The raid at Cabanatuan was the product of a failed campaign to protect the Philippines from Japanese control in 1941-42, which resulted in the capture of over 550 American and allied POWs. The capture of the Philippines was essential to Japan, who would be able to use it as a resupply point, as well as eliminating the natural barrier that existed between them and China. The raid was organized three years later in an effort to release the POWS and further the mission of the Allies reclaiming the Philippines from Japanese control.
On December 7th 1941, Japanese air forces attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying ships and claiming more than 2,400 lives. This attack is most noted for being one of the single most important events leading to the entrance of the United States into WWII. However, it was also detrimental to American forces in the Pacific southeast, which were unable to receive support from the damaged American harbor. Ten hours following the attacks on Pearl Harbor the Japanese attacked the main island of the Philippines, Luzon. This island and the defense of it were under the command of Major General MacArthur, who assumed command while the Philippines were still under WPO (War Plan Orange). The key point behind WPO was that the most effective way of defending the island was by focusing all of its protective forces around Bataan. This plan wasn’t so much a means of defense as a delaying measure which would allow the U.S. ample time to send reinforcements. When MacArthur assumed control in July of 1941, he was able to convince the commanding Generals and Admirals that the defense of the island would be more successful if they assumed a more active defense of the Philippines. The Japanese focused their preliminary attack on Clark Field and IBA Field, crippling the U.S.’s air forces on the island. Following the attack on the air fields, the Japanese switched their attention onto the Cavite Naval base, causing a retreat to other Philippine islands, and Australia. The attack on the airfields and the subsequent attack on Cavite gave the Japanese free reign of the beaches on the island of Luzon, allowing for them to make preparations for future landings and forces to complete the occupation of the island of Luzon. The main force of the Japanese accusation of Luzon came on December 22nd 1941, with Japanese Lt.Gen. Masaharu Homma. Over 40,000 Japanese troops, to include armor and artillery, began running through the major cities of Luzon as they moved towards the capital of the Philippines, Manila. The following day, General MacArthur ordered a retreat of his forces to the Bataan peninsula, in an attempt to save lives, returning to the original WPO. While the U.S. and other forces were moving to Bataan, the Japanese were able to occupy Manila on December 26th, giving them decisive control of the island. By January 6th, General MacArthur had successfully moved all of his troops to Bataan and his command to the island of Corregidor. The initial attack on Bataan took place on January 9th 1941 when the Japanese began the attack with artillery and continued with a ground assault. The terrain of the Bataan peninsula allowed for the American forces to defend strongly initially with limited defeats and casualties. The American line spanned from the western coast to the eastern coast, which was bolstered by a rocky coast to the south which helped defer amphibious assaults. This terrain advantage allowed for the American forces to defend the peninsula from January 6th until February 8th, which resulted in a tactical retreat of Gen. Homma’s forces until the arrival of reinforcements in March. Extended supply lines began to play a critical role in the American defense effort, which were losing soldiers to starvation and disease as the effort continued. The defense began to weaken, and General MacArthur was force to retreat to Australia for his own safety on March 12th 1942. With the lack of food, medicine, and other equipment, the...
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