Last Stand on Bataan

Last Stand on Bataan

The Defense of the Philippines, December 1941–May 1942

Christopher Kolakowski

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2016, 220 pages

Book Review published on: March 24, 2017

The surrender of the combined American–Philippine Army following the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during April 1942 represents the greatest defeat of an American Army. Traditional historical accounts depict an unprepared United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) caught off guard when Japanese forces attacked on 8 December 1941. Christopher Kolakowski, author and director of the General Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, describes the defense of the Philippines in Last Stand on Bataan: The Defense of the Philippines, December 1941–May 1942. Kolakowski writes about a fight that was far from one-sided and recounts several instances where Filipino-American forces decisively defeated Japanese forces. Filipino-American forces annihilated Japanese forces in a series of battles around Quinauan Point in southwestern Bataan when Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma attempted to maneuver Japanese forces in the Filipino-American’s rear. American Army National Guard’s “C” Company 192nd Tank Battalion scored America’s first tank-versus-tank victory over Axis forces in the Second World War when they destroyed eight Japanese tanks without a loss on New Year’s Eve in 1941 at Baliug.

The strength of Last Stand on Bataan is Kolakowski’s extensive use of maps, graphics, and firsthand accounts of participants at all levels provides a riveting easy to read account of an unprepared and under equipped Filipino-American force defending the Philippines against a numerically equipped and superior Imperial Japanese Army. Kolakowski leaves the reader contemplating how the Filipino-American force could have been so unprepared in being decisively defeated by the Japanese army.

Failure of MacArthur and his staff in responding to numerous War Department warnings of imminent war with Japan and the attack on Pearl Harbor eight hours earlier caught U.S. Armed Forces, Far East completely unprepared. Gen. Lewis Brereton, commander of Far East Air Force, failure to move his aircraft as directed by Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold resulted in half of his aircraft destroyed on the first day. MacArthur’s forward beach defense strategy proved a failure when Japanese forces landing at Lingayen Gulf had cut off some sixty thousand of MacArthur’s troops. Mismanagement and indecision of MacArthur’s staff resulted in large stock piles of food and war material being left at Manila docks while defenders were restricted to half rations.

Kolakowski’s discussion of MacArthur is curiously limited to MacArthur’s relationship with Philippine President Manuel Quezon, communications with Washington, decision to forego War Plan Orange in favor of defending the Philippines at the beaches, and departure from the Philippines. There is no mention of MacArthur’s failure as military advisor to the Philippines, later as field marshal, in building a military force capable of defending the islands with American help. MacArthur would spend the remainder of his life haunted by the disaster.

Combined American-Philippine forces resisted the Japanese military for 105 days when Bataan finally fell on 9 April 1942. The tragedy did not end there as thousands of Filipino-American defenders perished during the forcible transfer of approximately seventy-six thousand prisoners of war from Bataan and Corregidor to Camp O’Donnell. Last Stand on Bataan persuasively tells the story of the Filipino-American forces defending the Philippines and is recommended to those interested in the Pacific theater of war or the Imperial Japanese Army.

Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas