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Philippines, Liberation of the

Philippines, Liberation of the (1944–45).The assault on the island of Leyte on 20 October 1944, toward the end of World War II, marked the beginning of the reconquest of the Philippines. Military and naval chiefs in Washington had not shared Gen. Douglas MacArthur's determination to return to the Philippines, but the logistical realities of the Pacific War gave weight to his demand that the U.S. colony be liberated and that Luzon (rather than Formosa) be seized as a base for further operations against the Japanese home islands. On 8 September 1944, the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized the Leyte invasion, and on 3 October they acknowledged that an attack on Luzon would follow.

Shielded by Adm. William F. Halsey's Third Fleet and Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid's Seventh, Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger's Sixth Army (X and XXIV Corps) of MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area command streamed ashore against light opposition on 20 October. MacArthur and his aides waded ashore, fulfilling his 1942 pledge, “I shall return.” Convinced that the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf (24–25 October) had seriously weakened the Americans, the local Japanese Army commander, Lt. Gen. Suzuki Sosaku, slipped 45,000 reinforcements onto Leyte. The fighting dragged on into early 1945, far longer than MacArthur had expected, and inflicted heavy casualties: 3,504 Americans dead and 11,991 wounded. Perhaps 50,000 Japanese died on Leyte.

Japanese resistance, heavy rains, and unsuitable terrain limited Leyte's development as a major air and supply base and delayed the Luzon landing, originally scheduled for 20 December 1944. Japanese suicide planes had made their first devastating appearance at Leyte Gulf and now struck hard at ships leading the Luzon invasion force, sinking or seriously damaging eighteen vessels. The Sixth Army (now comprised of I and XIV Corps) landing at Lingayen on 9 January 1945, however, went unopposed.

The depletion of Japanese air and naval power in the defense of Leyte convinced Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander of the 14th Area Army in the Philippines, that he could no longer contest American landings. He divided his soldiers into three groups and positioned them in the mountains of northern, eastern, and western Luzon. The Japanese were to make the enemy conquest of Luzon as costly and time‐consuming as possible.

MacArthur had justified the Luzon operation by arguing that the island's central plain, ideal for base sites, and Manila's port facilities could be seized within six weeks. He urged Krueger forward, despite his subordinate's concern that Yamashita might counterattack along the Sixth Army's overextended flanks. A “flying column” of the First Cavalry Division reached Manila's northern suburbs on 3 February, and 37th Division troops entered the city the following day. The 11th Airborne Division had been approaching Manila from the south. By 11 February, American troops encircled the city.

Yamashita had not intended to defend Manila, but the commander of naval forces in the city, Rear Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi, was determined to do so. To limit damage and civilian casualties, MacArthur forbade the use of air strikes against Japanese positions in the old walled city and concrete government buildings, but he acquiesced in the use of artillery. In the month‐long battle to retake the now devastated capital, more than 1,000 Americans died. Few of the 17,000 Japanese defenders survived, and civilian deaths totaled 100,000, victims of Japanese atrocities and American bombardment.

While the U.S. Sixth Army turned its attention to the still substantial enemy forces on Luzon, Lt. Gen. Robert Eichelberger's Eighth Army swept the central and southern islands of Japanese troops. Isolated and poorly equipped, Yamashita's soldiers posed little threat to the buildup of American forces on Luzon in preparation for the planned invasion of Japan, but lengthy and difficult fighting remained to neutralize the 14th Area Army. More than 300,000 Filipino guerrillas assisted the army in this task. They gathered intelligence, ambushed enemy soldiers, and mopped up remnants of the Japanese forces. In all, the liberation of the Philippines cost the U.S. Army 13,884 killed and 48,541 wounded. Japanese military and civilian dead numbered over 250,000, and 114,010 others still remained to surrender at the end of the war on 15 August 1945.
[See also Philippines, U.S. Military Involvement in the; Philippine Sea, Battle of the; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The Pacific.]

Bibliography

M. Hamlin Cannon , Leyte: The Return to the Philippines, 1954.
Robert Ross Smith , Triumph in the Philippines, 1963.
D. Clayton James , The Years of MacArthur, Vol. 2, 1975.
Edward J. Drea , MacArthur's ULTRA: Codebreaking and the War Against Japan, 1942–1945, 1992.
Alfonso J. Aluit , By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, 1994.

Richard B. Meixsel

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