10 Facts About World War II That Never Made It To Your Philippine History Books

By | 06/09/2015

With so much devastation caused in so short a time, World War II undoubtedly stands as one of the darkest chapters of human history.

Here in the Philippines, we remember the event mainly as the time the Japanese occupied our country and oppressed the Filipinos before being finally driven out by the Americans. To leave it at that generalization, however, would be to keep oneself in the dark about what really happened during those awful times.

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So for the sake of education and proper remembrance of both the dead and the survivors, let’s take a gander at some of the lesser-known yet mind-blowing facts about World War II in the Philippines.


10. Japan Would Have Employed Biological Warfare in The Philippines.

Japanese WWII biological warfare

An unidentified victim of Unit 731 human experimentation at the Pingfang district of Harbin, the largest city in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo (now Northeast China). Japanese researchers performed tests on prisoners with Bubonic plague, cholera, smallpox, botulism, and other diseases. This research led to the development of the defoliation bacilli bomb and the flea bomb used to spread bubonic plague. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

While it’s now common knowledge that the Japanese willfully employed chemical and biological warfare against the Chinese several times throughout the war, lesser-known is the fact that they would have also used the same weapons against the Filipino and American forces in Bataan.

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Frustrated by the stubborn defense being put up by the Fil-Am forces, the Japanese planned to unleash hundreds of millions of plague-infected fleas into the Bataan Peninsula. As fate would have it, the surrender of the Bataan defenders in April shelved the Japanese plan for biological warfare. However, the Japanese never really disavowed the use of bio-warfare—they also tried to pull off the same plan against the Americans in Saipan and Okinawa.


9. Manila Became The Second Most Devastated Allied Capital In World War II.

Battle of Manila 1945

Aerial view of the devastated Manila in May 1945. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In the midst of the brutal month-long Battle of Manila, the Japanese massacred and raped civilians, aside from looting and destroying several homes and buildings. Continuous American carpet bombings and artillery barrages also contributed to the city-wide devastation and helped usher in bloody close-quarters urban fighting.

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In the aftermath, an estimated 100,000-500,000 Filipinos lost their lives in just four weeks. Only the Polish capital of Warsaw undoubtedly suffered more death and destruction after it was occupied first by the Germans and then the Soviets. In addition, Warsaw also suffered after a failed uprising in 1944 resulted in the Germans killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and razing 85% of the city to the ground.


8. A Disobedient Japanese Officer Started The Battle Of Manila.

Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi

Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi. Source: Official Tumblr Page of the Presidential Museum and Library

Hard to believe as it may sound, the Japanese originally did not intend to fight the Americans to the death in Manila.

Tomoyuki Yamashita, head of all Japanese forces in the Philippines, had ordered his men to evacuate the city and head to the mountains of northern Luzon where they could engage the Americans in a defensive fight reminiscent of Bataan. He gave the order under the belief that he could not defend the city well (it was situated on flat terrain and had many wooden, flammable structures) nor could he feed its one million residents.

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However, his instructions to evacuate were ignored by Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi who felt he shouldn’t have to follow orders from an army general. Also, Iwabuchi wanted to redeem his honor after the battleship Kirishima which he personally commanded was sunk in an earlier battle. Suffice to say, Iwabuchi ordered the remaining Japanese forces to dig in and fight the Americans to the last man.


7. The Moros Also Fought An Effective Guerrilla War Against The Japanese.

Salipada Pendatun

Original caption: Edward Kuder (seated) with the young Salipada Pendatun, 1927. Courtesy of Phillipines Free Press. Source: Muslim Rulers and Rebels by Thomas M. McKenna.

While much has already been said about the daring exploits of guerrillas who fought the Japanese in Luzon and the Visayas, the contributions of the Moro fighters towards the war effort are not as well-disseminated. However, the Moros really did more than their fair share of containing or dislodging the Japanese in their areas of responsibility.

