*** war and social upheaval: World War II Pacific Theater -- liberation of the Philippines

World War II: Pacific Theater--Liberation of the Philippines (October 1944-June 1945)

Figure 1.--The caption here read "Outside of the 'Church of Christian Endeavor' [this is not what it says over the dorrway--Iglesia Angelica] WAC Sgt. Nellie Ross and her brother, Pvt. Charles Ross, pause to wish Christmas greetings to three young Filipino children before going to services. This the first reunion for Nellie and Charles in over four years." Photographer: T4 Jack Pfieffer. Date: December 25th, 1944 . We are not sure where the phtograpoh was take, We had assumed it was Manila, but at the time it was Leyte that was in Ameican hands. Many Churches of Christian Endeavor were established by American sailors.

The Philippino people suffered greviously under Japanese occupation. This helped fuel an effective Resistance campaigns carried out by guerillas which had achieved control of substantial areas. The Japanese, however, controlled the population centers, especially on Leyte and Luzaon. The Navy preferred targetting Formosa (Taiwan), but MacArthur eventually prevailed with his insistence that America must retun to the Philippines. He considered his vow to return a pledge to the Philippinp people that had to be honored. Some how his vow, "I shall return" seems less approaptiate than "We shall return", but it was pure MacArthur and he convinced President Roosevelt. Reports from resistance fighters and American pilots revealed that the Japanese were not heavily defending large areas of the Islands. The inasion of Mindanao was considered unecessary and the decession was made to strike first further north at Leyte. It was in this engagement that the Kamakazis first appeared, although still in relatively small numbers. MacArthur President Sergio Osmeña waded ashore with the invasion force at Leyte Gulf (October 20, 1944). The American Army forces advanced steadily. The Japanese resisted, but could not match American fire power. The most serious Japanese resistence occurred at sea. The resulting naval engaement following on Battle of the Philippones Sea is commonly referred to as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was the largest sea battle ever fought and resulted in the destruction of the Japanese fleet as an effective fighting force. This opened the way for the land campaign. Further landings occurred at Ormoc (December 7, 1944). Then the fighting moved to Luzon. The Americans finally reach the main island of Luzon with landings at Lingayen Gulf (January 9, 1945). The initial American landings were unopposed. Japanese Imperial Army General Tomoyuki Yamashita had been tasked with the defense of the Philippines.

Japanese Occupation (1941-45)

The Japanese internment of American civilians as well as Allied civilians in other areas is a poorly described subject. Even less well covered is the Japanese treatment of the local population in occupied countries. The Japanese announced they plan to grant independence and set up a puppet regime to work with. Japanese military occupation authorities began setting up a new government. The Japanese promised the Philippions independence. They organized a Council of State made up of selected Philipinos. The Japanese military then directed civil affairs through the Council. As the War increasingkly went against the Japanese, the declared the Philippines independent to gain more domesic support (October 1943). The Japanese-pupprt republic was headed by President José P. Laurel. Much propaganda was made of this. In fact the Japanese retained total control of the Islands and no real political activity was permitted. Plans were layed to exploit Philippino resources to support the war effort. We do not yet have details on the Japanese economic exploitation. This was complicated by 1943 with the increasing diificulties of shipping to Japan as a result of the expanding American submarine campasign and the growing resistance movement. The Japanese puppet regime, however, generated little support among the Filipino people, in part because of the behavior of the Japanese occuption forces. The Filipino people suffered greviously under Japanese occupation. The Japanese press ganged large numbers of Filipinos into slave labor camps. Filipino women were forced to work in brothels operated by the Japanese military. Important members of the Philippines elite worked with the Jaapanese in occupation political institutions. This later became a political isue. Collaborators had various motives. Some though thsat collasboration helped shielkd the Philipino people from Japanese opresion. Here President Quezon himself thought this might be necessary in the circumstances. Others were concerned with protecting family and personal interests. Others were influenced by Jsapsnese propsaganda promoting pan-Asian solidarity. Here it is easy for people not facing draconian Japanese repression to criticize collaborators. Of course there werecdifferent levels of collaboration. Those people who reported on theresistance is a very different matter. Others collaborated to obtain information to pass on to the resistance and the Americans.

