What Was the Bataan Death March?

The Bataan Death March was the 60-mile forced march of nearly 80,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners of war by the Japanese army after the fall of the Philippines in World War II. This transfer to a prison camp began on April 9, 1942, and resulted in thousands of deaths due to starvation, disease and the brutality of the capturing force.

The death march began after the surrender of the American and Filipino joint army forces who had been besieged on the Bataan Peninsula of Luzon Island in the Philippines. The Japanese army sought to transfer these new prisoners of war to a camp large enough to accommodate them. After being forced to lay down weapons and turn over all personal effects, the soldiers were marched under duress to a camp outside the city of Balanga.

Along this route, a number of prisoners succumbed to dehydration, dysentery and malnutrition. Stragglers in the procession were beaten, cut with bayonets, and even executed. The camp at Balanga proved to be insufficient to house all the prisoners, and as disease spread it forced Japanese commanders to continue the transfer of prisoners to a larger camp.

The Death March then continued from Balanga to the city of San Fernando. More soldiers died along this route, or were executed by "clean up" squads who refused to tolerate stragglers. From San Fernando, the prisoners were taken by train to their eventual destination, the prison camp at Capas in central Luzon.

It is estimated that perhaps as many as 5,000 U.S. and Filipino soldiers died during the march, but many prisoners escaped with the help of natives and villagers, so exact numbers are difficult to determine. The Death March was declared a war crime by an Allied tribunal after the war.