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The Japanese air attack on the Philippines on December 8, 1941 seriously crippled elements of the American air forces stationed in the islands and damaged naval installations. On December 10, Japanese forces landed at Aparri and Vigan on the northern coast of Luzon. The main body of the invasion force began landing on Luzon at Lingayen Gulf on December 22. Other landings were made below Manila and on other islands of the Philippines. Unable to stop the enemy at the shoreline of Luzon, MacArthur withdrew sea forces into the Bataan Peninsula, the island of Corregidor, and three other small islands in Manila Bay. This complex retrograde movement was accomplished by January 7, 1942. Meanwhile, on January 2, the Japanese had occupied Manila, which had been declared an open city on December 24. The American and Filipino troops had lost most of their supplies during their withdrawal and a Japanese blockade precluded the possibility of resupply or the landing of reinforcements. On March 12, 1942, General MacArthur was ordered by the President to leave for Australia. His successor in command was Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright who, for a short period (21 March to 6 May 1942), commanded the so-called U.S. Forces in the Philippines (USFIP), although General MacArthur remained the nominal commander. On April 9, 1942, by which time the troops of Bataan had been reduced by hunger, disease, and casualties to the point of military helplessness, their commander, Maj. Gen. Edward P. King, Jr., surrendered his forces to the Japanese. General Wainwright surrendered the remainder of the American forces on Corregidor and elsewhere in the Philippines on May 6, 1942.
The sinking of the Arisan Maru
On October 11, 1944, about 1800 POWs boarded the Arisan Maru hoping they would be better off than in the camps they were leaving. They would soon find out differently. The Arisan Maru was a rather new freighter and the men were led to the holds. These contained three levels of wooden shelves with about three feet between shelves. They could barely stand or move in the space. After dark the ship left the harbor, and the men discovered the ship was heading south and not towards Japan. It had joined a convoy accompanied by a destroyer. The ships were about 200 miles south of Manila and went into coves in the islands. They were trying to elude American forces in the area. The ship then returned to Manila, arriving there around October 20. The next day they joined a convoy heading towards Japan. The men received scant amounts of rice and water while on board. The heat proved unbearable, and about a third of the men suffered from dysentery and malaria. The stench grew steadily in the confined quarters. The Japanese dispensed no medicine. They did however issue life preservers which served to increase the fear of them. Many men lost their spirit and will to live and had fits. The other men had to hold them down. On the 24th of October, some of the POWs saw Japanese running toward the rear of the ship and they witnessed the wake of a torpedo heading towards the ship. It barely missed the ship. A second torpedo also misfired. Then a torpedo successfully hit midship on the starboard side. The ship buckled in the middle, but the forward part of the ship stayed level. This was where the Americans were. They Japanese cut the rope ladder to the forward hold, and closed the latches on the second hold. They boarded life boats and headed for two destroyers. Some of the Americans managed to get on deck and threw rope ladders down to the men below them. Some of the men jumped overboard once on deck. Some attempted to swim toward the destroyers, but were then struck with long poles from the Japanese. Some of the men who had remained on board went to the galley and hit the food supplies. The ship began to break into two pieces and sunk. According to the Japanese Prisoners of War Information Bureau listed 1,778 of the 1,782 prisoner as deceased. However, a few were picked by the Haro Maru and taken to Taiwan. Five survived in the sea and a Chinese junk ship took them aboard and they were helped by the Chinese to an American air strip.