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History, World War II and Japanese Occupation

Huks, Clark Air Base, Pearl Harbor attack, Hapon, Lingayen Gulf

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, marking the beginning of Japan’s involvement in World War II. Just ten hours later, Japanese air forces struck Clark Air Base in the Philippines, destroying the American B-17 bombers stationed there. Japanese ground troops entered Luzon at Lingayen Gulf on December 22 and occupied Manila on January 2, 1942.

Just before the Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt recalled General Douglas MacArthur into active service, making him commander in chief of the Allied forces in the Philippines. MacArthur was a former U.S. chief of staff who was in the Philippines serving as field marshal, at Quezon’s invitation, to help build a commonwealth army.

MacArthur withdrew all his forces, which included many Filipino soldiers, to the island fortress of Corregidor, in Manila Bay, and the nearby Bataan Peninsula. The United States, at the time concentrating its forces in Europe, lacked the fleet that MacArthur hoped for to fight the war in the Philippines. In 1942, when it became clear that the American forces were being completely overwhelmed at Bataan and Corregidor, Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to evacuate Quezon and Osmena and directed him to lead the war against Japan from Australia. The American and Filipino troops who were left behind surrendered at Bataan in April and at Corregidor in May. The Japanese forced their prisoners of war on an infamous Death March across treacherous terrain to a prison camp near Cabunatuan. Thousands of American and Filipino soldiers died of malnutrition, illness, and torture.

While Quezon set up a government-in-exile in the United States, the Japanese secured the collaboration of some officials who had stayed behind. In 1943 Japan recognized a nominally independent Philippine republic with Jose P. Laurel as president.

Although some Filipinos became known as collaborators, others waged guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. Across the archipelago, guerrilla bands organized into a highly effective guerrilla movement aided by the fragmented island geography and inaccessibility of mountain bases. Formed in 1942, the Hukbalahaps, or Huks (short for Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, or People’s Anti-Japanese Party), were one of the most effective guerrilla groups. The Huk forces were primarily the rural poor of central and southern Luzon.

When MacArthur returned to the Philippines in October 1944, it was as commander of a massive invasion force. The ensuing naval battle of Leyte Gulf was one of the largest ever fought. In February 1945 U.S. troops reached Manila, which was devastated in fighting that continued until July. World War II ended with the Japanese surrender to the Allies on September 2. Manila was the second most destroyed city of World War II, after Warsaw, Poland. With the destruction of Manila’s urban infrastructure—universities, hospitals, newspaper printing plants, government offices, factories and port facilities—the Philippines was left without its most modern sector.

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