Fhilippino Resistance

The brutality of the Japanese occupation helped fuel an effective Resistance campaigns carried out by guerillas which had achieved control of substantial areas. The Japanese, however, controlled the population centers, especially on Leyte and Luzaon. The Americans delivered some supplies to the Fhilipino guerillas by submarine as well as operatives to help coordinate the canpaign. Most Filipinos were steadfastly loyal to the United States. This was in part because even before the Japanese invasion, America was moving toward Filippino independence. More than any thing it was the stark Japanese brutality that drove the Filippino to resist the Japanese.

Battle of the Philippes Sea (June 1944)

After Pearl Harbor, the Pacific War became a carrier conflict. The Japanese vecause of supperior aircraft and trining as well as an effectve torpedo dominated the Pacific for the first 6 moths of the War. This ended at Midway which left the two nsavies evently matched. A seroes of bsattles in an arround the Solomons depleted the carrier forces of the two navies. Both sides devote huge resources in rebuilding their carrier forces. Here the United States with its massive industrial potential oyrproduced the Japanese. A lesser considered topic here is how much better the United States did at training competent air crews. The new carrier forces met for the first time in the Philippenes Sea off the Marianas (June 1944). It was a disater for the Imperial Fleet. Japanese naval air power was destroyed. The collapse of Japanese air power in the battle of the Philippines Sea opened the way for an American strike into the center of the Japanese Empire. The question became where would America strike.

American Strategic Decesion (July 1944)

Ameican strategists after the Battle of the Phillipines Sea diffred on how to proceed in the Pacific. Originally the plan had been to bypass the Philippines and to conduct a B-29 strategic bombing program from air bases in central China. The Japanese Ichi-go (Operation No. 1) offensive overran the Chinese air bases the Americanbs planned to use (April-December 1944). Subsequently, plans were made for the conquest of Taiwan as an additional base for B-29's after a foothold had been gained in the Philippines. The American victory in the Battle of the Philippines Sea and the seizure of the Marianas provided the needed airfields for the B-29s and the strategic bombing campaign. American strategists engaged in an intense debate as to what the next target should be. Admiral Chester Nimitz, US Pacific Commander and Admiral Ernest King, the Chief of Naval Operations, preferred bypassing the Philippines and targetting Formosa (Taiwan). MacArthur fervently believed that that America must retun to the Philippines. He considered his vow to return a pledge to the Philippinp people that had to be honored. Some how his vow, "I shall return." sems less approaptiate than "We shall return", but it was pure MacArthur. President Roosevelt assembled his Pacific Commasnders at Pearl Harbor (July 26-27, 1944). Nimitz and MacArthur layed out their cases. The outcome of this controversy was the President's decision to make the Philippines the next target rather than Taiwan.

Initial Target: Mindanao

MacArthur had targeted the southern-most Philippine island of Mindanao as the first target. Reports from resistance fighters and American pilots, however, revealed that the Japanese were not heavily defending large areas of the Mindanao. It was thus decided to strike at the more important island of Leyte futher north and closer to the major target--Luzon. This sugnificntly shortened the Philippines campign. Masing his forces on Leyte and Luzon was Yamashita's only hope of success against the huge invaion armada being assembled by the americans. But in massing his forces and defending important sites, he exposed his forces to the vastly superior American fire power.

Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 1944)

