The Battle of Manila, February 1945, Background (Carl E. Rice WW2 Memoirs addendum)

I’m going to take a break from transcribing directly from my grandfather’s memoirs to give a bit more context and background to the wider military developments which, at the moment we left off, were even then engulfing the city of Manila, its inhabitants, and of course my family.

Below are some maps to help the reader better visualize the location of the Philippines:

550px-phl_orthographic-svg
Global map of the Philippines (in green).

philippines-map-luzon-and-manila

 

manila_city_map
Modern map of Manila, darkened to highlight Santo Tomas, where my grandfather was interned,  and the Malate District, where my family lived.

When the U.S. Army began the campaign to oust the Japanese from Luzon (they had already invaded the islands to the south), they actually managed to embark  from the north, via the Lingayen Gulf along the northwestern coast of Luzon, due north and west of Manila, on January 9th, 1945.

You would expect that the U.S. Army would prefer to deliberately proceed southward to evict the Japanese. However, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur had received intelligence that the American and other Allied prisoners held in places like Manila and at other locations were to be slaughtered if the American army got too close. MacArthur was desperate to rescue as many American lives as he could and sent an advance force south to Manila with all haste to secure Santo Tomas among other known prison camps.

As you saw previously in my grandfather’s memoirs, this was accomplished by February 5th, 1945. Though the Japanese guards were allowed to leave, other Japanese units continued to bombard Santo Tomas for roughly a full week afterward, taking many American soldiers lives as well as, in a sad irony, many newly-freed American internees (again, as has been seen previously in the memoirs).

Perhaps somewhat naively and definitely optimistically, MacArthur declared that Manila had “fallen” on February 4th. He and his staff were said to even be planning a victory parade. Indeed, the general in charge of the Japanese Army, Tomoyuki Yamashita, did not believe he could defend Manila and had ordered his troops to abandon the city and fall back to the foothills to the north.

Had this policy been carried out by the entire Japanese military apparatus in the Philippines, all would have been well as far as Manila was concerned; countless lives would have been spared and the city, known as the Pearl of the Orient for its beauty that combined Spanish, American and native architectural styles from its varied multicultural heritage,  would have been preserved.

Unfortunately, the Japanese Navy, commanded by Rear Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji, was committed to defending Manila at all costs, and in defiance of his colleague Yamashita, was determined to inflict the maximum possible damage on the advancing American forces, and more horrifically, on the defenseless Filipino civilian population, including such atrocities as rape, mutilation, bayoneting, and ultimately slaughter. In the end, it is estimated that 100,000 Filipinos were killed during the month long Battle of Manila (some estimates are as high as 500,000), and not all by Japanese soldiers, but also due to friendly fire from the advancing Americans who were unable to always differentiate the civilians.

By the end of the battle on March 3rd, 1945, the Pearl of the Orient was reduced to a pile of rubble and laid waste in one of the most vicious urban battles of World War 2.

It is against this backdrop that we return to my grandfather’s memoirs…

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