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Battle Positions in Bataan - January 8, 1942

Battle Positions in Bataan - January 8, 1942 Famous Historical Events History World History World War II Geography

 

As Japan continued its assault on The Philippines, American forces were ill-equipped.  The U.S. - not a “super power” at the time - was fighting against Japan in the Pacific and sending troops to Europe. 

When decision-makers weighed the supply options in the balance, The Philippines came-up short.

General MacArthur - then stationed in The Philippines - ordered most of his troops to Bataan.  By the 23rd of January, 1942, heavy Japanese attacks had forced American defenders on Bataan to fall back from the main defense-lines.  The invaders were using captured U.S. guns to fire on U.S. troops.

What was it like on Bataan?  Why did MacArthur pick this spot?  Why were the Americans and Filipinos unable to hold it?

For answers to these questions, we turn to one of the officials histories of the war:  The Fall of the Philippines, at Part Four (“The Siege of Bataan”), Chapter XV (“Setting the Stage”):

Formed by the southern heights of the Zambales Mountains, the Bataan peninsula juts out from the mainland of Luzon between Subic and Manila Bay like a huge thumb pointing at the shore of Cavite Province only twelve miles away. Between Bataan and the Cavite shore lie Corregidor and several smaller islands, guarding the entrance to Manila Bay.

Only twenty-five miles long and twenty miles wide across its base, Bataan is ideally suited for defensive warfare. It is jungled and mountainous, cut by numerous streams and deep ravines, and has only two roads adequate for motor vehicles.

Dominating the peninsula are two extinct volcanoes: the 4,222-foot high Mt. Natib in the north and, to the south, the Mariveles Mountains whose highest peak, Mt. Bataan. towers to a height of 4,722 feet.

Along the east coast, on the Manila Bay side, the peninsula is flat and swampy near its base but becomes hilly and rugged to he south. The coastal plain on the west is extremely narrow. Here the mountains extend almost to he sea; high cliffs guard the shore and toothlike promontories jut into the water. Radiating from the two volcanic masses flow many streams which wind their way through steep ravines and gullies toward the bay and the sea.

Bataan is crisscrossed by a large number of trails, quickly overgrown by the tropical vegetation and rarely suitable for vehicular traffic. Across the base of the peninsula is Route 7, lost to the Americans by their withdrawal from Layac. South of Layac, paralleling the east coast down to Mariveles at the tip of the peninsula, then turning north to parallel the west coast as far as Moron, is Route 110.

The east coast portion, called the East Road, is a single-lane, all-weather road; the stretch from Mariveles to Moron on the opposite coast, the West Road, is not as well surfaced.

The only other road of importance is an east-west road from Pilar to Bagac, midway down the peninsula and across the saddle between Mt. Natib and the Mariveles Mountains. This road, called the Pilar-Bagac road and cutting Bataan like a waist belt, was the only vehicular road providing lateral communication for the forces divided by the rugged heights of central Bataan.

No better place than Bataan could have been chosen for a final stand.

There were compensations for the inhospitable countryside. "Taking it all in all," noted Colonel Skerry, the North Luzon Force engineer, "the rugged terrain of the Bataan Peninsula, covered as it was by a thick jungle, concealed the works of the defender even when the enemy had constant air superiority and air observation." 

And after two weeks of withdrawal the men were glad to reach a position that was not to be abandoned the next day. Morale was good...  (The Fall of the Philippines, page 245.)

This map image depicts the Situation on Bataan, 8 January, 1942, detailing the battle positions on that date.  The "morale was good" at this point in the battle for the Philippines.

Click on the image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Sep 25, 2018


Media Credits

Map image from United States Army in World War II - The War in the Pacific - The Fall of the Philippines, by Louis Morton.  See Chapter XV - “Setting the Stage” - at page 246. 

Image online, courtesy ibiblio.org website (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

PD

 

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