What this meant was that Iwabuchi in
Manila was ordered by Gen. Yamashita, his legal superior, to withdraw, but
ordered by Vice Adm. Okochi, his superior by way of loyalty and training, to
stand firm. It eventually became clear that Iwabuchi intended to
resist Japanese army expectations, and instead to fulfill his naval missions
at all costs. Yamashita and Yokoyama evidently wished throughout that
Iwabuchi would leave Manila and not fight there. Yokoyama’s and
Iwabuchi’s staffs held a series of probably tense conferences from 8 to 13
January, in which the latter made clear that they intended to defend
Japanese naval facilities in Manila. Lt. Gen. Yokoyama felt he had
little choice but to accept this; however, at the end of January, he issued
still somewhat equivocal orders to Iwabuchi that authorized defense of the
city. Yokoyama, in accord with standard Japanese practice, placed
Japanese army forces still in Manila under Iwabuchi’s command. These
army elements were gathered under Colonel Katsuzo Noguchi as the Noguchi
Detachment and would later be given responsibility to defend north of the
Nonetheless, even as late as
mid-February, when U.S. forces had already invested Manila, Lt. Gen.
Yokoyama was still trying to get Rear Adm. Iwabuchi to leave the city.
On 13 February, Yokoyama ordered Iwabuchi to move to Ft. McKinley (southeast
of Manila) and then to break out of the American ring as Shimbu Group forces
broke in with coordinated attacks on 17-18 February. Iwabuchi did not
move to Ft. McKinley at this time, however, and instead radioed to the
Shimbu Group that leaving the city was now impossible. Still, the
several thousand Japanese troops already in Ft. McKinley did managed to
evacuate eastward to join the Shimbu Group in the mountains during the
Shimbu Group’s otherwise largely ineffectual attacks toward Manila on 17-18
To Lt. Gen. Yokoyama at Shimbu Group
headquarters, Iwabuchi radioed his response to the order to evacuate to Ft.
McKinley, “In view of the general situation, I consider it very important to
hold the strategic positions within the city. . . . Escape is believed
impossible. Will you please understand this situation?”
Meanwhile to Vice Adm. Okochi, commander of Southwest Area Fleet, he
radioed, “I am overwhelmed with shame for the many casualties among my
subordinates and for being unable to discharge my duty because of my
incompetence. . . . Now, with what strength remains, we will daringly engage
the enemy. ‘Banzai to the Emperor!’ We are determined to fight
to the last man.” Iwabuchi reported legally to one commander, but
morally to another.
The gap in understanding between the
Japanese army and navy at Manila may strike some readers as unusual.
The basis for this gap lay not only in the particular circumstances at
Manila, but also in the traditions of the respective services. The
prewar Japanese army and navy were well known for their insularity.
Each strove to operate independently of the other as much as possible.
They were engaged in bitter budgetary struggles at each other’s expense and
tended not to share intelligence. The Japanese army operated its own
maritime shipping system -- to include its own cargo submarines at the end
of the war -- so as not to depend on the navy. The prewar Japanese
army and navy constituted a good case study of the high cost of failing to
achieve effective interservice cooperation.
The Japanese navy fought in Manila
without the help of the Japanese army and in defiance of the Japanese army
joint commander’s direct orders to evacuate. Fighting alone had
enormous consequences. The Manila Naval Defense Force would operate
with no armor, little artillery, and with what was probably a limited supply
of close-combat weapons. Moreover, the MNDF had no prior organization
or training for urban warfare. Iwabuchi’s force consisted of the 31st
Naval Special Base Force as its core, to which were added ship and aviation
crews stationed in the Manila area, Korean and Formosan construction troops,
and some civilian employees of the naval base.
[vi] The MNDF were naval staff of every description.
Few had had training for ground warfare of any kind, let alone urban
warfare. One of the lessons of Manila was that it is possible to
defend a city for a time without prior doctrine, organization, training, or
equipment for urban warfare.
The MNDF defended Manila using found
equipment. Their most abundant weapon was the 20mm machine cannon,
intended primarily for aviation and anti-aviation use. They deployed
990 of these guns, evidently dismantled from naval aircraft. They used
600 machine guns of 7.7mm and other calibers, and sixty 120mm dual-purpose
naval guns. They had a few field pieces, including ten 100- and 105mm
guns and howitzers. The MNDF appear not to have had flamethrowers or
submachine guns. Apparently not all had rifles, and some of those who
did carried a variety of American weapons captured in 1942. Some
defenders carried spears made of bayonets fixed to poles. Grenades
seem to have been generally available, though MNDF defenders sometimes used
Molotov cocktails, suggesting local shortages. Artillery shells and
depth charges buried fuse up became mines. In some cases, they dropped
aerial bombs from upper floors of buildings.
All of the Japanese naval defenders’
equipment was improvised. They had almost no equipment for ground
warfare already supplied to them or routinely included in their
organizational requirements. They were aided first by the proximity of
naval and airbases and second, by the city itself, which served as a kind of
great warehouse for much of what they needed: American rifles stored in the
city since 1942, barbed wire, gasoline, and the like. Cities by their
nature provide not only restrictive terrain for the defense, but also
abundant materiel for the defense.
Iwabuchi’s command evidently consisted
of about 17,000 troops. Some 4,500 of these were deployed north of the
Pasig in the Noguchi Detachment. Iwabuchi directly commanded about
5,000 troops south of the Pasig. In that Iwabuchi had expected major
US attacks to come from the south, approximately 5,000 more were stationed
south of the city in defense of Ft. McKinley and Nichols Field. A few
thousand more Japanese naval troops were deployed in partially sunken ships
in the bay or east of the city toward the Shimbu Group.
Deployment and creation of fighting
positions was all done hastily, because it had only been in December 1944
that the Japanese navy decided to defend Manila in the wake of the Japanese
[ix] This meant not only that the Japanese defenders had no
training, doctrine or equipment of siege warfare, but also that they had
little time to fortify their positions. Consequently, they could fortify
existing structures but not dig deeply into the earth, which would have
allowed them to shelter more of their force from American firepower.
Nonetheless, when U.S. forces encountered Japanese lines north of the Pasig
on 3 February 1945 their impression was that they faced a well-prepared and
In January of 1945, U.S.
commanders were also engaged in an animated debate over whether and when to
capture Manila. MacArthur, commander of the Southwest Pacific Area,
believed it was essential to seize the city as soon as possible.
Manila provided port and aviation facilities needed for the coming invasion
of Japan, and also had major political significance as the Philippine
capital. Nonetheless, Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, commander of
the U.S. 6th Army, apparently believed that Manila was not a genuine center
of gravity and planned to bypass it. Krueger, whose force landed on
the beaches of Lingayen Gulf on 27 January 1945, also favored delaying any
attack on Manila until he could build up his assets and consolidate his
position on the Lingayen coast. He was concerned, with some
justification, that if he immediately advanced 100 miles to Manila, his
lines of communication would be exposed to counterattacks from Yamashita’s
Kembu and Shobu Groups.
[x] MacArthur, however, favored entering Manila as soon as
possible. He hoped that the Japanese would abandon the city and
declare it open, as he himself had done in 1942. In fact, Yamashita’s
14th Area Army’s policy was to do exactly this; at the end of
January, MacArthur’s intelligence told him, accurately, that the Japanese
army was evacuating Manila. [xi]