Led by the likes of legendary Moro guerrilla leaders such as Busran Kalaw, Salipada Pendatun, and Gumbay Piang, the mostly blade-wielding Moros struck fear into the hearts of the Japanese occupiers with a combination of guerrilla tactics and juramentado attacks (which was ironic considering the Japanese themselves came from a culture which emphasized bladed weapons).

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Due to the prevalent attacks by the Moros, many of the Japanese would either hole themselves up in their garrisons or even go back to their ships to sleep at night to avoid juramentado attacks. Such was the effectiveness of the Moro guerrillas that six months before MacArthur landed in Leyte, they had already liberated their respective territories in Mindanao from the Japanese.


6. Douglas MacArthur Led Two Other Landings.


Other than his immortalized landing at Palo Beach, Leyte on October 20, 1944, Douglas MacArthur also conducted two other lesser-known landings, one in Mindoro and the other in Pangasinan.

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On December 15, 1944, MacArthur and the Americans landed in San Jose, Mindoro to use the island as a staging base for aircraft to strike the Japanese in Luzon. Then on January 9, 1945, MacArthur stepped foot in Luzon once again as he made yet another dramatic and photogenic entrance in the beaches of Pangasinan. The moment, which was captured by wartime photographer Carl Mydans, shows MacArthur wading into the shores of Lingayen (others say it was Dagupan).


5. Australians And Mexicans Also Helped In Liberating The Philippines.

Mexico’s 201st Squadron or Aztec Eagles

Mexican expeditionary air force pilots from the 201st Fighter Squadron are pictured before flying a combat mission in the Philippines during World War II. The squadron was known as the Aztec Eagles and fought alongside Allied Nations. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Aside from the Chinese guerrilla group we’ve already talked about, two other nationalities (apart from the Americans) helped liberate the Philippines—the Mexicans and the Australians.

Mexico’s 201st Squadron—known as the Aztec Eagles—flew dozens of sorties in different parts of Luzon, including campaigns over Marikina and Cagayan Valley. After the liberation of the country, the Eagles then continued to fly with US forces in bombing runs and support missions over Formosa (Taiwan).

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As for the Australians, their air force and navy provided secondary combat roles (MacArthur reportedly refused to give them significant operational control in the Philippine campaign). Notwithstanding, the Australians fought just as bravely and suffered casualties of their own as well, with the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia suffering six officers and 23 crewmen dead after it was hit by a diving Japanese plane during the Battle of Leyte Gulf—an incident which supposedly marked the first-ever kamikaze attack.


4. Aside From Comfort Women, There Were Also Comfort Gays.

Walterina Markova

Walter Dempster, Jr. a.k.a Walterina Markova (left) holds poster of the film, Markova: Comfort Gay, starring Philippine star Dolphy. Source: Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context Issue 13, August 2006

Although we know for a fact the Japanese forcibly conscripted, hundreds, if not thousands of Filipinas to become comfort women, we should also remember the many comfort gays they abused.

As told by the most famous comfort gay Walter Dempster Jr. aka Walterina Markova, the Japanese exhibited even more brutality towards them especially after finding out they weren’t women at all. Aside from the sexual abuse and sodomy, Markova and his fellow gays were beaten up often and forced to perform menial tasks for the soldiers. During this time, the Japanese mocked Markova and his companions for not being real women.

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In the end, Markova earned a bit of revenge at the end of the war when he hit a captured Japanese soldier with an umbrella and pricked him repeatedly with a pin.


3. An English Journalist Predicted The Japanese-American War In Uncanny Detail In 1925.

Hector C. Bywater's The Great Pacific War

In 1925, a top British Secret Service agent named Hector C. Bywater published “The Great Pacific War,” a novel about a war between Imperial Japan and the United States. Via reformation.org

With a few minor variations, British reporter and noted naval analyst Hector Bywater predicted with eerily-accurate detail in 1925 how the conflict between the Japanese and the Americans would go down.

