day siege. By contrast enough supplies were ferried by barge to Corregidor, from Manila to supply 10,000 men for 6 months. What made it worse was that MacArthur issued orders forbidding his army commanders from buying or or seizing food & clothing from warehouses, even those owned by Japanese citizens. MacArthur also enforced a law stopping the movement of rice stockpiles across provincial boundaries. MacArthur also stopped army quartermasters buying rice to ship to the troops at Bataan from a stock of 50 million bushels located at the town of Cabanatuan. Later on specialists looking back at this decision came to the conclusion that 20% of this stockpile of rice would have fed the Bataan troops for a year ( Karnow page 294 )

MacArthur’s successor as commander of US & Philippine forces, General Wainwright said after the war when asked about the Bataan siege “ If we had something in our bellies……things might have been a bit more endurable”

Plan Orange was also predicated on the USA being able to come to the assistance of the Philippines.However in early 1942 this was not possible. The Japanese navy & it’s carrier force dominated the seas & air of the Western Pacific ocean. And at a political level the USA was gave a higher priority to assisting Britain against Germany. Reinforcements and supplies could not be sent and no attempt was made to send them.

The troops ill-equipped and poorly fed fought with great courage lead by General Wainwright. For the first 2 months they held off the Japanese attacks. But gradually they succumbed to malnutrition & diseases like malaria & dengue fever. There were also very inadequate medical supplies for the sick & injured. Psychologically they lost hope.They realised they were expendable. And they expressed this feeling is this verse reported by Rovere & Sclesinger ( page 57)

“We’re the battling bastards of Bataan
No momma, no poppa, No Uncle Sam
No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces,
No rifles, no gums or artillery pieces
And nobody gives a damn”

Rovere & Arthur Sclesinger, page 56, also say this about McArthur :

“Most people when they think of Bataan, think of McArthur.Yet he visited Bataan only once during the months of grim resistance. “ The troops noticed McArthur’s absence from Bataan. They noticed he stayed well fed & safe in the Malinta deep tunnels on Corregidor. The following derisive verse was coined about McArthur in this period by an anonymous GI. It was sung to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic’

“Dugout Doug McArthur lies a shakin’ on the Rock
Safe from all the bombers and from any sudden shock
Dugout Doug is eating of the best food on Bataan
And his troops go starving on…”

Another verse went :

“Dugout Doug not timid, he’s just cautious not afraid
He’s carefully protecting the starts that Franklin made
Four star generals are as rare as good food on Bataan
And his troops go starving on.”

MacArthur was tagged behind his back ‘Dugout Doug’ for the remainder of the war both in Philippines, in Australia, in PNG & Japan.

Meanwhile McArthur was sending communiques back to the USA reporting on the war in the Philippines. These communiques he personally wrote & edited. These communiques made very little mention of the other officers or men fighting in the battle. Richard Connaughton writes in his History of MacArthur in the Philippines:

“In the first three months of the war, McArthur or his staff wrote 142 communiques; 109 of which mentioned one man, McArthur. They carried brave, exciting, heartwarming, gripping though often imaginary accounts as to how McArthur’s guile, leadership, and military genius had continually frustrated the evil intentions of Japan’s armed forces. His picture appeared on the cover of Time at the end of 1941 and, early in the new year, the effect of these press releases upon the American public served to whip them up into a frenzy of fawning adulation of McArthur, American hero.” (page 225 )

They were exercises in self glorification. And as they were published in the US press McArthur became a US national hero.

In late February 1942 President Roosevelt decided to order McArthur to leave Corregidor and the Philippines. He was told to make his way to Australia and take up the role of Commander of US Forces in the South West Pacific. McArthur left Corregidor on a PT boat with his family and aides on the 11th of March. General Wainwright moved to Corregidor & became the commander of US & Philippine troops. Major General Edward King replaced him as commander of troops on Bataan itself.

Although ordered by General Marshall to take only one senior staff officer with him MacArthur took with him a large contingent of 14 of his closest and most trusted staff officers. They included his Chief of Staff, Major General Richard Sutherland who was involved in the stuff on the 8th of December when MacArthur was unavailable to his senior Air force general. . In the opinion of James Bowen these staff officers were notorious for their sycophancy and lack of combat experience. They were known in Australia as the “Bataan Gang”. A week later McArthur was in Australia.

On the 3rd of April 1942 the Japanese renewed their offensive against Bataan with fresh troops supported by heavy artillery, tanks, and air attack. McArthur from Australia ordered a general counter attack. He commanded that under no conditions should they yield. Instead they should seize a Japanese supply dump at Subic bay and then move into the Northern Cordillera and continue the fight as a guerilla war. McArthur also said that reinforcements & supplies were on their way. But it was a lie. Afterwards Brigadier General William E. Brougher, one of the US generals involved in Bataan defence said “A foul trick of deception played on a large group of Americans by a commander-in-chief and his small staff who are now eating steak and eggs in Australia”.  (Bowen )

But by then the Philippine & American troops on the Bataan were unable to offer any effective resistance. Their rations amounted to a 1000 calories a day. They were malnourished & starving. Malaria afflicted almost all the troops and seventy five per cent had dysentery. After 5 days of constant Japanese attacks, King decided to surrender. On the 5th of May Corregidor was also attacked. Wainwright surrendered a day or so later.

In the days & weeks after the surrender the Japanese ordered US & Filipino prisoners of war to walk to Camp O’Donnell about 130 kilometers to the North. This became know as the Death march.In the course of this death march many thousands of prisoners either died from lack of food, dysentery or were wantonly killed due to Japanese brutality.

Bowen says something about the Death March that is absent in all the other sources. More than 60,000 Filipino and 20,000 American prisoners of war were forced into the Bataan Death March to camp O’Donnell.“ That is there were 4 times more Filipinos than Americans fighting the siege of Bataan & the defence of Corregidor. However none of the accounts I have seen name any of the Filipinos who were involved. The only persons named are American.


  • James Bowen 2009 : This source is an interesting one as it reflects the Australian view of MacArthur for decades after he was there in 1942-45. The site was developed by James Bowen with the blessing of the Australian Returned Servicemen’s League ( RSL ) Bowen also has an extensive list of sources he used here.
  • Richard Connaughton History of MacArthur in the Philippines (2001) The Overlook Press.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica :
  • Stanley Karnow : In Our Own Image : America’s Empire in the Philippines, Ballantine Books 1989
  • Richard Halworth Rovere & Arthur Schlesinger Jr.: General MacArthur & President Truman : The Struggle for Control of American Foreign Policy. Transaction Publishers, New Jersey 1992
  • Wikipedia :

Thank you to Bill in Oz for this very interesting article.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 10. February 2016