Battle for Manila, (3 February–3 March 1945)


The 1st Cavalry Fighting in the Streets of Manila.


An American soldier in Manila is recuing an injured Filipino girl (February 1945). Defying orders fro General Yamashita, Japanese Marines in Manila went on a barbaric killing spree. MacArthur refused to bomb the city. The Japanese who refused to surrender had to be rooted out building by building. Civilians were not just caught in the crossfire. The Japanese actually sought out civilians to kill. An estimated 100,000 civilians perished, most were killed by the Japanese on purpose. Source: MacArthur Memorial.


Battle for the capital of the Philippines, located on the big island of Luzon. Manila was one of the largest cities of Southeast Asia, with a population of more than 800,000 people. The Japanese commander in the Philippines, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, had 250,000 men on Luzon, a figure that had been grossly underestimated by General Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence chief, Major General Charles A. Willoughby. Beginning on 9 January 1945, General Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army assaulted the western coast in the Lingayen Gulf. The Japanese made no effort to contest the landing, and that first day, 68,000 men went ashore. They then drove southward toward Manila. Major General Oscar W. Griswold’s XIV Corps had the right flank, and Major General Innis P. Swift’s I Corps was on the left. I Corps had the more difficult going.

Beginning on 30 January, units of Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger’s Eighth Army began landing north and south of Manila. Major General Charles P. Hall’s XI Corps landed in the Subic Bay area, helping to seal off the Bataan Peninsula and preventing the Japanese from repeating the American defense of 1942. Meanwhile, on 31 January, two regiments of Major General Joseph M. Swing’s 11th Airborne Division went ashore at Nasugbu, about 45 miles southwest of Manila.

On 3 February, the division’s remaining regiment was air-dropped on Tagaytay Ridge, 30 miles south of the city. The next day, elements of the 11th Airborne Division reached Paranaque, just south of Manila. MacArthur urged a rapid advance. While the 37th Infantry Division of Griswold’s corps pushed toward Manila from the north, the lighter and more mobile 1st Cavalry Division also drove on the city. It had just landed to reinforce Griswold’s corps, and MacArthur ordered the cavalry division to advance as fast as possible. Elements of the 1st Cavalry reached the north-eastern outskirts of Manila on 3 February, the first U.S. unit to do so. As darkness fell, one of its tanks smashed through the gates of Santo Tomas University, releasing 4,000 American prisoners held there.

Rear Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji now defied Yamashita’s orders to withdraw from the city and utilized his 18,000 men, mostly naval personnel, to stage a fanatical, month-long, block-by-block and house-by-house defense of the city. As units of the 1st Cavalry and 37th Divisions closed on Manila, Iwabuchi’s forces withdrew across the Pasig River, destroying its bridges and setting fire to the highly flammable residential areas. For the next several days, American forces battled these flames.

General MacArthur had hoped that Manila would fall without significant damage to the city. On 6 February, he announced in a communiqué that the complete destruction of the Japanese in Manila was “imminent.” To save civilian lives, he ordered that no air strikes be utilized. This order did not pertain to artillery fire, however, and its heavy use by both sides produced many civilian casualties. The doomed Japanese defenders also went on an orgy of murder and rape, killing thousands of innocent Filipinos.

By 22 February, the 37th Division had driven the Japanese defenders into the old walled portion of the city (Intramuros) and the modern business district. In Intramuros, U.S. troops had to fight the Japanese, who were well dug in, one building at a time. Many buildings were simply turned into rubble by the unrestricted support fire, as breaching the buildings with infantry was virtually impossible.

By 26 February 1945, the remaining Japanese resistance was compressed into the three Philippine Commonwealth government buildings off the southeast corner of the walled city. The last organized Japanese resistance was in the Finance Building. Late on 3 March 1945, General Griswold reported that all organized resistance in the Manila area had ended.

The Battle for Manila cost the Americans 1,010 killed and 5,561 wounded. The Japanese lost perhaps 16,000 men in and around the city. In addition, more than 100,000 Filipino civilians were killed in the battle, and perhaps 70 percent of Manila was destroyed. The governmental center was damaged beyond repair, public transportation and electric power were wrecked, and the water and sewer systems required extensive repair. Thirty-nine bridges, including the six major bridges over the Pasig River, were destroyed. Port facilities were so badly damaged that it was mid-April before any ships could unload at Manila Bay.

References James, D. Clayton. The Years of MacArthur. Vol. 2, 1941–1945. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. Smith, Robert Ross. The United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific—Triumph in the Philippines. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *