BATTLE OF MANILA
The bloodiest fighting of the Philippines campaign occurred in the Battle of Manila between February 3rd and March 3rd, 1945. Manila residents suffered horrifically. Street fighting there left the capital in ruins. An estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Filipino civilians, in a city of 1 million, died. Many residents were killed by U.S. shells or slaughtered by Japanese marines "in a bloodbath that rivaled the 1937 rape of Nanking in China."
By the time MacArthur marched into the city a city that had been one of the finest in Asia was a smoldering heap. The historian William Manchester wrote, "The devastation of Manila was one of the great tragedies of World War II. Of Allied cities in those war years, only Warsaw suffered more. Seventy percent of the utilities, 75 percent of the factories, 80 percent of southern residential district and 100 percent of the business district were razed."
Manila was captured by American forces through bloody street to street fighting. Fort Santiago, at the bayside end of Intramuros, gained notoriety in 1945 when Americans staged an eight-day siege. After pounding their way through dirt and concrete barriers two stories high and 40 feet thick, victorious GI's found the bodies of 600 Filipinos and Americans in the dungeons of Fort Santiago.
Corregidor was retaken in February 1945. In an assault lead by America paratroopers dropped from cargo planes, bombers blasted the fortress so heavily that an American soldier remarked, "We had the impression of standing on jelly.” When the 15-day campaign was over 210 American were killed and 790 were wounded (280 of these in landing mishaps). Of the 5,200 Japanese who guarded the fortress only 50 were believed to have survived. There are so many bomb fragments and shrapnel in the soil around Corregidor that one boy scout troop on a camping trip found their compasses to be useless. [Source: William Graves, National Geographic, July 1986]
The 513 prisoners who remained alive in the Bataan Death March Prison were dramatically rescued by the 8th Ranger Battalion, which slipped through the jungles, with the help of Filipino guerrillas, past Japanese encampments to the prison. In a hail of gunfire the Rangers fought their way into the prison and loaded the prisoners onto water buffalo that carried them to safety. The daring rescue is recalled in the book Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides (Doubleday, 2001).
Fighting continued until Japan's formal surrender on September 2, 1945. The Philippines had suffered great loss of life and tremendous physical destruction by the time the war was over. An estimated 1 million Filipinos had been killed, a large proportion during the final months of the war.
Books: 1) Aluit, Alfonso. “By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II.” Makati City: Geba Printing, 1994; 2) Connaughton, Richard, Pimlott, John, and Anderson, Duncan, “The Battle for Manila,” Makati City: Platypus Publishing, Inc., 1995. 3) Lichauco, Marcial P., “Dear Mother Putnam: A Diary of the Second World War in the Philippines, “ Hong Kong: C.B.L. Fung, 1997. 4) Lopez, Salvador P., Elpidio Quirino: “The Judgment of History. Manila: President,” Elpidio Quirino Foundation, 1990. 5) Office of the Inspector General, XIV Corps. “Report of Investigation of Alleged Atrocities by Members of the Japanese Imperial Forces in Manila and other parts of Luzon, Philippine Islands” (9 April 1945), from battleofmanila.org.
Atrocities at the Battle of Manila
In the Rape of Manila. men, women children were slaughtered on the streets and in private homes, churches, hospitals and school by rampaging Japanese occupation troops. One Japanese soldier later told the New York Times: "In the beginning, we could not kill even a man. But we managed to kill him. Then we hesitated to kill a woman. But we managed to kill her, too. Then we could kill children. We came to think as if we were just killing insects."
In the village of Lipa, outside of Manila, over 1,000 people were killed. More than 400 people were thrown down a well. One woman died when her head was smashed by a Japanese soldier while she combed her hair. Describing the massacre of 2,000 people at the village of Calamba, south of Manila in February 1945, one former Japanese soldier told the New York Times, "They took the old men in a truck to the church. They used a rope to strangle them. It was an easier and cheaper way to kill them than with rifles and bullets."
One Filipino woman told the Washington Post she saw Japanese soldiers kill her mother and sister in a hail of bullets. Her two-year-old sister survived, but then a Japanese soldier walked over and tossed the girl in the air and speared her with his bayonet.
F. Sionil Jose wrote in the New York Times: “Manila was liberated in March 1945 and I received permission to visit the city to see relatives. There had been heavy fighting---the city was devastated. It seems as if it were only yesterday that I beheld the ruins and smelled the carrion in Ermita-Malate, where the Japanese massacred thousands. It has been said that Manila, next to Warsaw, was the most devastated city in World War II. I found my relatives; luckily they were unharmed.[Source: F. Sionil Jose, New York Times, August 13, 2010]
“Being in the U.S. Army, I thought I would take part in the coming invasion of Japan---and I relished the thought. But that August, when atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war came to an end. There was much rejoicing all over the Philippines and, even more so, among the GI’s. [Ibid]
Killing of Civilians in the Battle of Manila
According to the Presidential Museum and Library of the Republic of the Philippines: “The massacres committed by Imperial Japanese troops on the civilian population of Manila in February 1945 are among the more horrifying tragedies of World War II in the Pacific theater. Approximately 100,000 civilians in the City of Manila were killed indiscriminately and deliberately. According to the XIV Corps Inspector General’s report on the Manila atrocities, the following war crimes had been committed: 1) Bayoneting, shooting, and bombing of unarmed civilians—men, women, and children—with rifles, pistols, machine guns, and grenades. 2) Herding large numbers of civilians—men, women, and children—into buildings, barring the doors and windows, and setting fire to the structures. 3) Throwing grenades into dugouts, where unarmed civilians were taking cover; burying alive those who were not killed by the grenades. [Source: Republic of the Philippines, Presidential Museum and Library ***]
“4) Assembling men into large groups, tying their hands, and then bayoneting, beheading, or shooting them. 5) Theft from civilians of money, valuables, food, and the looting and burning of their homes. 6) Blindfolding and restraining Chinese and Filipino men, and then beheading them with a sabre on a chopping block. 7) Torturing both military prisoners of war and civilians by beating, kicking their faces, burning, and making them assume contorted positions for long periods of time until they lost consciousness, to make them reveal information. 8) General disregard of the rights of prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. 9) The taking of as many as a hundred girls at a time by force to serve as “comfort women” to Japanese troops. 10) The killing of refugees, doctors, and nurses at the Philippine Red Cross Headquarters, disregarding the rights of the Red Cross under the Geneva Convention.
With little or no reason at all, Japanese soldiers would shoot, bayonet or throw hand grenades at groups of helpless civilians. The streets were further fortified with minefields and pillboxes, leaving many civilians no choice but to stay in their homes. For those who attempted to leave or even cross the streets, the Japanese would mow them down with machine guns. Many of these atrocities were mentioned in the War Crime Trials against the commanders of the Imperial Japanese Forces. ***
President Sergio Osmeña said: “The enemy’s fury knew no bounds against those who defended the cause of our freedom. Being a child, a woman or an old person was no deterrent to the bloody and murderous designs of the barbarians of the Orient. Fortunately, all this has passed and I firmly believe that above these ruins shall finally emerge the Filipino people, free and dynamic, who will work for their prosperity and happiness, in complete peace and fraternity with all nations.” [Source: President Sergio Osmeña, interview with Antonio Perez de Olaguer, published in El Noticiero Universal, Barcelona, Spain on June 22, 1946]
Listed below are documented locations of atrocities committed by the Japanese against Manileño civilians during the Battle of Manila. It does not include sites where indiscriminate Japanese sniping happened and sites of executions by the roaming death squads, both of which took thousands of civilian lives.
Battle of Manila Civilian Casualties in Early February 1945
February 3, 1945: Dy Pac Lumber Yard on on Juan Luna and Morga Streets, Tondo, Manila: 115 civilians according to a body count done by the Americans on February 7, 1945). Military historian Jose Custodio wrote: “Civilians were herded into trucks. They were tied and forced to wait. They were transferred into small groups to the lumber yard where they were bayoneted and shot.” [Source: Republic of the Philippines, Presidential Museum and Library ***]
February 4, 1945: Unknown cigarette factory, Manila: Around 44 civilians from Dee Cho Lumber Company. The Report of the XIV Corp Inspector General’s Office said: “Japanese Soldiers tied fifty civilians. They were bayoneted afterwards. Only 6 survived.”
February 8, 1945: La Concordia College on Calle Herran (now Pedro Gil), Pac: Approximately 2,000 refugees, casualties unclear. Alfonso Aluit said: “At 2: 30 in the afternoon, La Concordia came under fire from the Japanese artillery based at the Paco Parish Church. In the evening, the roof of La Concordia college main building was blown off. Hundreds lay dead as they were hit by shrapnels or falling debris. Those who tried to flee the premises were shot by the Japanese patrols.” [Source: Alfonso Aluit, from the book By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II]
About February 9, 1945: Unknown garage at the Paco District: Around 250 civilians (according to the XIV Corps report). The report said: “Three hundred Filipinos who took refuge in an open garage were tied by Japanese soldiers and were shot. About fifty of this group survived.” [Source: Report of the XIV Corp Inspector General’s Office]
Early February, 1945: Taft Avenue: Unknown number of civilians. Roderick Hall wrote in his memoir Manila Memories: “More than one hundred people executed at the Masonic Temple.”
