The Philippines is the north-eastern part of the Malayan Archipelago. It is made up of around 7,000 islands and on the outbreak of the Second World War had a population of around 19,000,000 people. Manila, is the capital and chief port and other important cities include Cebu, Davao and Zamboanga. The territory was ceded to the United States in 1898 under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.
During the first half of the 20th century the Philippines became of great strategic importance to the defence of the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt became increasingly concerned about the possibility of the Japanese Army invading the islands and in 1935 sent General Douglas MacArthur to organize the defence of the Philippines. He retired from the army in 1937 but stayed on the island where he became the country's military adviser.
When negotiations with the Japanese government broke down in June 1941, Roosevelt recalled MacArthur to active duty as a major general and was granted $10 million to mobilize the Philippine Army. It was also decided to send MacArthur 100 B-17 Flying Fortress to help defend the Philippines.
Most of MacArthur's troops were deployed to protect the two main islands of Luzon and Mindanao and by October 1941, MacArthur informed General George Marshall that he now had 135,000 troops, 227 assorted fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and this provided a "tremendously strong offensive and defensive force" and claimed that the Philippines was now the "key or base point of the US defence line."
The Japanese Air Force attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the 7th December 1941. The following day they carried out air strikes on the Philippines and destroyed half of MacArthur's air force. MacArthur was much criticized for this as he had been told to move his airforce after the raid on Hawaii the previous day.
The Japanese Army also invaded the Philippines and they soon held the three air bases in northern Luzon. On 22nd December the 14th Army landed at Lingayen Gulf and quickly gained control of Manila from the inexperienced Filipino troops. Although only 57,000 Japanese soldiers were landed on Luzon it had little difficulty capturing the island.
General Douglas MacArthur now ordered a general retreat to the Bataan peninsula. A series of Japanese assaults forced the US defensive lines back and on 22nd February, 1942, MacArthur was ordered to leave Bataan and go to Australia. General Jonathan Wainright remained behind with 11,000 soldiers and managed to hold out until the beginning of May.
Within a few months of leaving MacArthur argued that the US Army should make an attempt to recapture the Philippines. However, Admiral Chester Nimitz, US Pacific Commander and Admiral Ernest King, the Chief of Naval Operations, argued that this should wait until the US forces were guaranteed of victory.
It was not until 1944 that MacArthur was given permission to begin the campaign to recapture the Philippines. The first objective was the capture of Leyte, an island situated between Luzon and Mindanao. After a two day naval bombardment General Walter Krueger and the 6th Army landed on 22nd October, 1944.
The Japanese Navy now made a strenuous effort to save the Philippines. Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, deployed every surviving Japanese warship in two groups under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita and Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa. The strategy was to use Ozawa's smaller fleet to draw the US Navy away from Leyte.
Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita and his fleet now moved in to attack the Allied invasion force. However Vice-Admiral Thomas Kinkaid and the 7th Fleet was still in the area providing cover for the 175,000 members of the US Army landing on Leyte.
The battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval engagement in history. It was a decisive victory for the Allies with the Japanese Navy lost four carriers, three battleships and ten cruisers. It was now clear that the US Navy had control of the Pacific and that further Allied landings in the region were likely to be successful.
After the successful amphibious landings General Douglas MacArthur and General Walter Krueger pushed the Japanese 35th Army out of the central valley onto the mountainous inland backbone of Leyte. After bitter fighting the US forces captured the important port of Ormoc on 10th December. By the time the island was completely secured the US Army had lost 3,500 men. It is estimated that over 55,000 Japanese soldiers were killed during the campaign.
On 9th January 1945 Allied troops landed on Luzon, the largest of the islands in the Philippines. The Japanese Army, under General Tomoyuki Yamashita, fought a vigorous rearguard action but within a month General Douglas MacArthur and his troops had crossed the Central Plain and were approaching Manila. Yamashita and his main army now withdrew to the mountains but left enough troops in Manila to make the capture of the city as difficult as possible. An estimated 16,000 Japanese soldiers were killed before it was taken on 4th March 1945.
General Robert Eichelberger and the US 8th Army landed on Mindanao on 10th March and began advancing through the southern Philippines. This included the capture of Panay, Cebu, Negros and Bohol.
Yamashita and his remaining men continued to fight from isolated mountain positions on Luzon. After hearing that Emperor Hirohito had announced that Japan had surrendered Yamashita and his 50,000 troops stopped fighting on 2nd September 1945.