The most serious Japanese resistence occurred at sea. The resulting naval engaement following on Battle of the Philippones Sea is commonly referred to as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Imperial Navy which had been mauled in the Philippines Sea months earlier felt compeled to resist the American invasion of the Pgilippines. The result was the largest and most complex sea battle ever fought. Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, deployed the still pperful Japanese Navy in three groups. Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita commanded the central force. Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa commanded the northern force. The apanese hoped that Ozawa's fleet of carriers but few planes would draw the poweful elements of the 3rd Fleet away from Leyte so the central and southern force could attack the American landing force at Leyte Gulf. The ruse worked. While Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's 7th Fleet destroyed the southern force, Admiral William Halsey with virtually his entire forece of 64 ships raced to engage Ozawa (October 24). Halsey took all his heavy elements with him and left the San Bernardino Strait unprotected. Kurita who had initially been turned back with heavy losses, raced through the Straits and south toward the invasion beaches where a 175,000 man invasion force and cargo ships were vulnerable. Aight force of destroyers and escort carriers (Taffy 1, 2, 1nd 3) engaged the Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers at great loss and somehow turned Kurita back in one of the most daring engagements in naval history. The outcome of the battle was the virtual destruction of the Japanese fleet as an effective fighting force. The Imperial Navy not only failed in its efforts to halt the American invasion, but was forced to withdraw from Philippine waters (October 25). This meant that the Japanese Army in the Philippines could no longer be supplied. Without the Imperial Navy, the Japanese position in the Philippines was untenable. In addition, the Japanese lost 40 ships sunk (including four carriers, three battleships, and ten cruisers) and 46 damaged as well as 405 planes destroyed.

Kamikaze (October-December 1944)

It was in the Philippines campaign that the Kamakazes first appeared, although still in relatively small numbers. General Kimpai Teraoki commanded Japanese air forces in the Philippines. He rejcted Onishi's plan and refused permission to form Kamaikaze units to oppose the American invasion. He was apauled of the idea of using youth so recklessly. When the Imperal Fleet and conventional air attacks failed to halt the American landings on the Philippines, younger Japanese air commanders demanded more unconventional tactics including Kamakaze suiside attacks. HMAS Australia, the flag ship of the Royal Australian Navy, was the first Allied warship to be struck by a kamikaze pilot (October 21). A Kamikaze hit Australia again and the ship was forced to retire to the New Hebrides for repairs (October 25). On the same day a squafin of five Zeros from the 26th Air Flotila staged an unauthorize Kamikaze attack on the U.S. escort carrier St. Lo. One of the Zeros penrtrayted the fighter cover anf hit the carrier. Fires spread to the ship's bomb magazine which exploded and sank the ship. The results elecrtified the Japanese Navy. Japanese Kamakaze pilots also hit everal other Allied ships, casuing extensive damage. Kamikaze pilots in the Philippines sank 16 American ships. After the defeat of the Imperal Fleet in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and the advance of American forces on Leyte, the Japanese intensified the Kamakaze attacks, but were limited by the dwinling Japanese air craft strength. The kamikazes appeared in substantial numbers at Ormoc (December 1944). After that, the American infantry overran the air bases on on Leyte and Luzon from which Kamikaze attacks could be launched in the Philippines. The Japanese had prepared fortified positions supported with heavy artillery. Ormoc fell (December 10). The initial Japanese successes in the Philippines resulted in an immediate expansion of the program. The increasingly desperate High Command changes its opinion. Teraoki was dismissed and replaced by Onishi.

Leyte (October 1944)

The largest and most important island in the Philippines is Luzon. Leyte was, however, the most vulnerable to naval forces coming from the east. And with the Imperial Navy able to deploy powerful forces, Leyte was the logical first step. U.S. Army rangers began the invasion of Leyte (October 17). As the U.S. Army invasion proceeded inland the soldiers were supported by the planes from Taffy 1, 2, and 3. A 2- day naval bombardment was followed by landings of the 6th Army under General Walter Krueger (October 22). MacArthur and President Sergio Osmeña waded ashore with the main invasion force at Leyte Gulf (October 20??, 1944). The American Army forces advanced steadily. The Japanese resisted, but could not match American fire power. The destriction of the Japaese fleet in the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf opened the way for the land campaign. The Armericans pushed the Japanese 35th Army out of Luzon's central valley and into Leyte's mountain backbone. Bitter fighting ensued as the Americans pushed the Japanese north. Further landings occurred at Ormoc, an important port (December 7, 1944). The kamikazes appeared in substantial numbers at Ormoc. The Japanese had prepared fortified positions supported with heavy artillery. Ormoc fell (December 10). The primary objective of assaulting Leyte from the beginning was was to provide a staging area and airfields for the much larger effort needed to liberate Luzon. It was on Luzon where most of the Japanese combat forces were positioned before the American invasion. Yamasjita had massed his forces there. The completion of major combat operations on Leyte gave the Americans their first foothold in the Philippines. Yamashita's decesion to heavily reinforce Leyte as the battle unfolded, delayed the American victory, but cost him half of his combat force. This left him unable to resist the American landings on Luzon in force.

