Japan Invades the Philippines Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Japan moved to consolidate its control over the Eastern Pacific with the invasion and occupation of the Philippine Islands. The last American defenders held out on the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor, which finally fell by May, 1942.

Summary of Event

Throughout the 1930’s, a series of Japanese expansionist moves on the Asian continent created tension between Japan and the United States. In 1937, full-scale war broke out between Japan and China. The American government opposed Japan’s attempt to dominate China and was uneasy because of the Asian power’s increasingly close alliance with Nazi Germany. From mid-1941, the United States introduced a number of sanctions against Japan, including an oil embargo. Facing a quagmire-like conflict in China and an increasingly serious lack of strategic resources, the Japanese leadership decided to act. [kw]Japan Invades the Philippines (Dec. 10, 1941-May, 1942) [kw]Philippines, Japan Invades the (Dec. 10, 1941-May, 1942) Philippines, Japanese invasion of World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Philippines campaign Philippines, Japanese invasion of World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Philippines campaign [g]Southeast Asia;Dec. 10, 1941-May, 1942: Japan Invades the Philippines[00380] [g]Philippines;Dec. 10, 1941-May, 1942: Japan Invades the Philippines[00380] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Dec. 10, 1941-May, 1942: Japan Invades the Philippines[00380] [c]World War II;Dec. 10, 1941-May, 1942: Japan Invades the Philippines[00380] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Dec. 10, 1941-May, 1942: Japan Invades the Philippines[00380] Homma, Masaharu MacArthur, Douglas [p]MacArthur, Douglas;World War II Wainwright, Jonathan

In July of 1940, the Konoe Fuimimaro Fuimimaro, Konoe cabinet had announced Japan’s Plan for the Establishment of a New Order in East Asia. The plan promised the liberation of Asian countries from Western imperialist domination and eventually the establishment of the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere[Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere] , with Japan at its head. In December, 1941, the Japanese military acted to make this plan a reality. Most historians agree, however, that this concept of “coprosperity” was designed to support Japan. The other countries within the sphere, such as the Philippines, offered the natural resources needed to power the Japanese war machine.

Japan’s initial plan was to strike at the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor in order to secure naval dominance in the Pacific and to capture the Philippines and other American holdings, as well as Dutch-held Indonesia and British colonies including Malaysia, Burma, and Singapore. The strike against Pearl Harbor took place on December 7, 1941.

When war broke out, General Douglas MacArthur, a former U.S. chief of staff (1930-1935), was in charge of the American and Filipino forces in the Philippines. The American forces included the U.S. Army Air Corps Far East Air Force, which consisted of more than one hundred fighter aircraft and thirty-five B-17 bombers. Japanese planners were concerned about this concentration of air power.

Japanese forces began landing in the Philippines on December 8, 1941, and seized most of the island of Luzon by December 24. More than 120,000 Japanese troops were committed during the battle against a force of 150,000 American and Filipino defenders. Amphibious landings were supported by air attacks from fighters and bombers based in Formosa (Taiwan). These air assaults devastated the Far East Air Force, much of which was destroyed on the ground before fighting began in earnest. The invasion force consisted of the Japanese Fourteenth Army under the command of General Masaharu Homma. The American and Filipino forces on Luzon were hard pressed to stem the Japanese assault, and most surrendered quickly to the invaders.

On December 23, as the situation for the defenders began to look increasingly grim, General MacArthur ordered the forces under his command to concentrate defensive efforts on the Bataan Peninsula and the island of Corregidor, two strategic sites around Manila. The withdrawal of significant parts of the American and Filipino forces to these areas was completed by early January, 1942, while the Japanese forces proceeded to occupy Manila. After Manila fell, some prominent Filipinos began to collaborate with the Japanese in setting up a new government, a move that made American resistance seem increasingly untenable.

MacArthur’s strategy was to delay the Japanese forces at Bataan until the U.S. Pacific Fleet could provide support and, eventually, reinforcements. Japanese naval and air superiority coupled with the damage suffered by the U.S. fleet in the Pearl Harbor raid, however, meant that aid could not get through. Facing isolation, the American and Filipino troops continued their tenacious defense.

