Project Research

The Battle of Bataan was a long never-ending retreat for the Fil-Am forces. Though superior in number, confusion over the chain of command in the coastal defense and cunning Japanese strategy caused the Allies to be pushed back into the jungle, where diseases and ailments would plague the men. For almost three months, the Japanese pushed forward.

The Allied soldiers were low on supplies and knew that they couldn’t last any longer. Many of them were wounded, ill, or already dying. The Japanese fighting force on the other hand were on the offensive and on the verge of victory. General Edward King chose to surrender so that he could spare his more of his men’s lives. After his discussion with General Masaharu Homma, leader of the Japanese forces in Bataan, the Allied stronghold had finally fallen in the afternoon of April 9, 1942. The surrender at the Battle of Bataan became the biggest surrender in U.S. military history. More than 50,000 Allied soldiers surrendered. Though the call

was very controversial, this surrender lessened the death toll at the time on the Allied forces.

Author of “Ghost Soldiers”, Hampton Sides says General Homma needed a way to transport the Allied prisoners from Bataan to Capas, where they will temporarily stay. He wanted to make sure the prisoners were well treated and respected, but also safe and secure. His solution was to let them march, no more than 10 miles at a time with enough medical treatment for 2000 soldiers at a time. Homma thought this was the best way to get his prisoners to their camps safely and securely, but he miscalculated the amount of POWs, which led to one of the most horrible atrocities during the war.

Though the plan was a humane one, flaws made it fail. First, Homma miscalculated. He only thought that only 40,000 men surrendered, so the supplies that were given were too little. He also thought that the Japanese soldiers marching with them would be treated well, but the soldiers did not do this.

But other historians’ say that it was General Homma’s plan to make the march cruel and knew that Japanese soldiers beat and killed prisoners sometimes for amusement and many times for trying to rest, hydrate themselves or eat without being instructed to.

Also according to author Hampton Sides, the original march plan was to march 80-90 miles to Capas (the length of the march differed for many of the prisoners because some came in at different points of the march and at different times). The prisoners would march 10 miles each day and the Japanese soldiers provide transportation for the weak and wounded. Once at Capas, the prisoners would board a train to Camp O’Donnell

During the march, the prisoners were starved, dehydrated, and sometimes marched to the point of death. A few hours after the start of “The March”, the Japanese soldiers started killing off stragglers. Sometimes, they would kill some of the POWs for fun. They were starved tortured, and left to die, clinging to the hope

that more U.S. soldiers would come to help them. Filipino villagers that tried to help these prisoners were executed with the same amount of prejudice. Some managed to escape, but others tried, and died. A few days later, they would be put into train cars, crammed in with the sickly and dying. Japanese soldiers killed prisoners if they drank water without being instructed to, ate food given to them by locals, or just for their amusement. If a Filipino citizen were to try to give food or water to prisoners, they would be beaten, killed, or tortured for doing so. An unknown amount of Filipino citizens died over the course of the march. The march would take about a week on average. The time and length of the march itself varied in distance because different groups of people were picked along the way. In total, the march was more than 80 mi (128 km) long. The men were then loaded onto freight cars on a train to Camp O’Donnell. The cars were filled to more than their limit and the heat and the pressure of the bodies around the men was enough to kill some on the train. The death toll of the Death March would be more than 21,600, and almost all of the survivors wounded in some way.

During the prisoners stay in Camp O’ Donnell, they are starved and dehydrated once again. If the prisoners tried to escape, they would be executed or beaten almost to the point of death. If a prisoner were to disobey orders or to slack off during work, they would also be beaten or killed. As one prisoner put it, “Hell is only a state of mind, O’Donnell was a place.” To earn more trust from the Filipinos, the many of the Filipino POWs were released as an act of “kindness”. The amount of American and Filipino troops that died at Camp O'Donnell varies from 22,000 to 32,000.

Early June of 1942 Bataan Death March survivors are transferred to a prison in Cabanatuan. There, they join prisoners from the recently surrendered Corregidor. The prisoners are put in groups of ten because this way the Japanese would give them motivation not to escape. If one prisoner attempts to escape, the rest of his “blood brothers” would be killed. Though this did stop the prisoners’ attempts escape, the “blood brothers” concept was only carried out twice and if some men did try to escape, usually only they would punish them. Though a “hospital” was present, the “hospital” became a place for men to wait until they

died, nicknamed by the prisoners the “Zero Ward”. An underground supply smuggling system soon starts up. Guerrillas, spies, and other miscellaneous groups smuggled food, medicine and other supplies into the prison camp. After a while, the underground smuggling system is shut down by Japanese guards. Other than this, the prisoners attempt to make Cabanatuan their home away from home, but even this hope was crushed by their captors. More than a thousand POWs die there.