Mindoro (December 1944)

Mindoro is an island that is often omitted in World War II histories, in part because invasion casualties were limited. The island was located west of Leyte and south of Luzon, the American's prime target. The island symbolized the Japanese problem once they lost control of the sea lanes. Most of their Army was in China. Without control of the sea, shifting forces to the Pacific was difficult. The Japanese did it, but in several cases experienced serious losses to American air and naval patrols. Another serious problem that once an island was garisoned, it had to be supplied. Many of the islands, especially the small islands and even New Guinea, while self-sufficent in food production did not produce a surplus. And when Japanese garison's began seizing food, it adversely affected food production. As a result many Japanese garisons began to starve. The Japanese used their submarines in a futile effort to supply the garisons, severly affecting their offensive punch. With control of the sea, the United States could 'island hop', it could simply leave the Japanese garrisons to wither on the vine. The Japanese could not garrison all the islands. Often here were undefended islands with as much strategic value as a defended island. Mindoro was one of those islands. The Americans began the libertion of the Philippines by invading Leyte (October 1944). The primary purpose was to obtain air fields needed to support the upcoming Luzon landings at Lingayen Gulf. Fom the beginning, Luzon and Manila were the primary American tagets. It soon becme apparent, however, that the airfields planned on Leyte could not be built as quickly as anticipated. And the existing Japanese airfields neded to be improved to meet Air Force needs. Most of the areas on Leyte thiught to be deal for airfield and road development, especially those in the southern Leyte Valley, proved too wet to for the use of heavy equipment and rapid construction. Thus Mindoro became a part of the drive on Luzon. Sites there offered more suitable terraine for airfield construction. And it was closer to Linguyan Gulf making it better for fighter operations. The U.S. Sixth Army under Lieutenant General Walter Krueger was responsible for the Mindoro operation. Krueger assigned Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff and his 24th Infantry Division supported by the 19th Infantry and the separate 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George M. Jones to take the island. These forces invaded (December 13). And because there was such a small Japanese garison, Woodruff deemed the Island secure within 3 days. Yamashita had made such a sustained stand in Leyte that he had used up about half of his conbat strength. He could now not defend Luzon, let alone Mindoro. The only significn Japanese oposition encountered was Kamikaze on Navy ships. Filipino guerrillas who akready cintrolled areas assisted the American landing force. In addition to providing needed air bases, Mindoro also served as the advanced base for U.S. ground forces on Luzon.

Luzon (January 1945)

The Americans finally reach the main island of Luzon with landings at Lingayen Gulf (January 9, 1945). The initial American landings were unopposed. Japanese Imperial Army General Tomoyuki Yamashita had been tasked with the defense of the Philippines. He was one of the Japanese's most effective generals. He devised the plan for defeating Percivel at Singapore and became jnown as tghe Tiger of Malayia. He has been side tracked because of differences with Tojo, but was assigned to defend the Phippines. He realized that he could not stop the Americam landings at Lingayen Gulf and to oppose them would exposed his force to devestating air attacks when they retired into the hills. He conceived of a defense based using the mountaneous teraine in the interior using caves, pillboxes, and artillery to shield his force from American firepower and to cause as high American casualties as possible. The Japanese strategy at this point had become to make the American pursuit of the War so costly that they would not dare invade the Home Islands. MacArthur pushed toward Manila. Yamashita conducted a skillfull defense, but within a month the Americans had crossed Luzon's Central Plain and were approaching Manila. Yamashita at this time evacuated Manila for defenses prepared in the mountains. He left troops in Manila to take a toll on and tie down the advancing Americans. Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi commanded the force of 16,000-19,000 mostly Royal Marines in Manila. I am not sure what his prders were. What ever the orders, cut off by the Americans, the Japanese turned on the defenseless civilian population of Manila. The Japanese targeted and killed an estimated 100,000 Fhilippino civilians in an outporing of mindless violence which has become known as the Rape of Manila. The city had to be taken block by block in vicious hand to hand combat. Iwabuchi and almost his entire force were killed. Manila finally fell March 4). Yamashita with a force of about 50,000-65,000 soldiers resisted in the hills north of Manila. MacArthur declared the Philippines secure (June 30, 1945). Yamashita continued fighting, however, until the the Emperor ended the War (August 15). Yamashita surrendered (September 2).