Atrocities at Fort Santiago on February 6, 1945
February 6, 1945: Fort Santiago in Intramuros: Approximately 600 men (according to NHCP Historical Map); 3,000 men according to some survivor accounts. Massacre survivor Dr. Antonio Gisbert said: “We were surrounded and drenched with gasoline. A few survived and escaped. I am one of those few survivors, not more than 50 in all out of more than 3,000 men herded into Fort Santiago and, two days later, massacred. They were bombarded by a cannon placed at a distance of a hundred meters from their prison building. The Japanese had been clearing the decks of potential opponents during what seemed to be the inevitable battle for the Walled City.” [Source: Dr. Antonio Gisbert, as quoted by Connaughton’s book “The Battle for Manila”, Republic of the Philippines, Presidential Museum and Library ***]
Antonio Perez de Olaguer wrote: “When the American forces surveyed Fort Santiago on February 23 and 24, 1945, they found four hundred corpses who appeared to have died through bayonet wounds, gunshots, and hunger. They also found a stack of fifty dead bodies, their hands tied to their backs. They further discovered more horrifying images in every cell. For instance, they saw three putrefied bodies. In another one, 58 tubercular patients’ cadavers were piled together. Survivor’s account narrated that these patients were fed with insects and human urine. Fort Santiago serves as a reminder of more than fifteen thousand heroes and civilians who were entrapped in the walled city as a result of Japanese ignominy.” [Source: Antonio Perez de Olaguer, “El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas”]
Manila Atrocities on February 9, 1945
Colorado Street (now Agoncillo Street), Ermita: Salvador Lopez, President Elpidio Quirino’s biographer, wrote: “It was February 1945…. Quirino had gathered his wife and children about him on that fateful day of 9th February 1945 in the family residence on Colorado Street, Ermita, to plan their escape from the area. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. The Japanese had transformed the neighborhood into a holocaust of fire and death. A barrage of shells hit the roof of the Quirino residence. As the house burned, Elpidio decided to escape with his family to the home of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Concepcion Jimenez Syquia, on the same street. [Source: Salvador Lopez, President Elpidio Quirino’s biographer ~~]
“In a desperate attempt to get out of the hell-hole, Elpidio ordered his son, Tomas, to lead the group. Doña Alicia cuddled her two daughters, infant Fe and Norma. Another son, Armando, carried the family valuables, including jewelry. All the members of the family then dashed towards the Syquia residence. Tomas and Victoria led the group. Half-way across the street, four Japanese marines, camouflaged with leaves, machine-gunned them. Looking back, Tomas saw the bodies of his mother and two sisters lifeless on the ground. Mrs. Quirino died hugging Fe, while Norma lay dead beside her. Armando tried to retrieve their dead bodies but was stopped by the machine-gun fire...Elpidio’s failure to join his family that night caused him much anguish. The following day he was told of Armando’s death. A bullet had hit the boy’s temple. Tomas, wounded in the thigh, suffered from shock. Quirino himself narrowly escaped from a Japanese bayonet thrust and machine-gun fire. Only he, son Tomas and daughter Victoria survived the massacre.” ~~
St. Paul College Chapel, Calle Herran (now Pedro Gil Street): Approximately 250 civilians in the chapel; 600 civilians in the entire school. Alfonso Aluit wrote: “At around 5 o’clock, family groups composed of at least 1,000 people were brought to a large hall in St. Paul’s college. Meanwhile, the Japanese were passing around rice and wine and candies to the refugees. Rosario Fernandez, one of the refugees, was in the back of the crowd when she heard a loud explosion followed by terrified screams. Witnesses noted that the chandelier over the middle of the hall was wrapped in in black cloth and was tied with a rope. When the crowd had gathered in the middle to partake the cases of rice wine and candies, someone tugged on the rope and the chandelier fell to the floor. Several were crushed and wounded in the explosions. Others stampeded to the exit as the hall burst into flames.” [Source: Alfonso Aluit, from the book “By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II”]
Calle San Marcelino (now San Marcelino Street near St. Vincent de Paul Church): 6 priests, an acolyte and unknown number of Chinese residents. Rolando de la Goza and Jesus Ma. Cevenna wrote: “The Japanese broke in at the establishment and tied the residents to prevent them from escaping. The victims were led near the bank of Estero de Balete and were machine gunned and bayoneted.” [Source:Rolando de la Goza and Jesus Ma. Cevenna, from the book “Vincentians in the Philippines”.
