by Chris Antonette Pugay

“Leave a way of escape to a surrounded enemy…”
                                                                                          -Chun Tzu

       After the successful landing of Mac Arthur and group in Palo, Leyte on October 20, 1944, the American Liberation Force started its campaign moving towards the north.  As early as January 9 of the succeeding year, a successful landing by the American Forces through the aid of Filipino guerillas took place in Lingayen, Pangasinan allowing them to establish a military position in the northern Luzon area.  On the 30th of January, the Pangatian Camp in Cabanatuan was raided by the combined forces of the Luzon Guerilla Army Force (Lapham) and the US 6th Army Ranger Battalion setting free about 500 prisoners of war.  The next day, the US 8th Army together with the ROTC Hunters Guerilla took the Nasugbu shores unopposed.  After the earlier success, the American troops as well as Filipino guerilla fighters looked forward to secure the city of Manila.

The Major Reasons why the Battle for Manila was fought

       Many people nowadays are asking questions such as, “was a battle really inevitable?” or “Could the destruction of Manila be avoided if the city was bypassed by the Americans?” or “Was the destruction of the city a result of the adamant pressure both from American and Japanese high military officials?”  It is really not easy to give answers to the said questions; however, the only thing that is certain in this concern is that both Japanese and Americans have their own respective reasons in defending the city, which, however, resulted to an ultimate tragedy.

       The possible reasons why Mac Arthur ordered for the capture of Manila could be as follows: (1) The Americans wanted to avenge their 1941 to 1943 humiliation by crushing the Japanese force and taking back the city which is the seat of government and capital of the country; (2) Manila’s liberation would symbolize the Americans’ determination to smash the power of Japan in Western Pacific while allowing the Filipinos to be free; (3) Manila was seen by the Americans particularly by Mac Arthur as the key to the Philippines and the “center of gravity” which was eventually proven wrong because the real center of gravity is in the Northern Luzon area where great battles awaited both Japanese and Americans; (4) If Manila fell, the enemy would have no reason to continue to fight; (5) Finally, Mac Arthur would like to capture Manila  to make it a symbol of his promised “return.”

        On the Japanese side, however, the group composed of sailors, marines and navies commanded by Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi opted to stay and defend Manila to the bitter end because he thought of the city as an impregnable fortress due to its superb ports and the city was surrounded by valuable airfields.  Secondly, the Japanese troops left in Manila were eventually encircled by the American troops leaving them no way for escape.  The situation forced them to fight to their deaths and prompted them to use the civilian population of the city as hostages and prey for their brutalities.

Confusion in Command

       Both the Americans and Japanese Forces encountered a problem of perplexity, which resulted from professional rivalry.  Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur planned in advance that Manila should be secured and the internees of Santo Tomas University be freed alive after the American intelligence unit received an intelligence report from Filipino guerilla units that the Japanese were planning to massacre the internees on the 4th of February, 1945.  But apart from this, Mac Arthur also thought that the capture of Manila would be the best event which can symbolize his “return.”  As a proof to this, Mac Arthur has planned his victory parade even before the city was secured.

       When Mac Arthur ordered to Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger of the 6th Army to defend and secure Manila, Krueger was hesitant and he was the one of the army officers who realized that Manila was a false “center of gravity” and therefore, could be bypassed.  Krueger had qualms in following Mac Arthur’s order because he feared that his men would be potentially vulnerable to Japanese counter attacks if they would immediately move from the north to Manila.  Apart from this instance, another American officer in the person of Lt. Gen. Robert Eichelberger of the 8th Army seemed to compete with Krueger when he ordered to the 11th Airborne Division to advance in Manila from the shores of Nasugbu.  He wanted Manila to be defended, but he had his own reason – he wanted the elements of the 8th Army to stand out and he wanted to show his superiority to Krueger.

       Yamashita was executed after the war trial, but it must be also cleared that it is not only him to be blame with regards to the failure of the Japanese troops to declare Manila an “Open City” and vacate the area at once.  Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita came in Manila on September of 1944 to take command of the 14th Area Army, however, he found out that the complex command of authority was too complex and his authority was restricted.  It must be noted that Yamashita never enjoyed full rights of command over the troops involved. Furthermore, it was not the intention of Yamashita to defend manila because doing that would be futile on the grounds that: (1) The city has a million of civilian population and the Japanese cannot provide food for them; (2) There were numerous buildings, houses and stores in the city which were highly flammable; and    (3) Manila is a flat land and it requires tremendous strength to defend it.  Rear Admiral Iwabuchi, on the other hand, believed otherwise.  When Yamashita ordered the troops to withdraw and leave Manila, Iwabuchi ordered his men, particularly the marines and the navies to stay and defend the city.  Some Japanese troops escaped and joined Yamashita’s group and some who opposed Iwabuchi were sentenced to death.  With such scenario, it was assumed by many analysts and historians that there could be an existing odd or perhaps unhealthy competition between the Japanese Army and Navy.  Furthermore, some writers would attribute Iwabuchi’s decision to the fact that he wanted to make up for his losses particularly in Guadalcanal.

       Going back to Yamashita, what he actually wanted was: (1) Force the Americans to fight long drawn-out campaigns that would be costly and time consuming causing them to delay assaults on the Japanese; and (2) He wanted his men to be relocated to Baguio and delay actions in the mountains.  Yamashita’s ultimate blunder was when he failed to declare Manila as an “open city” which made the battle even more horrific.

