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Author Sheds Light on Deadly Battle of Manila

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AUSA
Monday, February 10, 2020

A new book sheds light on the somewhat overshadowed Battle of Manila in the Philippines, a monthlong conflict near the end of World War II that resulted in the destruction of the city and a brutalization of the civilian population by Japanese forces.

“American Gen. Douglas MacArthur, driven from the Philippines at the start of World War II, famously vowed to return. This is the untold story of his homecoming,” author James Scott said of his book Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila.

Scott, speaking Feb. 4 during a Lemnitzer Lecture hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army, said the 29-day battle to retake Manila in February 1945 was “a fight unlike any other in the Pacific war.”

The battle gave American war planners a glimpse into the difficulties involved in retaking Japanese-occupied cities and permanently transformed Manila, once known as the “Pearl of the Orient.”

MacArthur had a special connection to Manila, as he lived there with his wife and son before the war, Scott said. That ended on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and launched their invasion of the Philippines. MacArthur and his family were forced to flee the city.

After escaping the island under the cover of darkness on March 11, 1942, MacArthur vowed, “I shall return.” He kept that promise three years later when American forces landed to challenge the Japanese under Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita and Rear Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi.

As soon as American cavalry troops entered Manila on Feb. 3, 1945, the Japanese initiated their plan to destroy the city. “Incendiary squads swept through districts and began setting fires and dynamiting buildings,” Scott said. “The entire downtown section of the city was a mass of flames rising 200 feet in the air.”

The Japanese booby-trapped houses and intersections throughout the city to slow the American advance to a crawl, Scott said. “As a result, to retake Manila, American forces had to carve up the city,” he said.

The battle was “distinguished by ferocity and destruction,” one report from Sixth Army said.

As American soldiers pressed deeper into the city, they were slowed by the traps set by the Japanese, resulting in heavy casualties. It was “a bloody, urban brawl that forced American soldiers to fight block by block, house by house, and even room by room,” Scott said.

Over the course of the battle, the Americans would fire more than 42,000 artillery and mortar rounds, he said. Between Japanese demolitions and American artillery, Manila was destroyed from the inside out. “It was the best imagination of hell one could get,” one resident wrote in a letter.

The Americans had far more firepower and troops, and by Feb. 9, Japanese commanders realized the battle was lost, Scott said. The fight then devolved into “one of the worst human catastrophes of World War II” as enemy troops shifted to violence, atrocities and “organized mass extermination” against civilians.

The Japanese “tossed babies in the air to skewer on their bayonets. They decapitated hundreds with swords and burned thousands to death alive. The lucky ones received a bullet,” Scott said.

American war crimes investigators determined that by the time the conflict ended on March 3, 1945, an estimated 100,000 civilians had been wantonly slaughtered by the Japanese, he said.

“Amid the sea of destruction [after the battle], MacArthur returned to his home only to find it in ruins,” Scott said.

Iwabuchi committed suicide when he could not escape the city, and Yamashita was put on a war crimes trial when he surrendered. He was hanged after a 32-day trial and months of appeals.

Nearly 50 years later, a statue was erected in Manila by a group of survivors, “dedicated to preserving the story of the civilians’ sacrifices during the city’s liberation,” Scott said.

“The inscription reads, ‘This memorial is dedicated to those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to common graves—or never even knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruin. Let this monument be the gravestone for each and every one.’ ”

To learn more about the book, click here.