Same as with the original, the prelude to war would begin with the Japanese falsely assuring the Americans of peace—then striking them by surprise. However, Bywater envisioned the surprise attack not at Pearl Harbor but in Manila which would have ended with the destruction of America’s Asiatic Fleet. In this scenario, he predicted the Japanese would use aircraft carriers—a remarkable observation considering battleships ruled the oceans during his era.

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He then correctly guessed the Japanese would utilize a hundred thousand-strong force to invade the Philippines. Afterwards, the Americans would slowly jump from island to island and finally engage and defeat the Japanese Navy in a decisive naval battle (the Battle of Midway). He also correctly predicted how the Japanese would do everything just to stop the American advance—the use of kamikaze attacks included.

In the end, however, Bywater didn’t foresee the atomic bomb; he instead banked on the Japanese peacefully surrendering after the Americans dropped millions of leaflets over their country as a show of force.


2. USAFFE Forces Could Have Beaten The Japanese In Bataan.

Japanese troops on Bataan

Japanese troops on Bataan, Philippine Islands, circa 1942. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Given the overwhelming odds stacked against them, it would be nearly impossible to think the Filipino-American forces would even stand a chance against beating the Japanese in Bataan.

As shared by Japanese commander Masaharu Homma in his war crimes trial, however, the USAFFE forces could have very well driven the Japanese forces all the way back to Manila if they wanted to. He revealed how the numerically superior Fil-Am forces could have rolled over his 14th Army since it only had three battalions left who could effectively fight after incurring seven thousand dead or wounded, with another 12 thousand incapacitated by disease.

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And in spite of their own problems with supplies, the men of the USAFFE enjoyed a high level of morale after beating the Japanese advances. In fact, many officers even advocated going on the offensive all the way to Manila. However, general headquarters refused their proposal for a counter-attack, on account that even if they managed to successfully re-take Manila, the Japanese mastery of the air and sea meant they could field in an endless number of reinforcements.


1. The Japanese Performed Human Experiments And Cannibalized Filipinos.

Japanese vivisection during WWII

Example of Japanese atrocity during WWII: A Unit 731 doctor in Japan vivisecting an allegedly pregnant girl. An aging Japanese medic named Akira Makino admitted that he and his unit also performed vivisections in the Philippines.

While stories of Japanese experimentation and cannibalization are well-documented in China and other occupied areas during the war, such cruel acts against Filipinos are relatively unheard-of, we being more accustomed to stories about rape and murder.

However, an aging Japanese medic named Akira Makino admitted he and his unit performed vivisections on some 30-50 mostly Moro women and children from December 1944 to February 1945. Acts done on the doomed prisoners included having their stomachs opened or their livers gouged out, after which they would then be killed either by strangulation or decapitation.

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As for cannibalism, a starving Japanese garrison stationed in Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon resorted to the practice during the closing days of the war, killing and eating several villagers (including teenage girls). According to the records, around 45 men and 32 women ended up being cannibalized by the Japanese.


About the Author: When he isn’t deploring the sad state of Philippine politics, Marc V. likes to skulk around the Internet for new bits of information which he can weave into a somewhat-average list you might still enjoy. For comments on this article, contact him at: [email protected]


Want more amazing Pinoy trivia?



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Additional Sources:

All This Hell: U.S. Nurses Imprisoned by the Japanese by Evelyn Monahan

Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War by Jeffrey A. Lockwood

324 Most Asked Questions on Manila – What You Need To Know by Anne Clay

The Imperial Japanese Army: The Invincible Years 1941–42 by Bill Yenne

Justice in Asia and the Pacific Region, 1945-1952 by Yuma Totani

A Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia by Andrew T. H. Tan

The Green Tiger: The Costs of Ecological Decline in the Philippines by Barbara Goldoftas

Japanese and U.S. World War II Plunder and Intrigue by Rodney Stich

Latin America During World War II by Thomas M. Leonard, John F. Bratzel

Fire From the Sky: Surviving the Kamikaze Threat by Robert Stem

Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age by Mark McLellan

War in the Pacific: Strategy and Command by Louis Morton