Archive for April 9th, 2009

The fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 was the end of the one of the most famous battles of the Second World War.  It was immediately followed up by what became known as the Bataan Death March, one of the most infamous forced marches of the Second World War.

U.S. and Filipino soldiers had been steadily retreating in the face of a Japanese offensive that had begun in the Philippines way back in December of 1941.  Japanese troops landed on Luzon and began pushing south.  They had been able to hold off defeat even though they were out-gunned, out-fed, and out-equipped.

But then the Japanese brought in the big guns…literally.  Tired of delay and desperately trying to stick to a “victory” timeline, opposing General Masaharu Homma rolled up big 150mm and 240mm howitzers.  If you don’t like math, a 240mm cannon is essentially a 10″ gun.  Navy cruisers used 10″ guns…they were very large.

A massive bombardment began on April 3rd (which we looked at last week).  The defenders collapsed in the face of withering fire, dwindling supplies of ammunition, and starvation.  Finally, on the 9th, Major-General Edward King called it a day.  Surrender was against the wishes of both MacArthur and Wainwright, but the men were starving, firing guns without bullets, and now diseased.  After meeting with the Japanese commanders, the U.S. soldiers surrendered.

The battle ended, and the nightmare began.  As we have seen before, the Japanese bushido code trained soldiers to despise surrender.  And with 15,000 U.S. and more than 50,000 Filipino troops giving up the fight, there was plenty of disgust and hatred to go around.

Beginning on the 9th, the prisoners were marched north under the most brutal conditions.  Deprived of food and water, many collapsed, and were immediately executed.  Some prisoners would try to help their comrades, and were immediately executed.  Some were outraged and complained of the barbaric behavior, and were immediately executed.

Trucks driven by Japanese soldiers would come by and simply run prisoners over.  Japanese would slit their captives’ throats on a whim.  Those that managed to escape had a terrible tale to tell.  Exact numbers killed are impossible to nail down, but 10,000 is a reasonable guess.

The Pacific War, more than any other theater, was a no-holds-barred, no-quarter-taken-none-given slugfest.  And it was places like Bataan and the subsequent brutality of the March that helped make it so.

Recommended Reading: U.S. Army in World War II – The Fall of the Philippines

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