The Battle for Manila from 3 February to 3 March 1945, fought by American, Filipino and Japanese forces, was part of the Philippines' 1945 campaign. The one-month battle, which culminated in a terrible bloodbath and total devastation of the city, was the scene of the worst urban fighting in the Pacific theater, and ended almost three years of Japanese military occupation in the Philippines (1942–1945). The city's capture was marked as General Douglas MacArthur's key to victory in the campaign of reconquest.
Three weeks later on 31 January, the Eighth United States Army of Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, consisting of the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments of Col. Robert H. Soule, components of the U.S. 11th Airborne Division under Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Swing landed unopposed at Nasugbu in southern Luzon and began moving toward Manila. Meanwhile, the 11th A/B Division's 511th Regimental Combat Team of Col. Orin D. "Hardrock" Haugen parachuted into Tagaytay Ridge on 4 February and spearheaded the northern advance.
By 4 February, the rapid drive to Manila by U.S. forces began. Using intelligence provided by Filipino guerrillas, American units were able to find intact bridges and shallow rivers everywhere they went.
In 1942, General Douglas MacArthur had declared Manila an open city before its capture. Although Yamashita had not done so in 1945, he had not intended to defend Manila; he did not think that he could feed the one million city residents and defend a large area with vast tracts of flammable wooden buildings. Gen. Yamashita had originally ordered the commander of Shimbu Group, Gen. Yokoyama Shizuo, to evacuate the city and destroy all bridges and other vital installations as soon as any large American forces made their appearance.
However, Rear Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji was entrusted with the holding of the city, and he was committed to defending it to the last man. Disobeying Yamashita, he ordered his Manila Naval Defense Forces, a motley assembly of sailors, marines and Army troops, into the city. They discovered several good defensive positions, including Intramuros and other nearby buildings. After blowing up every outlying facility with even marginal value, like bridges and footpaths, Iwabuchi had set up minefields, barbed wire, interlocking trenches, and hulks of trucks and trolleys, to create bottlenecks and traps. He then ordered his ragtag troops into the defensive zone.
On 3 February, elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division under Maj.Gen. Verne D. Mudge pushed into the northern outskirts of Manila and seized a vital bridge across the Tuliahan River, which separated them from the city proper. A squadron of Brig. Gen. William C. Chase's 8th Cavalry, the first unit to arrive in the city, began a drive towards the sprawling campus of the University of Santo Tomas which had been turned into an internment camp.
Since 4 January 1942, a total of thirty-seven months, the university’s main building was used to hold civilians. Out of 4,255 prisoners, 466 died in captivity, three were killed while attempting to escape on 15 February 1942, but one made a successful breakout in early January 1945.
At 21:00, a lead jeep crashed into the main gate, triggering a firefight, and its driver, Capt. Manuel Colayco, a USAFFE guerrilla officer, became the first known Allied casualty for the city's liberation. He and his companion Lt. Diosdado Guytingco guided the American First Cavalry. Both were unarmed. Colayco died seven days later in Legarda Elementary School, which became a field hospital. Simultaneously, a single M4 Sherman tank of the 44th Tank Battalion, named "Battlin' Basic," rammed through the university walls, while four others entered through the Calle España entrance. American troops and Filipino guerrillas immediately followed and, after a brief skirmish, freed many of the internees.
The Japanese, commanded by Lt. Col. Toshio Hayashi, gathered the remaining internees together in the Education Building, as hostages, exchanging pot shots with the Americans and Filipinos. The next day, 4 February, they negotiated with the Americans to allow them to rejoin Japanese troops to the south of the city. The Filipinos and Americans agreed but only allowed them to carry their rifles, pistols and swords. That same day, a patrol from the 37th Infantry Division and 31st Infantry Division came upon more than 1,000 prisoners of war, mostly former defenders of Bataan and Corregidor held at Bilibid Prison, which was abandoned by the Japanese.
On the morning of 5 February, forty-seven Japanese were escorted out of the university to the spot they requested. Each group saluted each other and departed. The Japanese were unaware the area they requested was near the American-occupied Malacañang Palace and soon afterwards were fired upon and several were killed including Hayashi. Later in the afternoon, the survivors of the same group returned to Santo Tomas, captured as prisoners in the same day.
In total, 5,785 prisoners were freed: 5,000 Filipinos, 2,870 Americans, 745 British, 100 Australians, 61 Canadians, 50 Dutch, 25 Poles, 7 French, 2 Egyptians, 2, Spanish, one Swiss, one German, and one Slovak.
Earlier on 4 February, General MacArthur had announced the imminent recapture of the capital while his staff planned a victory parade. But the battle for Manila had barely begun. Almost at once the 1st Cavalry Division in the north and the 11th Airborne Division in the south reported stiffening Japanese resistance to further advances into the city.
Following the initial American breakthrough on 4 February, fighting raged throughout the city for almost a month. The battle quickly came down to a series of bitter street-to-street and house-to-house struggles. In the north, General Griswold continued to push elements of the XIV Corps south from Santo Tomas University toward the Pasig River . Late on the afternoon of 4 February, he ordered the 2nd Squadron, 5th Cavalry, to seize Quezon Bridge, the only crossing over the Pasig that the Japanese had not destroyed. As the squadron approached the bridge, enemy heavy machine guns opened fire from a formidable roadblock thrown up across Quezon Boulevard, forcing the cavalry to stop its advance and withdraw until nightfall. As the Americans and Filipinos pulled back, the Japanese blew up the bridge.