Mindanao (March 1945)

Mindanao is the most southerly and easterly island in the Philippines and as a result was initially intended to be the site of the first American landings to liberate the Philippines. Forces were asvailable inneighborin New Guiinea adter compldtion of the Allied campaugn there. When intelligence found that Mindanao was lightly defended, it was decided that it was safe to target Leyte, leading to the invasion of Leyte and naval basttle of Leyte Gulf. The battle for Mindanao thus came after Leyte had been largely secured and most of Luzon had been liberated. The campaign was designated Operation Victor. It proved to be the most difficult campaign in the effort to liberate the Islands. Mindanao was the least developed of the major islands with the most primitive infrastructure. This made it difficult for the U.S. Army to deploy its material superiority. In addition, the Japanese had concentrated much of their southern firces forces in Mindanao and had built substantial defences, primarily amomh Davao pon the eastern coast. Mindanao is a largeoddly shaped iskand. The Jpanese were largeky inpbolr, the many peninsulas and appenbdages allowed the Americams to pick off important ares that the Japanese could not easily reeinforce. force. The Anmerucans were highly mobile, conducting a serties of amphibioius invasions. The U.S. Eighth Army commanded by Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger launched the invasion (March 10, 1945). This began the liberation of the southern Philippines, including Panay, Cebu, Negros and Bohol. These operations were not strongly opposed. The only substanbtuial resistabce was on Mindanao. Eichelberger landed the 41st Infantry Duivisin first at Zamboanga in the far west (March 10). Eichelberger for the msaininvzsion, rejected a frontal assault on the Japanese defenses which aticipated an invasion along the eastern coast at Davao. Instead the Americans established a beachhead at Illana Bay in the west which the Japanese had not defended. Then X CVorps landed (April 17). The Americans then drove eastward more than a hundred miles through heavy jungle and mountains to attack the Japanese from the rear. The Japanese were dorced to fight without fixed defenbses. The American objective was to surprise the Japanese forcing to fight without prepared defenses. Yamahita had drawn down forces in the south to defend Leyte and make his stand on Luzon. Mindanao was not strongly defendended, but there was a substantiak force, althoughopnly a fraction of what the Amnwrucans faced on Leyte and Luzon. There were as a result, no pitched battles. The only substantial organized resistance in the south was on Mindanao. Eichelberger pressed the campaign agressively, believing that this would unhinge the Japanese both physically and psychologically. He was comvinced that that success would be detrtmined by beachhead performance and the ability of the invading units to maintain the momentum of their initial attack. This would complicate Japanese reactions. In fact, the weak Japanese forces in the south had little capbility to resist the Americans. Next came a landing in Macajalar Bay by the 40th Infantry Division (May 10) which seized Bugo. They joined uo with X Coros (31st Infantry Diviion (May 23). A smaller lkabfin by inits of the the 31st Infantry Division lnded further north near Butuan (June 23) and drove south. They and the 40th ID at Waloe. The final assault was conducted in the south at Saranggani Bay (July 12). They seized Buayan. The Japanese units not destroyed were plit up and wjthdrew inthe interio The southern Philippondes was a vast area with countless small islands. The major islands in the south were quickly seized with minimal resistnce: Palawan (Febnruary 1945), Cebu (March), Panay (March), Ticao (March) Negros (March and April), and Balabac (Apri l5). The refusal of the Japanese to surrebder, however, meant that after the all too frequent Banzai charges, protracted mopping up operations were necessary. The mopping up was conducted by small American units and Filipino guerrillas which play a key role. Gen. Eichelberger announced the end of organized Japanese resistance. Small Japanese units continued to resit, especilly on Mindanao. Here the impenetrable terrain of the large island's unexplored jungle expanses. Only after the Emperor's sdurrender did 22,000 Japanese soldiers emerged from the jungle. That essentiasly completed the liberastion of the Philippinrs. Some 10,000 Japanese troops were killed on Mindanao. There were aslso 7,000 were wounded. Another 8,000 men succumbed to starvation and disease. Unlike most armies. The Japanese routinely suffered more men killed than wounded. The number who diued fffrom didease and starvation reflects the Jaosbnese Army's policy of deploying forces without anby capobility to supply them. They were expected to live off the land. Early Japanese victories involved seizing the supllies of poor prepared colonial forces.

