U.S. forces continue the bitter fight for Bataan

An American soldier stands in his foxhole on Bataan peninsula, the Philippines, waiting to hurl a flaming bottle bomb at a Japanese tank in April 1942.

On the Philippines the desperate fight to halt the Japanese invasion continued. Sidney Stewart was amongst those falling back in the face of overwhelming odds:

[Each] day now the attack was more furious, the battle more desperate, and gradually we were forced back.

We dug in again and again, trying to hold, trying vainly to keep from being forced farther down the tiny peninsula of Bataan. There was nothing wrong with our men. I can say that very proudly. But good God, if only we had had anything adequate to fight with. Our stuff, much of it, wasn’t even as good as the broomsticks and cornstalks that, I remember somebody saying cynically, Americans have to leap to arms with.

My Indian war sixshooter was one sturdy if not shining exception. We had old, pitted World War I Enfield rifles, trench mortars that were twenty-five years old, and a few antique machine guns that must have belonged first to the Confederates. We were desperately in need of everything.

Our hand grenades were old and damp from being buried so many years. You would pull the pin on one and count, and maybe it would never go off .Or maybe it would, too soon, in the vicious way of such things when they get old. We tried to increase our count until many lost an arm from counting too long. There was no way to judge.We had no planes overhead for protection. Day by day, hours on end, through the night and through the awakening of the day, the Japanese bombed incessantly. They flew with the freedom of no attack, for we had nothing. Our planes had long been destroyed. Our anti-aircraft shells were old and their timers worn out. They would arch into the air and fall back, to explode sometimes just above our heads. They killed far more of us than they did of the Japs.

The native troops that were with us were hungry too and even more poorly equipped than we. Some had no shoes, but they were gallant and brave and hopeful. They were proud of fighting side by side with the Americans. They were sure of the victory that would be theirs. We waited each day and strengthened our hearts for the time when help would come from the States.

Unless a man was terribly wounded, he stayed at his post and fought. There was no more gasoline to haul the wounded back behind the lines. The native troops were our salvation, for they showed us how to eat the roots and berries that grew on the hills.

No man gave up. No man thought of surrendering. We had seen the mutilated bodies of our friends when they fell into Japanese hands. We knew the Japanese were not taking prisoners on the line and we felt sure no prisoners would be taken at all. So we held on for our lives, and prayed and waited for the help that was surely coming from the States.

See Sidney Stewart: Give us this day

No help was coming. On the night of the 11th US commander General Douglas MacArthur was evacuated from the islands, taking with him, against orders, his entourage of staff officers. He also took with him a huge cash payoff he had received from the Philippine government. When MacArthur arrived in Australia he made his famous speech “I came out of Bataan and I shall return” – Washington asked him to change this to ‘We shall return’ but he refused.

It was now only a question of time for the troops remaining on the islands.

General MacArthur with Major General Sutherland on the 1st March 1942 - they based themselves in tunnels on the Philippines - earning MacArthur the nickname 'Dugout Dug' amongst some of his troops.

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