Throughout mid-January, Japanese forces conducted a series of assaults against the Allied positions. The combined American and Filipino defenders were pushed back and consolidated their positions at what was referred to as the Abucay-Mauban Line Abucay-Mauban Line[Abucay Mauban Line] . Japanese forces switched to a strategy of bombardment combined with night attacks. There were breakthroughs at several points, and the Abucay-Mauban Line was abandoned on January 24.

American prisoners of war carry their disabled comrades on the Bataan Death March in May, 1942.

(National Archives)

From late January until early February, the Japanese launched a series of large-scale offensives supported by amphibious landings on the west coast of the Bataan Peninsula. These attacks were largely unsuccessful, and the Japanese advance was effectively stalled. Despite this fact, support for the American and Filipino defenders looked increasingly unlikely, and MacArthur, along with his family and members of his staff, left Corregidor on March 12 at the behest of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt. MacArthur was later flown to Australia, where he promised the Filipino people and the American troops that he had left behind “I shall return.” General Jonathan Wainwright succeeded MacArthur as commander of the defending forces.

By the end of March, the Japanese forces had received reinforcements and began preparations to capture Bataan and the fortress of Corregidor. The defenders were weakened by poor supplies and sickness, and between April 3 and April 8, the defensive lines on the Bataan Peninsula collapsed after repeated Japanese attacks. The American and Filipino troops in Bataan surrendered on the morning of April 9.

After the fall of Bataan, the American fortifications on the island of Corregidor became literally the last bastion of resistance. The fortress was subjected to concentrated aerial and naval bombardment, and a lack of food and fresh water had become critical. In early May, the Japanese forces began a concentrated shelling of Corregidor, using land-based artillery that had been moved into the Bataan Peninsula.

An amphibious attack on Corregidor commenced on May 5, and the Japanese secured beaches after heavy fighting. Soon after, the Japanese forces succeeded in landing tanks, and the defenders’ resistance crumbled. General Wainwright was concerned for the safety of sick and injured American and Filipino soldiers housed in the tunnel complex that lined Corregidor and decided to surrender on May 6 before the Japanese forces could enter these installations.


Following the surrender of American and Filipino troops in the Bataan Peninsula, survivors were rounded up and forced to march under harsh conditions to a prison camp World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];prisoners of war War crimes;World War II about one hundred miles away. The prisoners were weakened by disease and malnutrition and subject to acts of violence by Japanese soldiers; it is believed that around ten thousand of them died. News of what came to be known as the Bataan Death March Bataan Death March (1942) shocked Americans. It galvanized public opinion against Japan. This and other war crimes carried out against Allied prisoners of war are thought to have been important motivating factors behind the decision to use atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.

The capture of the Philippines after five months of fighting was an important step in the consolidation of Japan’s gains in Asia and the Pacific. Despite this fact, however, the duration of the battle, which dragged on longer than Japanese military planners had expected because of the fierce resistance of the defenders, delayed the movement of Japanese troops into New Guinea and the islands of the South Pacific. It was there that the United States and Allied forces were able to turn the tide against Japan, beginning with air, land, and sea battles in and around the Solomon Islands and culminating with an island-hopping campaign that eventually saw the American forces return to the Philippines in 1944. Philippines, Japanese invasion of World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Philippines campaign

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tarling, Nicholas. A Sudden Rampage: The Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia, 1941-1945. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001. Covers Japan’s conquest of the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia. Includes details of Filipino reactions to the battle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Willmott, H. P. The Second World War in the Far East. London: Cassell, 1999. A general history of the Pacific War. Includes excellent coverage of the fall of the Philippines and the overall Japanese strategy in Southeast Asia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Young, Donald. The Battle of Bataan. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1992. Detailed account of the fighting that took place on the Bataan Peninsula during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.

World War II: Pacific Theater

Bombing of Pearl Harbor

Japan Begins Attacks on Southeast Asia

Battle of the Coral Sea

Battle of Midway

Thai-Burma Railway Is Completed with Forced Labor

Central Pacific Offensive

Battle of the Philippine Sea

Atomic Bombs Destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Categories: History