On 5 February, the 37th Infantry Division began to move into Manila, and Griswold divided the northern section of the city into two sectors, with the 37th responsible for the western half and the 1st Cavalry Division responsible for the eastern sector. By the afternoon of 8 February, 37th Division units had cleared most of the Japanese from their sector, although the damage done to the residential districts was extensive. The Japanese added to the destruction by demolishing buildings and military installations as they withdrew.
The most bitter fighting for Manila—which proved costliest to the 37th—occurred on Provisor Island, a small industrial center on the Pasig River. The Japanese garrison, probably less than a battalion, managed to hold off Beightler's infantrymen until 11 February.
Mudge's 1st Cavalry Division had an easier time, encountering little opposition in the suburbs east of Manila. Although the division's 7th and 8th Cavalry Regiments fought pitched battles near two water supply installations north of the city, by 10 February, the cavalrymen had extended their control south of the river. That night, the XIV Corps established for the first time separate bridgeheads on both banks of the Pasig River.
The final attack on the outer Japanese defenses came from the 11th Airborne Division, under XIV Corps control since 10 February. The division had been halted at Nichols Field on 4 February and since then had been battling firmly entrenched Japanese naval troops, backed up by heavy fire from concealed artillery. The airfield finally fell to the paratroopers the next day, and the acquisition allowed Maj. Gen. Swing's division to complete the U.S. encirclement of Manila on the night of 12 February.
In an attempt to protect the city and its civilians, MacArthur had placed stringent restrictions on U.S. artillery and air support. But massive devastation to the urban area could not be avoided. Iwabuchi's sailors, marines and Army reinforcements, having initially successfully resisted American infantrymen armed with flamethrowers, grenades and bazookas, faced direct fire from tanks, tank destroyers, and howitzers, who attacked one building after another and killed the Japanese—and often the trapped civilians—inside the structures.
Subjected to incessant pounding and facing certain death or capture, the beleaguered Japanese troops took out their anger and frustration on the civilians caught in the crossfire, committing multiple acts of severe brutality, which later would be known as the Manila Massacre. Violent mutilations, rapes, and massacre on the populace accompanied the battle for control of the city, which lay practically in ruins.
The fighting for Intramuros continued from 23 February to 28 February. Already having decimated the Japanese forces by bombing, American forces used artillery to try and root out the Japanese defenders. However, the centuries-old stone ramparts, underground edifices, the Sta. Lucia Barracks, Fort Santiago, and villages within the city walls all provided excellent cover.
The last pocket of Japanese resistance at the Finance Building, which was already reduced to rubble, was flushed out by heavy artillery on 3 March.
A U.S.and Philippine battle report stated: "That the artillery had almost razed the ancient Walled City could not be helped. To the XIV Corps and the 37th Division at this state of the battle for Manila, American lives were understandably far more valuable than historic landmarks. The destruction stemmed from the American decision to save lives in a battle against Japanese troops who had decided to sacrifice their lives as dearly as possible"
Before the fighting ended, MacArthur summoned a provisional assembly of prominent Filipinos to Malacanang Palace and in their presence declared the Commonwealth of the Philippines to be permanently reestablished. "My country kept the faith," he told the gathered assembly. "Your capital city, cruelly punished though it be, has regained its rightful place—citadel of democracy in the East."
In the month-long battle, the Americans and Japanese inflicted worse destruction on Manila than the German Luftwaffe had exacted upon London, which resulted in the destruction of the city and in a death toll comparable to that of the Tokyo firebombing or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
A steel flagpole at the entrance to the old U.S. Embassy building in Intramuros, which was pockmarked by numerous bullet and shrapnel hits, and still stands today, a testament to the intense, bitter fighting for the walled city. In this category, Manila joined Stalingrad as being the host to some of the fiercest urban fighting during the war.
Filipinos lost an irreplaceable cultural and historical treasure in the resulting carnage and devastation of Manila, remembered today as a national tragedy. Countless government buildings, universities and colleges, convents, monasteries and churches, and their accompanying treasures dating to the founding of the city, were decimated. The cultural patrimony (including art, literature, and especially architecture) of the Orient's first truly international melting pot - the confluence of Spanish, American and Asian cultures - was eviscerated. Manila, once touted as the "Pearl of the Orient" and famed as a living monument to the meeting of Asian and European cultures, was virtually wiped out.
Most of the buildings damaged during the war were demolished in the name of "Progress" after the Liberation, as part of rebuilding Manila, replacing European style architecture during the Spanish and early American era with modern American style architecture. Only a few old buildings remain intact.
On 18 February 1995, the Memorare Manila Monument was erected in dedication and memory to the war victims. This monument is located at the Plaza de Santa Isabel, also known as the Plaza Sinampalukan, located at the corner of General Luna and Anda Streets in Intramuros, Manila. The inscription reads:
"This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or even never knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruins."
"Let this monument be the gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, February 3 - March 3, 1945. We have not forgotten them, nor shall we ever forget."
"May they rest in peace as part now of the sacred ground of this city: the Manila of our affections."