December, 1941-April, 1942: Battle of Bataan Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Japanese landings on Luzon in late December, 1941, forced General Douglas MacArthur to withdraw to Bataan and Corregidor Island. By January 6, 1942, more than 80,000 Americans and Filipinos had retreated to the jungles and mountains of the rugged peninsula.

Japanese landings on Luzon in late December, 1941, forced General Douglas MacArthur to withdraw to Bataan and Corregidor Island. By January 6, 1942, more than 80,000 Americans and Filipinos had retreated to the jungles and mountains of the rugged peninsula.

Fierce Japanese attacks, amphibious assaults along the west coast, and numerous infiltration operations pushed the defenders back until they established a solid defensive line on January 26. With both armies exhausted, a two-month stalemate developed. Severe shortages of all supplies, especially food and medicine, progressively weakened MacArthur’s men. Even though their effectiveness deteriorated daily, “the battling bastards of Bataan” believed they might be rescued. MacArthur’s departure from the Philippines on March 11 dashed those hopes.

American prisoners carrying their disabled comrades on the “Death March” from Bataan in May, 1942. (National Archives)

The heavily reinforced Japanese, led by General Masaharu Homma, resumed their offensive in early April and steadily drove the sick and starving defenders down the peninsula until April 9, when all troops on Bataan were unconditionally surrendered. Corregidor would hold out for almost a month, but Japan won the Philippines with its victory on Bataan.

The tragedy of Bataan–beyond the death and suffering of those who fought there–was the fate that befell the 75,000 surviving American and Filipino soldiers immediately after surrender. On the Bataan Death March, a grueling, six-day, sixty-mile march to prison camps, thousands of prisoners died.

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