The strongest and most able prisoners were transferred to ships en route to Japan to work in industries. Many of the prisoners inside the ships died due to American air raids and sickness. The ships were unmarked so Americans thought these ships to be soldier transports and bombed them. Survivors of these so called "hell ships" washed up on the beaches, only to be put on other ships en route to Japan and its other territories.

General MacArthur left the Philippines in 1942. Many POWs held on to his promise that “(he) will return”. He returned in 1945, bringing a massive invasion

force that ended the war in the Philippines. In fear of a mass execution happening again, after the August 1 Kill All Order was carried out in many prison camps, General MacArthur ordered General Krueger to send an elite group of soldiers to rescue the Cabanatuan prison camp. The mostly untested 6th Ranger Battalion was chosen to do this due to their skills in the field of espionage.

During the course of the days before the raid, the Rangers would join two Filipino guerrilla groups led by captains Eduardo Joson and Juan Pajota. Alamo Scouts sent ahead of them would give the Rangers information about the terrain, events, and other miscellaneous tidbits about the prison at Cabanatuan. The Filipino guerrillas also did this, but with one crucial bit of information, if the raid were to go as planned, the whole raid would fail completely.

In January 30, 1945, Henry Mucci and his troops rescue the remaining prisoners from the camp. The Rangers which he had just assisted General MacArthur in retaking many parts of the Philippines, with little effort because many of the enemy troops had retreated deeper into the jungles, preparing to

fight the Americans. The liberation had been planned for an earlier date, but it was canceled due to tactical weaknesses and an increased number of Japanese soldiers. All of the POWs were saved, and the rescue team suffered minor casualties and only two Ranger fatalities.

After the war General Homma and other high ranking Japanese officials were tried. Though some historians say that Homma was unaware of the atrocities committed during the Death March, the Poet General was executed for this reason.

The overall death toll of the death march and prisons that held these POWs alone is over 32,000 Allied soldiers. The prisoners transported to Japan in "hell ships" had a death toll of more than 7,500.

After the war the death toll in the Philippines was an estimated 10 million in both military forces and civilian losses.

Main fighting force on Bataan: American 31st Infantry Regiment, the Philippine Scout 26th Cavalry Regiment and two Philippine Army infantry regiments.

Note: Many of the numbers, statistics, and death tolls of the Battle of Bataan, the Bataan Death March, Camp O’Donnell, and the Cabanatuan prison camp are only estimated and based on survivor accounts, dated records, and other sources that might or might not be completely correct.

Major figures and groups in the Battle of Bataan, Death March, and prison camps:   General Douglas MacArthur (Commander of Allied forces in the Philippines) General Walter Krueger (General of the 6th U.S. Army, sent 6th Ranger Battalion to rescue the POWs of Cabanatuan)  General Edward King (Commander of the forces on Bataan during the surrender of Bataan)   General Masaharu Homma (Commander of the 14th Imperial Army) Colonel Henry Mucci (Commander of the 6th Ranger Battalion and the Cabanatuan raid team)   Captain Robert Prince (Second-in-Command of the 6th Ranger Battalion) The 6th Ranger Battalion (American special forces that conduct the raid on Cabanatuan)  The 31st Infantry Regiment (Main fighting force in Bataan, participated in the Bataan Death March, became the main body of the prisoners in Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan)  The 14th Japanese Imperial Army (The main Japanese fighting forces on Bataan and Corregidor)

The 6th U.S. Army (The American invasion and liberation force in the Philippines)

Captain Eduardo Joson (Filipino guerrilla captain, aided in the Raid at Cabanatuan)

Captain Juan Pajota (Filipino guerrilla captain, aided in the Raid of Cabanatuan and blocked any Japanese forces from coming into the camp)

Captain Robert Lapham (American guerrilla captain, suggested the idea of a raid to rescue the prisoners at Cabanatuan)

Filipino guerrillas (Native resistance fighters who aided the Rangers on their way to Cabanatuan and ensured the raids success)

Claire Phillips (American spy posing as an Italian-Filipino, smuggled many items, including food and medicine among others, into the prison camp before being caught)