Seven Facts About The Battle Of Bataan That Every American Should Know!

By JF Murphy

January 2, 2018

Considering that almost 70% of Americans don't know when World War II took place it's highly likely that most people could not tell you much about the Battle of Bataan, which started seventy-six years ago this week. That's too bad, because this epic siege is one that every American should remember.

In December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy unleashed a whirlwind of death and destruction throughout the Pacific, attacking Pearl Harbor, conquering Wake Island, and bombing the Hong Kong into submission.

The Japanese invaded the Philippines and by January 1942 had forced the Americans back into a narrow peninsula near the island chain's capital, Manila.

General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded the Philippines defenses, planed to drag out the Japanese conquest of the Philippines, giving time for the American Navy to relieve the island.

Relief, however, never came, as the Americans adopted a strategy of holding the Japanese in 1942 while gearing up to push the Germans back in Europe.

The troops on Bataan did not know this, however, and the siege was hard fought and lengthy. The Filipinos and Americans battled for over four months, until mid-April 1942, in the hope that an American naval force would relieve them.

The Allied troops developed five defensive lines in the Bataan peninsula, which they defended in turn as the Japanese advanced southward. These lines were scenes of incredible heroism and leadership in the face of overwhelming odds.


Filipino Scouts siting in on Japanese troops. (above).


US Army map of Bataan and Manila Bay. (above).

I. More Filipino Troops Fought At Bataan Than Americans

While only 10,000 Americans were stationed in the Philippines, over 65,000 Filipino troops fought at Bataan. They comprised the vast bulk of the forces facing down Japanese aggression, even though they were led largely by American staff, especially at the most senior levels.

While the Allied forces fought extremely bravely, they were undertrained and equipped with obsolete weapons.  The Japanese, on the other hand, were experienced and had the initiative, especially after the American air force was destroyed on the ground in December.


American and Filipino troops face incoming Japanese fire.

II. Five Medals Of Honor Were Awarded During Bataan

Jose Calugas receiving the Medal Of Honor in 1945. 

There were countless acts of bravery and leadership on Bataan, five of which were recognized with our nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor.

Jose Calugas, a Filipino mess sergeant, ran 1,000 yards though intense Japanese fire to rally the men at an artillery gun that had been knocked out of commission. He got the gun back in action and repelled a Japanese attack.

Calugas survived the War and served in the United States Army until 1957, becoming a United States citizen and retiring to Seattle, Washington.

The two American commanders at Bataan, Douglas MacArthur and Jonathon Wainright received the Medal of Honor, as did two Army lieutenants, Willibald Bianchi and Alexander Nininger. Bianchi's and Nininger's awards were posthumous, while Wainwright received his Medal after almost four years of Japanese captivity.

III. Bataan Led To The Largest Surrender In American Military History…

The combined Filipino-American force of 75,000 men was the largest under American command to surrender to an enemy. The next largest surrender occurred in the American Civil War, when 12,000 Union troops surrendered to a Confederate force led by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.


American and Filipino troops taken into captivity by the Japanese.


American leaders surrendering to the Japanese under a white flag of truce.

IV. …But Not All Of The Filipinos & Americans Surrendered

Filipino rebels attack a Japanese camp in the Philippines.

Some American and Filipino troops fled into the jungle to raise guerrilla units that would plague the Japanese occupation forces for years.

Ramon Magsaysay, a future Filipino President, raised a 10,000 man rebel force, and Wendell Fertig, an American engineer, organized the overall guerrilla activity in the Philippines and communicated with the American forces in Australia.

The men who kept fighting after the fall of Bataan were instrumental to the liberation of the islands in 1944 and 1945.

V. The Fall Of Bataan Led To One Of The Greatest Atrocities In Modern Warfare

The Japanese were unprepared to take custody of such a larger group of destitute men. The allied troops were starving and many were badly wounded. More importantly, the Japanese military culture held prisoners of war in total contempt. Their leadership had taught the rank and file troops that death for their Emperor was preferable to surrender.

Consequently, the Japanese Army treated their American and Filipino captives were incredible cruelty and inhumanity. They forced the Allied troops to march seventy miles without food or water, and they killed any man who fell out of the journey, known forever after as the Bataan Death March.

Nearly 19,000 men were killed by the Japanese during the Death March.


Emaciated Americans carry a wounded comrade during the Bataan Death March.


Artist's rendition of the Bataan Death March. (above).

VI. America Avenged Bataan In 1944

The American Army and Navy returned to the Philippines with a vengeance in 1944, landing on Leyte in October of that year.

After defeating Japanese forces on that Island, the Americans liberated Mindoro and Luzon in turn. Remaining pockets of Japanese troops surrendered in August 1945, after the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan.

Along the way, the United States freed scores of Filipino and American prisoners of war who had been held since the fall of Bataan in incredibly brutal captivity.

Altogether, the United States lost approximately 17,000 men killed and 56,000 men wounded in the liberation of the Philippines, while killing almost 336,000 Japanese.


American troops advance behind Sherman tanks in the Philippine jungle in 1944 (above).

VII. The "Bataan Memorial Death March" Commemorates The Allied Sacrifice Every Year

Interested in honoring those who fell in the early days against Japanese aggression in Bataan and throughout the Philippines?

The Bataan Memorial Death March is a challenging march through the high desert terrain of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

This memorial march is conducted "in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health, and, in many cases, their very lives."

You can learn more at the March's website.


Participants marching in the Bataan Memorial Death March, held every March in New Mexico.