Chapter Two: The Crucible of War

October, 1944 – September, 1945

Devastation and Victory

In the months after the U.S. military landings, Filipinos experienced some of the most brutal fighting of WWII.

In the six months that followed the U.S. military landings at Leyte in October 1944, Filipinos experienced some of the most brutal fighting of the Second World War. U.S. bombers hit cities, towns, and Japanese military installations. Artillery shelling destroyed roads, bridges, and farms as American forces invaded from the north and the south.

The view from a U.S. bomber as it drops its payload on the battered city of Manila. U.S. National Archives
USAFFE forces advance into a burning building during the street fighting in Manila. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers
An explosive round impacts on a building during intense house to house fighting. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers
USAFFE forces navigate the ruined streets of Manila. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers
Survivors of the battle of Manila describe the brutality and devastation of battle.
An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers

Filipino guerrillas, emerging from rural jungles and urban attics, joined with American GIs to fight a determined enemy. Shoulder to shoulder under the American flag, they fought together to defeat Japan and liberate the U.S. colony of the Philippines.

A guerrilla officer shakes hand with a rescued U.S. prisoner of war. University of Wisconsin

Nowhere was the devastation greater than the capital city of Manila. U.S. bombing and house-to-house fighting caught innocents in the crossfire, killing nearly 100,000 civilians. As Japanese soldiers retreated in February 1945, they committed atrocities. But most of the destruction came from U.S. bombs.

Filipino boy sits upon a box of dynamite in the rubble of Manila's Walled City of Intramuros. The boy was found trudging about the ruins alone. U.S. National Archives
“As troops enter villages, they are confronted with unimaginable casualties and atrocities.”
An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers

Soon, Philippine Commonwealth President Sergio Osmeña returned to his office in a bombed-out government building and General Douglas MacArthur found his personal suite at the Manila Hotel looted and damaged. Although General Dwight Eisenhower did not visit the region immediately after the war, he noted that “only Warsaw” experienced devastation as great as Manila. The Philippines experienced more widespread devastation than almost any other country during World War II.

USAFFE troops disembark from a landing craft. Philippines Magazine, Volume 2 Number 1 - 1942

Fighting continued for months. American and Filipino soldiers captured military targets, liberated civilian internees at Santo Tomas, and carried out a “Great Raid” to rescue POWs at the Cabanatuan prison camp. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. service personnel—including several thousand who served in the First and Second Fil—set up camp in the Philippines.

USAFFE raiders who liberated the prison camps at Cabanatuan, featuring USAFFE servicemen, guerrillas and American-Filipino soldiers. U.S. National Archives

From there they prepared for an expected land invasion of the home islands of Japan. After the U.S. dropped atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, that invasion was called off.

The atom bomb is dropped on Japan. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers

Japanese soldiers withdrew, surrendered, or were captured. A handful would hide in Philippine jungles for decades. Japan’s commanding officer in the Philippines, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, surrendered at a hideout in the mountain city of Baguio. Japan surrendered at a formal ceremony aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.

Japan’s commanding officer in the Philippines, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, surrendered on September 2. U.S. Army

Surrender Party

Thousands of Japanese soldiers surrender to a few dozen guerrillas during the closing days of the war.

For ordinary Filipinos who had endured nearly four years of war, the ceremony brought a sense of relief. But it also left many questions unanswered: America had a new president, Harry Truman. Would he honor Franklin Roosevelt’s promise that Filipinos’ “freedom will be redeemed and their independence established and protected”? Would the U.S. government fulfill its promises of citizenship and benefits? And what would be the future of the new nation?

Harry Truman makes his statement on the bombing of Hiroshima. U.S. National Archives

Would the U.S. Government fulfill its promises of citizenship and benefits?

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July 6, 1946

Independence Day

The promise of independence first made by the U.S. in 1916 was finally fulfilled.

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