Manila Casualties on February 10, 1945
Asilo de Looban, Paco, Manila: Less than 10 civilians: One witness reported: “About seven thirty in the morning, a shell fell over the children’s dining hall of the asylum. It killed and wounded many. Shortly afterwards, a sound of gunfire was heard all over the hall. The chapel and the rest of the offices were filled with thick smoke and the roof was in flames.” [Source: Republic of the Philippines, Presidential Museum and Library ***
German Club on San Luis Street (now T.M. Kalaw Avenue near San Marcelino St.): Approximately 100 civilians; in the vicinity of the club, 1,500 civilians. Alfonso Aluit wrote: “‘Early morning, the German Club caught fire and the refugees in the dugouts were choking from thick smoke. Mr. Ohauss, the manager of the German Club, was seen pleading the Japanese in behalf of the refugees. A group of women with babies were also seen kneeling before the Japanese to let them go. But they were repulsed. The children were bayoneted, babies were thrown away, and women were abused by the Japanese. Anyone who would run away was shot.” [Source:Alfonso Aluit, from the book By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II]
Don Pedro and Concepcion Campos Residence on 1462 Taft Avenue: The Campos family and at least 120 refugees: Aluit wrote: “At 8 o’clock in the morning, a band of Japanese knock at the door. Mrs. Campos and her daughter Pilar opened the door and were immediately shot down. The 120 refugees were then called out to go to the garden. As the people walked out of the house, the Japanese started firing at them. Mrs. Maria Campos – Lopez, Mrs. Concepcion’s sister-in-law, was cooking breakfast then when she saw a Japanese soldier splashing alcohol all over the room, on the pieces of furniture and on the drapes. Without a word, he lit the room on fire. The people in the house dashed for the exits but were greeted with machine gun fire outside. Mrs. Lopez ran to the adjoining property and survived. Later, she was joined by Pilar Campos who was seriously wounded.” [Source: Alfonso Aluit, from the book By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II]
Price Residence on Colorado corner California Streets (now Agoncillo and Escoda Streets respectively): Approximately 100 civilians: According to U.S. Brig. Gen. Courtney Whitney: “Massacring and killing without cause or trial of over one hundred men, women, and children, all unarmed non-combatant civilians, wounding and attempting to kill thirteen others, and wrongfully destroying and burning of home of the Dr. Price House, Ermita, Manila.” [Source: U.S. Brig. Gen. Courtney Whitney, from The Case of General Yamashita: A Memorandum]
Philippine Red Cross on General Luna and Isaac Peral Streets (now General Luna Street and U.N. Avenue, respectively): 65 civilians; including doctors, nurses, and German Jews. According to the Report of the XIV Corp: “A squad of Japanese entered the Philippine Red Cross building and began to shoot and bayonet everybody they found in the building. The Japanese soldier fired two shots at Mr. M. Farolan as he hid under his desk, but the bullets passed between his feet. The soldier then shot a young mother with her ten-day baby and the baby’s grandmother, Mrs. Juan P. Juan.” [Source: Report of the XIV Corp Inspector General’s Office]
Manila Casualties on February 11 and 12, 1945
February 11, 1945: Tabacalera Building om Isaac Peral (now U.N. Avenue), Manila: 50 civilians. U.S. Brig. Gen. Courtney Whitney wrote: “Killing without cause or trial forty-three unarmed non-combatant civilians, and attempting to kill twelve others, at the Tabacalera Cigar and Cigarette Factory and The Shell Service Station, Ermita, Manila” [Source: U.S. Brig. Gen. Courtney Whitney, from “The Case of General Yamashita: A Memorandum”]
February 12, 1945: Carlos Perez Rubio Residence on 150 Vito Cruz Street (now Pablo Ocampo Street): approximately 26 people. Eyewitness Florencio Homol wrote: “At 10 o’clock in the morning, the Japanese entered the Perez- Rubio residence. They ordered Jose Balboa, Don Carlo’s gatekeeper, to the main house. With eight others, they were machine- gunned by the Japanese. Balboa fell to the ground but was not hit. He forced himself out the window and fell to the ground. A Japanese saw him and slashed him with a bayonet. He was hit but he was able to flee. Florencio Homol, Don Carlo’s sister’s houseboy, was asked to join 40 others in the Perez- Rubio’s garden. The Japanese lined them up and divested them of watches, rings, and other valuables. Afterwards, they asked everyone to gather furniture, rug, and drapes into the hall. They doused the pile with gasoline and set it on fire. Everyone rushed to the exit but were met with machine guns. Homol was able to dashed away to safety.” [Source: Eyewitness account by Florencio Homol written by Alfonso Aluit, from the book By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II
