The Bataan peninsula, which forms the western side of Manila Bay, became the site of the outnumbered American and Filipino forces' retreat after Japanese attack in December 1941. Military headquarters were removed to the island of Corregidor. General Douglas MacArthur believed the lushly vegetated Bataan peninsula, 80% of which is mountainous terrain, could provide adequate defensive cover for his troops while they waited for relief to come.
Four months into their resistance, increasingly desperate U.S. and Filipino forces were nearly out of food, medicine, ammunition and other supplies. MacArthur had been evacuated from the Philippines. Disease and hunger were rampant. Reinforcements had not arrived. Under these conditions, surrender was inevitable.
The weak and sick captives — an estimated 72,000 people — were force-marched north into prison camps, where some languished for nearly three years. The stronger POWs were packed into the suffocating holds of cargo ships and sent to work as slave labor in Japanese industries. By the end of the war, a shocking 37% of all POWs in the Pacific theater would be dead.
Today, the Bataan peninsula is the site of oil refineries, a shipyard, and many monuments to the suffering that took place there in the 1940s. A national landmark atop 4,500-foot Mount Samat in the southern part of Bataan honors the men and women who suffered and died there during the war.
See a brief timeline of the American experience during World War II in the Philippines below.
December 8: Eight hours after Pearl Harbor, Japan attacks U.S. air bases in the Philippines.
Early January: The Japanese occupy Manila. U.S. forces retreat south into the Bataan peninsula.
March 11: General MacArthur is ordered to leave the Philippines.
April 9: U.S. surrenders Luzon. Bataan death march: the Japanese march prisoners of war five to nine days north to Camp O'Donnell.
May 6: U.S. surrenders their last stronghold, the island of Corregidor.
early June: American POWs are transferred to Cabanatuan.
October 20: U.S. forces invade Leyte, south of Luzon.
December 14: Nearly 150 American POWs are executed at Palawan camp.
January 9: U.S. forces invade Luzon.
January 30-31: Rescue of POWs from Cabanatuan.