Japanese spirits remain high as the Battle of Manila begins

The 1st Cavalry fighting in the streets of Manila.
The 1st Cavalry fighting in the streets of Manila.

The US invasion to retake Luzon in the Philippines had gone relatively well so far. On the 3rd February US forces reached Manila and a terrible bloodbath began to unfold – as the Japanese chose to make this their last stand and fight to the death. It was to become the largest urban battle of the Pacific theatre. First the US forces had to overcome some fanatical resistance on the edge of the city.

Fuzuko Obara was a Japanese officer or NCO who had been transferred from Manchuria to the Philippines to bolster the defences before the expected American invasion. He and his unit had an uncomfortable time camping out in the jungles of Luzon, on the outskirts of Manila. Obara’s new posting began with a spell of dysentery and things continued to get more uncomfortable:

When the enemy swoops and wheels overhead, we take cover in the shelter of the trees the drops of sweat little by little begin to dry, and as they evaporate, leaving the salts, our bodies appear white Our food ration is 400 grams of uncooked native rice, some salt, and leaves of the wild sweet potato.

Camping out in a river ravine, trying to keep themselves concealed, would prove to be extremely testing. Everything soon became covered in a green mould:

Immediately we are enveloped in humidity as in a cloud of steam. The hot moist air in the grove is seething with mosquitoes. You only have to clap your hands to crush five or ten of the insects. They come at you from all directions. Each day’s work lays out one or two with malaria.

As well as malaria, ringworm and other afflictions, most of them began to suffer from a chronic fungal infection ‘athlete’s foot’, which became so bad that it was painful to walk. Nevertheless Obara’s spirits and morale remained high, believing that he was engaged in a sacred Imperial cause:

The bond of affection among comrades-at-arms is a noble feeling. I wish the people at home could witness this, and I wish especially they could see the contrast with the selfishness of American individualism. This nobility of character, this highest love! Amid steaming heat and clouds of humidity, and the invisible poison of the striped insect.

Finally on the 4th February they were to sight the enemy for the first time:

4 February 1945:

Manila is on fire. The tempo of gunfire is increasing. The shelling is averaging about one report a second. There may be some naval bombardment from enemy ships that may have slipped into Manila Bay. Enemy planes have intensified their disruptive raids.

Now with my own eyes I see enemy ground forces, armoured units. I see for the first time enemy vehicles on land. I look at them and think: ‘Those are the enemy’s. Those tanks are enemy tanks. There is the long-awaited enemy.’

Suddenly one of our automatic cannons on a neighbouring hill is seen to belch an intense burst of fire. An enemy Douglas light bomber emits a fierce spurt of flame and appears to be falling. As I am thinking, ‘We got him’, the falling plane, manoeuvring desperately, is seen to be making progress towards his own armoured units until, just before it appears about to crash, a parachute suddenly is seen to unfold and comes drifting down. ‘The bum made it,’ someone says, and I hear the disappointment in his voice.

Later that day,as night approached, Obara was ordered to lead an infiltration patrol through US positions.

We receive with gratitude the Imperial gift of o-saké [rice wine] When it becomes quite dark, we begin a stealthy advance towards our objective The stars are shining and the sky glows with the fires still burning in Manila, but in the tall grass and gullies it is so dark that we can see scarcely an inch ahead.

It becomes difficult to keep a sense of direction. We are among the enemy now, so it is essential to avoid making the least sound Completely baffled as to the best way to proceed, we seem to have fallen into a queer world of illusion The ravines are choked with thickets, principally bamboo. Our progress is as little as a single metre in five minutes

As dawn approaches, we are able finally with great difficulty to infiltrate to a position at one comer of our objective area. I send out a patrol. They discover a Filipino guerrilla.

I put my field glasses to my eyes, and there they are. I count ten American soldiers in khaki, accompanied by five or six guerrillas in white shirts, guarding a mobile 45mm cannon. To see enemy soldiers with my own eyes affects me deeply. These are enemies of the Divine Land and they must pay dearly.

Perhaps tonight we will launch and attack to destroy this enemy we now see With the coming of daylight, an observation plane hovering in the skies seems almost to tease by threatening to fly over us. All this time I am nervously wondering, ‘Now will we be seen?’

The diary of Fuzuko Obara was found on his body later during the battle and translated by US Intelligence. These and more extracts appear in Nigel Cawthorne (ed) : Reaping the Whirlwind: The German and Japanese Experience of World War II.

Casualties amongst Filipinos were high. The Japanese would burn a home and kill those who fled the fire.
Casualties amongst Filipinos were high. The Japanese would burn a home and kill those who fled the fire.

2 thoughts on “Japanese spirits remain high as the Battle of Manila begins”

  1. I just finished reading this book the other day!
    Very rarely do we get the Japanese account of how things went. Thanks!
    Great website!

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