February 12, 1945: De La Salle College on Taft Avenue: 41 civilians comprised of former students, residents and 16 Christian Brothers. Alfonso Aluit wrote: “Shortly after lunch, a band of Japanese inspected De La Salle College for they suspected that the premise was a sniper’s nest. When they found nothing that interest then, they grabbed Mateo, Anselmo Sudlan and Panfilo Almodan outside of the building. Shortly after, they returned inside and pushed the two refugees into the hall. They were seriously wounded. Afterwards, a large band of 20 Japanese stormed through the gate. The Japanese commander yelled and a rifle shot reverberated across the hall. Victoria Cojuangco dashed from the cellar upon hearing his son’s warning. He was toting his adopted son, Ricardo, but they were still met with bayonets outside the cellar door. Mrs. Cojuangco was mortally stricken but survived. Her son Ricardo died.” [Source: Alfonso Aluit, from the book By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II <*> ]
“In another room, Servillano Aquino and his wife were visiting Antonio Cojuangco Jr. who was recovering from illness. Dr. Antonio Cojuangco was also in the room. When they heard the screaming and gunshots outside the room, they locked themselves in. Shortly after, the Japanese were banging the door and they didn’t have a choice but to open it. The Japanese started with stabbing the nurse, Filomeno Inolin. Dr. Cojuangco dashed to the chapel but a Japanese sprang after him. Aquino lunged at one Japanese to get hold of his rifle. But the Japanese was quicker, and he was stabbed many times with a bayonet until he passed out.” <*>
Manila Casualties in Mid February 1945
February 14, 1945: Ateneo College, composed of Manila Observatory, Auditorium, Gymnasium, Laboratories, Industrial Engineering, and Library on Calle Padre Faura (now Padre Faura Street): 100 refugees, composed of men, women, and children. Antonio Perez de Olaguer wrote: “Incendiary bombs were launched by the Japanese to set fire to the tower of the school. The fire in the building created panic to the refugees, which resulted to at least 100 deaths of men and women. The children were crushed by the stampeding crowd. In addition to the fire, the Japanese were also hurling bombs into the building.” [Source: Antonio Perez de Olaguer, El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas]
February 18, 1945: Moreta House on Isaac Peral Street (now U.N. Avenue): around 40 civilians. According to the Report of the XIV Corp Inspector General’s Office: “Japanese soldiers separated the men and women. The women were raped and those who resisted were either bayoneted or shot. The Japanese soldiers threw grenades to the men, killing them and burning the Moreta residence.” [Source: Report of the XIV Corp Inspector General’s Office]
February 19, 1945: Palacio del Gobernador at Palacio Real: 142 civilians, comprised of Filipino and Spanish residents. Alfonso Aluit wrote: “The Japanese constructed two spacious caves, fortified with concrete and massive wooden posts. At least 125 persons were herded to the caves, including Spanish civilians. At least 17 hostages were led to the second cave. A Japanese soldier handed one of them, Laurentino de Pablos, a jute sack tightly sewn up from which wires ran out. De Pablos and Emilio Canceller, another hostage, cut the wires when the Japanese soldier demanded it back. Furious, the Japanese started hurling grenades through the caves’ ventilation holes. From the outside, the Japanese sealed the opening, thus, suffocating those who survived the grenades.” [Source: Alfonso Aluit, from the book By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II]
February 19, 1945: Front of Manila Cathedral, Intramuros: Around 125 civilians, including about 37 priests. Military historian Jose Custodio wrote: “As they reached the front of the cathedral, they were forced inside a large structure constructed of stout timbers. The Japanese then lobbed hand grenades in through the air holes. “ [Source: Jose Custodio, military historian]
February 21, 1945: ROTC Armory at University of Manila: Patients from San Juan de Dios Hospital and Quezon Institute. Aluit wrote: “This evening, another band of Japanese came upon the tuberculosis patients. By the light of a torch one of them held high, the Japanese bayoneted the survivors one-by-one.” [Source: Alfonso Aluit, “By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II”]
Image Sources: National Archives of the United States; Wikimedia Commons; Gensuikan;
Text Sources: National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun, The New Yorker, Lonely Planet Guides, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, Eyewitness to History , edited by John Carey ( Avon Books, 1987), Compton’s Encyclopedia, History of Warfare by John Keegan, Vintage Books, Eyewitness to History.com, The Good War An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel, Hamish Hamilton, 1985, BBC’s People’s War website and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated November 2016