The Battle for Manila Begins

       The battle for Manila was marked by a race between the 37th Infantry Division headed by Maj. Gen Robert Beightler and the 1st Cavalry Division consisted of three flying divisions headed by Brigadier General William Chase.  On February 3, 1945 the cavalrymen reached Grace Park Caloocan, far earlier than the infantrymen.  The seizure of the Malacanan Palace was not that difficult for the cavalrymen, after which, guided by the guerillas in Manila, one of which was Capt. Manuel Colayco, they were able to reach the gates of the University of Santo Tomas.  Meanwhile, the 11th Airborne in the leadership of Maj. Gen Joe Swing approached from the South.  This unit encountered a fight in Imus, Cavite and in Las Pinas, however, there was an interruption in Paranaque because the bridge was totally wrecked.

       That same day, about 3, 500 UST internees were freed.  Few Japanese soldiers retreated to the Education Building and tried to negotiate with the Americans, however, the leader Lt. Abiko who was known for his cruelty was shot in the stomach and died a slow death.  Two days after, the group of Gen. Hayashi negotiated for their escape in exchange of the hostages inside the Education Building.  The Americans agreed and the Japanese went towards Aviles Street.  Unfortunately, the Japanese troops as well as Gen. Hayashi were unaware of the tactical changes in the city, the area that they headed were strong military position of the Americans, most of them were killed in exchange of fires.  The cavalry moved forward but met a stiff resistance in the area near Far Eastern University.  Thanks to the help of the guerillas, the Americans were able to safely return to UST.

       The 37th Infantry Division  reached the Old Bilibid Prisons on the 4th of February.  The next day, they were able to liberate 800 Allied prisoners of war and 530 civilian internees.  Eventually, these internees were moved to Grace Park in Caloocan.  The next day, Mac Arthur  committed a bluff by making an announcement that Manila was liberated at 6:30 in the morning at that day.  When this came the knowledge of President Roosevelt, he made an announcement that the people of America were rejoicing his success.  On the same day, the Japanese penetrated the New Manila district, where the French Consul during that time was murdered.

     On February 7, the 1st cavalry cleaned out the eastern part of the city while the Japanese reached Paco and massacred the people they encountered.  The succeeding days were marked by growing atrocities on the part of the Japanese troops and continuous take-over by the Americans to Japanese military positions.  On the 12th of February,  the Manila navy Defense Force was totally encircled forcing their leader—Lt. Gen. Iwabuchi to order his soldiers to fight to the bitter end and employ mass killings of civilians.  From February 9 to 13, women and young ladies from Ermita were abducted and brought to Bayview Hotel, Alhambra and Peralta Apartments where they were abused and raped.

       Finally on February 17, the Spanish wall of Intramuros in the east was bombed and it was followed by artillery fires until the 23rd.  Three thousand women and children were eventually freed by the Japanese, unfortunately, only few males were able to survived after the Japanese “zoned” the males and brought them to Intramuros where they were massacred.  The succeeding days were marked by the clearing of Manila City Hall, Finance Building and the Legislature.  In doing so, Americans came from the Northern bank of Pasig in the  vicinity of Central Post Office, San Marcelino Street and Padre Faura.

       On March 3, 1945, all military positions of the enemy were cleared and at last, the battle was over.

“No Way to Escape, Fight to the Bitter End”

      As the tide of the battle continued, the American troops and Filipino guerillas were able to obliterate Japanese strong footholds and military positions.  Eventually, Iwabuchi realized that the Americans already encircled the area and there is no more hope of being reunited with the Kembu and Shobu group. This was the mistake of the Americans as according to the teaching of Chinese philosopher Chun Tzu, “Leave a way of escape to a surrounded enemy…” However, the Americans failed to give way of escape to fanatical Japanese soldiers that forced them to fight to the bitter end and to commit atrocities against the civilian population.

      The initial step of the Japanese marines in launching their campaign of terror was the burning of houses, stores and buildings particularly in the areas of Tondo and Binondo.  They were also ordered by Iwabuchi to massacre the civilians – which were done in the worst manner.  Women, especially the young were dragged to places called joro houses where they were abused and raped.  Some hospitals, religious institutions as well as the Red Cross were not exempted from atrocities, massacre and looting.  The Japanese also murdered even foreigners from neutral countries.  Expatriates from Germany, France and Spain did not escape the bloodthirsty Japanese troops.  All in all, the atrocities committed against the civilians—Filipinos and foreigners– were unbearable and cannot be easily forgiven.


      The catastrophic battle resulted to serious damages.  Approximately 100, 000 civilians died and 50,000 were hurt and wounded.  On the American side, 1,010 soldiers from different units died while 5,565 were wounded giving a total of 6, 575 casualties.  As for the Japanese casualties, it was recorded that about 16,000 soldiers died during the battle.

       In every war, nobody emerges to be the winner.  More than sixty years ago, Manila was liberated, but the pain imprinted on the hearts of the survivors, the relatives and the witnesses to the heartbreaking event will definitely remain.  Forgiveness could have been granted by some, would be granted by few in the near future but definitely forgetting is impossible.  Sometimes, it is really hard to understand why some men could act worse than beasts, but maybe there were reasons…


References:Aluit, Alfonso J.  By Sword and Fire. Makati: Bookmark, 1995

Connoughton, Richard et al. The Battle for Manila.  London: Bloomsbury Publishing,1995.

Escoda, Jose Ma. Bonifacio.  Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila.  Quezon City: Giraffe Books, 2000

Salazar, Generoso et al.  World War II in the Philippines: Manila, Bicolandia, and the Tagalog     Province.  Quezon City: UP Press, 1995.