Aerial photograph of ruins of Manila

U.S. Army photograph

Manila (120.981E 14.596N) is the capital and commercial center of the Philippines and boasts perhaps the best natural harbor in the Far East. Port facilities were centered on the mouth of the Pasig River. Rice, copra, and sugar were the principal exports. The University of Sao Tomas is the oldest university in the Philippines, founded in 1611.

Manila was originally a small Moro settlement. It became the Spanish capital in 1571 under Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. It was the base for the “Manila galleons” that carried out the Spanish trade with China. The city expanded greatly under American administration following the Spanish-American War, reaching a population of 623,400 persons.

When war broke out, Manila was headquarters for both Asiatic Fleet and USAFFE. Destroyers John D. Ford and Pope were anchored here, alongn with seaplane tender Childs and most of the Catalinas of Patrol Wing 10, submarine tender Holland, oiler Trinity, and about 40 merchant vessels. These likely included passenger ships Corregidor, George G. Henry, Taiping (4215 G.R.T., 12 knots), Marechal Joffre (6100 G.R.T., 17 knots) and Panamanian freighter Daylight.

Manila was declared an open city on 27 December 1941, during the first Philippines campaign. Under international law, the city was not to be used by American military forces and in turn was not to be attacked by the Japanese. The Japanese continued bombing the city anyway because they rightly suspected that American forces from southern Luzon were still moving through the city. The city fell to the Japanese on 2 January 1942.

Battle of Manila

During the second Luzon campaign, MacArthur instigated an all-out race to Manila on 1 February 1945 when he ordered Verne Mudge, commander of 1 Cavalry Division, to "Get to Manila! Go around the Japs, bounce off the Japs, save your men, but get to Manila!"  MacArthur had previously ordered 11 Airborne Division landed south of Manila, and 37 Divison covered the right flank of 1 Cavalry as it raced south to the city. By 3 February 1 Cavalry Division had reached the Pasig River, and by 5 February 11 Airborne reached Nichols Field on the southern outskirts of the city.

Yamashita, the Army commander in the Philippines, had not planned to defend Manila. He ordered Admiral Iwabuchi, commander of 31 Base Force, to demolish the port facilities before withdrawing from the city. However, Iwabuchi seems to have regarded orders from an officer of the rival service as mere suggestions, and he had been humiliated by the loss of his battleship off Guadalcanal and was apparently burning for revenge. He chose to fight to the death for the city with the 30,000 men under his command.

Iwabuchi's outer defense line followed the Pasig River to the north and was anchored on Nichols Field to the south. The 11 Airborne sound found itself under fire from large naval guns salvaged from wrecked warships in the harbor. Only the massive use of American artillery and of napalm dropped from fighter-bombers allowed the paratroops to advance at high cost in casualties.

Meanwhile, 37 Division attempted to force the Pasig River while 1 Cavalry Division invested the city from the east. MacArthur initially refused to let 37 Division employ its full artillery and air support, fearing the consequences for civilians in the city. As the battle progressed, these restrictions were gradually relaxed in the face of mounting casualties, and massed artillery was used to blast the Japanese out of their strongpoints.

By 15 February the Japanese were being forced back to their inner defense line, a wall 20' high and 40' wide surrounding the the Intramuros, the old Spanish heart of the city. As they retreated, the Japanese unleashed a campaign of rape and murder against the civilian population. The Japanese chose to regard all civilians found in the area as guerrillas, and young women were seized and forced into brothels to give the Japanese soldiers a final sexual experience before their deaths. European men, regardless of nationality, were killed out of hand, including hundreds of refugees in the German Club. One capture Japanese diary noted on 17 February that "In various sectors, we have killed several thousand (including young and old, men and women) and Chinese." Another captured Japanese diary had this entry for 19 December 1944: "Taking advantage of darkness, we went out to kill the natives. It was hard for me to kill them because they seemed to be good people. The frightful cries of the women and children were horrible. I myself killed several persons." (Both diary entries quoted in Gilbert 1989)

The wall was breached on 19 February 1945, and Iwabuchi likely committed ritual suicide on 25 February. The last organized resistance in the city ended on 3 March 1945.

Manila was devastated by the battle, with hardly a building left standing. It is estimated that 100,000 civilians were killed, many of them deliberately murdered by the Japanese. The wooden buildings of the suburbs were systematically torched by the Japanese to slow the American advance, while the concrete buildings in the heart of the city were levelled by American artillery. No Allied city except Warsaw suffered such devastation during the war. Speaking of the Japanese, MacArthur commented that "By this wanton deed, they have set the pattern for their own destruction." The first fire bombing raid on Japan took place a week after the Manila battle ended.

During the battle, Japanese troops on the rampage burned down the Spanish Consulate and killed many of the officials and refugees in it. This led Spain to break diplomatic relations with Japan on 12 April.

Rail connections

Nichols Field

San Rafael

Road connections

Nielson Field

Climate Information:

Elevation 47'

Temperatures: Jan 86/69, Apr 93/73, Jul 88/75, Oct 88/74, record 101/58

Rainfall: Jan 6/0.9, Apr 4/1.3, Jul 24/17.0, Oct 19/7.6 == 82.0" per annum


Connaughton (2001)

Devlin (1979)

Gilbert (1989)

Hastings (2007)

Kehn (2008)

Morison (1959)

Pearce and Smith (1990)

Rottman (2002)

Weinberg (1994)

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