A Requiem to the Battling

Bastards of Bataan:

No Mama, No Papa,

No Uncle Sam

By Paul Reuter

"The defeat and capitulation of the Luzon force was largely a medical defeat caused by the general principle of attrition without replenishment."

The statement aptly describes the base cause for the surrender of the Force and the resultant high death rate of the participants. From the outset of the campaign on Bataan Peninsula, the dwindling of food, medical, and ordnance stocks could foretell the eventual result of defeat and capitulation. At the time of entry into Bataan food rations, already reduced significantly from the beginning of hostilities, were further reduced. Continual movement of troops into positions on the Peninsula resulted in inadequate mess facilities and haphazard distribution of field rations to troops actively engaged in restraining further advance of the enemy and those setting up emplacements for use as fall back positions.

The military plan for defense of Luzon leaned heavily on retaining control of the city of manila and entry into Manila Bay. The Bay entry was guarded by the fortress of Corregidor and the fortified Islands to the East of Corregidor. The West flank was secured by occupation of the Bataan Peninsula, which lay between Manila Bay and Subic Bay. This plan called for a retreat from the main part of Luzon into the Bataan Peninsula and thus hold the integrity of the Bay and the city. Since control of the Peninsula was paramount to success, and entry into the Peninsula was limited to water entry across Manila Bay and road access via the land connection to the Peninsula, stockpiling of food, medical supplies, ordnance and quartermaster supplies in appropriate bunkers should have been a routine practice during peacetime. This was not the case! The movement of supplies to the Peninsula did not begin until two weeks after the start of hostilities. By that time troops, and their equipment, and hordes of civilians, and their possessions, competed with trucks moving all categories of supplies onto the Peninsula whose only access was a single country blacktop road. Supplies were sent by water across Manila Bay and these fared better than the land routes even though all movement had to be made at night because of the threat of enemy air power.

Annex number 5 is part of the General Staff material used by Gen. King for his Luzon Force report to Gen. Wainwright. This G-4 document describes the general supply situation for the campaign on Bataan Peninsula. Examination of this report sows the extensive deterioration of subsistence materials available to those actively engaged in holding the peninsula, to safeguard the West flank of Corregidor. It demonstrates how available rations dwindled from half ration at the beginning of the Bataan Peninsula Campaign to the on-eighth rations available at the capitulation. Annex 5 is an addendum to this summary. There are many reasons for the deplorable deficiency in quality and quantity of available rations as follows:

1. Serious delay in moving supplies into Bataan as outlined in Rainbow Plan.

2. Inability of Political and Military leaders to solve disputes with local rice conglomerates prevented the movement of much needed foodstuffs into Bataan.

3. Allowing civilian followers to populated the Bataan Peninsula. This resulted in a hug overload on available rations, because politics dictated that civilians be cared for first. It was strongly rumored, on Bataan, that the Filipino civilians were discarding canned salmon when salmon was unavailable to troops.

4. Lack of cold storage facilities required immediate consumption of animals slaughtered for food.

5. Deplorable hygiene facilities coupled with high number of flies and mosquitoes spread Dysentery, Diarrhea, Malaria, and Dengue throughout the populace.

6. During the dry season, many fresh water sources dried up. Water had to be hauled from Artesian wells or boiled for safety. All streams became polluted with dead animal carcasses.

Disease and malnutrition were rampant at the time of the surrender, April 9. The two field hospitals, near Little Bagiuo, had been filled to overflowing for months. New patients were reporting by many hundreds per day, the majority suffered from Malaria and Dengue, then fatigue, malnutrition, dehydration, and the onset of beriberi. The Bataan Peninsula was well known for the prevalence of the Malaria and Dengue carrying mosquitoes, yet medicines for treatment of, and daily prophylaxis for, these tropical debilitating diseases were inadequate at the outset of the Bataan campaign and their availability diminished at a faster rate than foodstuffs. By the middle of March, Quinine in tablet form disappeared from issue, so Quinine in powdered and liquid form was used for a short period, before disappearing entirely. All echelons of the military were afflicted with these problems. An exercise normally accomplished by one individual required two or three people to finish.