War Damage

Outside of China, the two countries most desimated by World war II in Asia were Burma and Philippes. This is becauyse it was in these two countries that well-equipped Allied armies fought the Japanese in extended campiagns. Much of the Pacific war was fought on lightly populated and n some case unpopulated islnds. This was not the case in the Philippines. Large areas of the Philippines were devestated by the fighting. The Hapanese retreated into the mountains of northern Luzon and held out there until Japan surendered formally (September 1945). Fortunately this was not a heavily populated area. The greatest devestation ocurred in Manila where Jappsnese Msarine staged a fight to the death. [Aluit] In the process they murdered as many Philipino civilizns as possible. The Philippines by this time had sustained enornos physical damage. Manila in particular was virtually destroyed. There were other Japanese masacres of civilisamns. There is no exact acconting, but historians that 1 million Filipinos were killed. Most were killed by the Japasnese in the final year of the War. The Americam liberation employed massive concentrations of naval and air firepower as well as army artillery. The damage in Msanila was particularly crippling because the city was such a major component of Philipiines social and economic life. It was the country's largest and most developed city. One assessment estimsates that the city was 80 percent destroyed. This included factories schools, hospitals, power plants, and communication facilities. It mean that the capital from which the Philippines recovery would be overseen was virtually wiped off the face of the earth.

General Yamashita

Yamashita was known as the Tiger of Malaya. He was the most competent Japanese Army commander faced by the Allies during the War. His victory in Malays was a master piece of military manuever agaunst a oorly led, but lasrger Britiih force. The 1944-45 Philippines campaign was different. The Americans were ewell led nd had an ovewhealmin superiority in mumbers and firepower. He had no chance of success, but unlike every other Pscific campaign, his command was still in exidtance when theEmperror surrendered. His troops in both Malaya and the Philippines committed terrible war crimes. It is not altogether clear what his personal responsibility was. As far as we know, he did not order them. But then we do not see any evience that he ever punished subordinate commanders for attrocities or war crimes. Or can we see he made any major effort to prevent them. A few troops were punished after POWS were bayintted in Singapore. Gen. MacArthur insisting on trying him for war crimes after the war. The trial was held in the Phippines under MacArthurs's persomal supervision before the larger Japanese War Crimes trials in Tokyo. Yamashita was blamed for Iwabuchi's attrocities in Manila although he was not resonsible. He was found guilty and hanged.


The Philippines was to be a staging area for Operation Olympus, the planned invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. The two A,erican atomic bombs and Soviet invasion of Manchuria ended the War making the invasioin unecessary. There was massive war damahe in the Philippines. Manila in particular was virtually leveled. After the War ended, the United States granted substantial sums to the new Filippino Government. The United States kept its committment and the Philippines became an independent country on July 4, 1946. The Philippines bvecame the first of the new countries that became indepentdent after the War. And the only none of them that became inddependent nlargely because of the war that blaunched the decolonization process. The Japanese had delayed indepedence by 3 years.


Aluit, Alfonso J. By Sword And Fire The Destruction Of Manila In World War II, 3 February - 3 March 1945 (Bookmark Inc, 1994), 468p.


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Created: June 4, 2004
Last updated: 8:51 PM 6/18/2021