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The Siege of Bataan

Siege of Bataan To both sides in the conflict, the four months between the launch of the great Japanese Pacific offensive and the fall of Bataan must have felt like an eternity. For the Americans and Filipinos, the war started badly, with the destruction of the B-17 force at Clark Field on December 8, and only got worse. The main Japanese invasion force quickly shredded MacArthur's army two weeks later. By New Year's Day the Japanese occupied Manila.

The successful retreat into Bataan, called for in War Plan Orange, was a great feat in itself. But by the time the last of the troops had made their way into Bataan on January 6, their fate was already sealed: with approximately 26,000 civilian refugees joining 80,000 troops, there was simply not enough food to go around. Despite fighting courageously against an enemy with superior firepower, MacArthur's forces were pushed steadily back and grew weaker by the day.

Edwin P. Ramsey Edwin Ramsey: There were some supplies in Bataan, but nowhere near enough for our purposes. Neither from the standpoint of food, nor from a standpoint of ammunition. Actually, the time table that was expected by everybody there was that the attack would not come as soon as it did. Therefore, they were not really prepared for it. And, this Bataan was part of the War Plan Orange, which most of the lower level officers, such as myself had never heard of before, because this was something which was very secret and was kept there, for the purposes of a fall back position, if they could not hold the Japanese, when they landed. So there was not enough of anything.

In addition to which, most of the Philippine Army troops, which was the bulk of the army that we had there, were very, very poorly equipped. Many of them had no shoes, many of them had no guns. They were very ill prepared to withstand a major attack. So, the amount of logistic supply that we had in Bataan, was very minimal. When the war began and the attack began, they tried to move as many things as they could from Manila, but by that time, they were short of transport... everything was chaotic. It's easy to criticize a situation like that, but unless you've been in it, you don't realize that, first off, war is disorganized. And the beginning of war is even more so. You don't know what to expect of yourself -- whether or not you're going to be afraid, whether you're going to be able to stand up to it or not. So, there's a great deal in the beginning that is simply chaotic, and as a matter of fact, war is sort of controlled chaos.

Richard M. Gordon Richard Gordon: Well, at that point in time [January, 1942], we'd already been put on half rations and morale was beginning to get a little bit tight by virtue of the fact that food was not what it should have been, as far as we were concerned. And of course, the orders to cut those rations came from General MacArthur's office. And there was a little resentment of that part, but I don't think anyone expected anything terrible to happen as a result of ...rations being cut in half. That came later.

Interviewer: You were in Bataan and on half rations -- what was it like, as the war went on? Were people starving?

Leon Beck Leon Beck: Oh yes, we were losing weight right along, but I don't think we were starving. There [were] towns around there...and you'd get in these towns and barter. We'd trade our clothes to the Filipinos for fruit and bananas, papayas and shrimp, if they had them. And they were crazy for long underwear and we had absolutely no need for them, but when you went overseas, you had to carry your full allotment of clothing with you, they'd check to make sure you took it with you. So, we traded all of our long underwear to them, so in December and January when the nights turned cool and the mornings were cool, why they could use that; that was a good bartering equipment.

Interviewer: What did you eat?

Edwin Ramsey: Well, we ate anything that we could get our hands on. When we got out of Bataan, fortunately we met some Filipino farmers and they killed their last chickens for us, because we were really starved at that time and they had a little rice. So, they gave us a little rice and chickens, and helped us to get enough strength to continue on up the peninsula of Bataan. Later on, and before that, in Bataan, we were eating everything -- monkeys, dogs, cats. But, there weren't any of them left anymore. Carabaos. Anybody who had a carabao, we ate those. We ate the horses of the 26th Cavalry...General Wainwright took away the horses and sent them to the quarter-master to be slaughtered for food, because the troops were starving.

As the Japanese began to attack with greater ferocity in mid-January, MacArthur issued a statement to be read to his troops. "Thousands of troops and hundreds of planes are being dispatched," it read in part. "The exact time of arrival of reinforcements is unknown ...No further retreat is possible ...If we fight we will win; if we retreat we will be destroyed."

Richard Gordon: Well, to the best of my recollection, the unit commander that we had, called us together as a unit and said he had a message to pass onto the troops in the field. And basically the message was from MacArthur to the effect that help was on its way. And we were to hold fast. Planes would be coming, men would be coming and what we needed would be there. Just hold tight. Do not, for one minute, think of giving up any grounds. And at that point in time, we believed him totally -- that help was on its way.

Whether MacArthur really believed this or was deliberately misleading his men we'll never know. Either way, it was not true, and many felt betrayed. Those who blamed MacArthur personally felt it even more deeply when he left for Australia in March.

Richard Gordon: We were told he left, but after he had left. He had left ...somewhere around the 11th of March of 1942. I think I learned about on it on the 12th or 13th, when they made that particular announcement.

Interviewer: And did this affect morale?

Gordon: Yes, it did, it did. Because so many people, including myself, felt like perhaps he's running out. And, it became to many people a very bitter pill to swallow. It wasn't only the enlisted ranks -- that feeling was shared by the commissioned ranks as well. But when we stopped to analyze, we felt that perhaps he was going to get that help that he promised us. So we tried to look at the bright side of it, of his leaving. It didn't come off too well, but we tried to.

Interviewer: When MacArthur left, what was your feeling? Did you feel abandoned? Did you feel as if you were being left there to do the fighting that he wouldn't do?

Leon Beck: No, I never thought that MacArthur left because he was afraid of fighting. I don't think the word fear was in MacArthur's vocabulary. There are two people I've known in my life that I put in that category. That's General MacArthur and [a lieutenant out of the 31st Infantry]. And, I thought possibly that he would get there in time and they could get convoys in through Australia and send relief to us, but it didn't work that way....

The Siege of Bataan
next... Capture and Death March
The Guerrilla War
Prison Camps
The Filipino Veterans Movement