The March out of Bataan was made up of numerous groups ranging in size from a few hundred to more than a thousand. Each marching group had rotating guards accompanying them. These guards groups changed often, probably handed off to a different unit by sector. For the first few days, prisoners were subjected to searches at any time, often more than once per day. The group I marched with totaled about one thousand at the beginning, but varied with passing areas. For instance upon passing Hospital #2, most of the Filipino patients fell in with the column on crutches, canes, and dragging bloody bandages. The conquering troops provided no food or water for the first five days of the march. This occurred on the stop just before San Fernando, Pampanga Province. Water is always a great concern to troops on a march.

Although most of the flat land route had numerous Artesian wells operating, the Japanese guards prevented marchers from using them. The guards, at times, played games on the marchers, when one guard would encourage a prisoner to go for water, he and the other guards would use the prisoners for target practice. On two occasions, when we stopped for the night, we were allowed to use the wells. It was the dry season, the sun was hot and the average temperature was 105 degrees, during the day. Some of the prisoners were without headgear. The road had been trampled for months by feet, vehicular traffic, and tracked vehicles, so that five or six inches of dust was disturbed every time a foot dropped. The dust was suffocating and caked on clothing and skin. The situation called for liquid, but none was available to us. The lack of water was more critical than the lack of food. A person can feed on his flesh, but there is no substituted for water under dehydration conditions.

Many beatings were administered on the march. The shooting of straying prisoners was quite popular. Samurai swords were used to chop and slash on occasion, usually when an officer wanted to make a point in our treatment. The most frequent brutality was using the bayonet on those unable to maintain the pace of the march. When a marcher, unable to continue, dropped to the rear of the column, he was bayoneted and left lying on the road or booted off the road into the ditches. These bodies were left to lie there to decompose. At night, bodies were scraped from the road with tracked vehicles.

Obviously, I am not a fan of the Japanese, but in the interest of ensuring complete historical accuracy, the following conditions must be examined. The United States government, in all their pronouncements concerning the Bataan Death March, has placed full responsibility on the Japanese Army. The terrible treatment the Japanese fostered on the remnants of the Luzon Force should have given cause for the Allies to mete out the severest of punishment on those responsible for these horrible misdeeds. Responsibility, for the physical condition of the troops of the Luzon Force at the time of surrender, belongs to the United States government. It was their responsibility to provide properly to the well being of their troops. The Japanese fully expected their captives to be capable of marching the length of the Bataan Peninsula. A 90-Kilometer slow shuffling march in 7 to 9 days should have been a snap for any military person. Instead, the Luzon Force was in such a deplorable condition at the surrender that marching this route was an unbearable task for all but a few captives. With only one road available to negotiate the length of the Peninsula, and the Japanese months behind schedule, hard pressed to continue the advance against Corregidor, it was necessary to clear the captives from the area of combat as quickly as possible. This, and using the marching prisoners as shields for Artillery fire against Corregidor, led to the hasty movement of captives with little regard to their weakened condition.

The food stores available to the Luzon Force, and its predecessor, was totally without the fresh fruits and vegetables necessary for the body to fend off the maladies of Pellagra and Scurvy. The majority of the deaths at Camp O'Donnell, (more than 1,500 of the 9,300 who reached the camp and remained until 3 June 1942 died at the camp), were caused by "Inanition", a term used to describe the "loss of will to live". This is the same condition observed in captives dying of Pellagra, and especially in the Delirium phase of Pellagra. This places the responsibility of the inability of the United States government to provide a diet suitable of the prevention of these conditions. Additionally, most of the deaths occurring in the first three months following the movement of the Bataan survivors from Camp O'Donnell to Cabanatuan Camps were from Pellagra.

The G-4 and Surgeon of Luzon Report:Annex#5

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The author of this piece is Paul Reuter. A life member of AXPOW. He states the following, "The National Archives and Defense Department Military History writings give scant coverage of the intolerable conditions existing during the battle for control of the Bataan Peninsula. My aim in writing this piece is to ensure that a somewhat limited but true historical accounting of these conditions is documented."

 

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