The Imperial Japanese Army was one of the most brutal armies that the world had ever seen. They didn’t just kill. They tortured, looted, and randomly murdered innocent civilians during their World War II rampage. Many would remember the Rape of Nanjing, where over 300,000 were killed, with over 30,000 women and children raped during the massacre from 1937 to 1938.

While these atrocities are certainly not a competition on who was more abused or which country had suffered the most casualties, a World War II massacre that has been forgotten is the Rape of Manila. Known in the Philippines as the “Panggahasa sa Maynila,” it is a lesser-known Japanese war crime in the Philippines, virtually unheard of elsewhere.

In a massacre where the death toll is estimated to be in the 100,000 to as high as 500,000 military personnel, men, women, and children were killed along with 20,000 or more women and children raped by multiple Japanese soldiers.

A Painful Memory For Those Who Remember

In February 1945, the US Armed Forces along with the Filipino Guerrillas were closing in on retaking Manila when the US Army had landed at the Lingayen Gulf a month earlier. General Douglas MacArthur ordered Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger to advance to Manila with the Sixth US Army and the 37th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Robert S. Beightler.

American troops crossing the Pasig River, 1945 (warfarehistorynetwork.com). Source: https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2021/07/16/macarthurs-battle-to-liberate-manila-amid-murder-mayhem/
American troops crossing the Pasig River, 1945 (warfarehistorynetwork.com)

By February 5, they were nearing Manila with multiple US Army components and Hunter ROTC Filipino guerrillas, some of which were the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments of Col. Robert H. Soule, the parachuting 11th A/B Division’s 511th Regimental Combat Team led by Col. Orin D. “Hard Rock” Haugen (a badass nickname if we do say so ourselves), 1st Cavalry Division, and the 11th Airborn Division. Note that many more divisions were involved with liberating Manila. In the same month, the Santo Tomas Internment Camp would be liberated.

Before the liberation of Manila, Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita originally wanted to withdraw troops from Manila in January upon gaining intelligence that the US Forces were coming for him. Many of his troops ignored him and chose to remain in Manila. Yamashita would eventually be right as the American forces would overwhelm what was left of the Japanese forces.

On February 5, the first push into Manila was made by the 37th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division. They would be moving into the city from the north and the east, capturing Manila’s water supply in the process: the Novaliches Dam, the San Juan Reservoir, and the Balara Water Filters, which is now located in the National Capital Region of the Philippines. A few days later, General Beightler and his 148th Regiment cleared Paco and Pandacan into Pasig, continuing into Malabon, a city north of Manila, and eventually to Tondo, the most populous sector of Manila.

Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, who was part of the Shimbu Army Group initially, led the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 31st Naval Special Base Force, along with Colonel Katsuzo Noguchi and Captain Saburo Abe ignored earlier commands by Yamashita to retreat and stayed in Manila to stage the last defense. They soon would regret this decision as Iwabuchi would lose around 16,000 men, including himself, as he committed suicide (known as Seppuku in Japanese).

The Japanese had made a fortress of Manila and had forced the civilian population to remain in place as human shields.

Manila Turns Into Filipinos’ Version of Hell

The Japanese Forces, who were surprised and overwhelmed at the allied forces’ sheer firepower, started taking out their frustration and anger on Filipino civilians. Some say that the atrocities had started even before the US Forces had started advancing into Manila. Command and control started to break down among Japanese units in headlong retreat, and many Japanese troops engaged in individual acts of retribution and started raping then killing women and children.

The Bayview Hotel in Manila was used as the main rape center for the Japanese for their Rape of Manila conquest, along with the San Juan de Dios Hospital, the St. Paul’s Convent, and St. Vincent de Paul Church. Many innocent civilians were also used as human shields to protect Japanese defensive positions around Manila. If they survived the barrage of gunshots and explosives, they were also killed by the Japanese.

There they were, the Imperial Japanese Forces, rounding up thousands of women and children as young as 12 years old, taking them into the Bayview Hotel. Whether poor or from the rich Ermita district, nobody was spared. Everybody from regular Japanese troops to high-ranking officials went into the hotel and raped the women until they died. Those who resisted and tried to defend themselves were brutally beaten up, bayoneted, and/or partially decapitated and continued raping them. Even after they were dead, the Japanese were said to rape the corpses.

After raping these women, the Japanese would slice off their nipples and breasts and apparently place the severed breasts on their chests. In a completely irrational reaction, the Japanese troops found this extremely hilarious. Reports have also stated that they would set Filipinos and Filipinas on fire after they were done with them, dousing them in gasoline and laughing while they burned alive.

Not satisfied with what they had done, the rapacious Japanese Forces, at their impending defeat, went around the city of Manila to clear the city of Filipino guerillas before and during the US advance. Along with this mission, they proceeded to indiscriminately bayonet pregnant women and ripped their babies out of their bellies.

Not even religious clergy were safe. The Japanese Imperial Army had gone into the De La Salle University (then the De La Salle College) on February 9, 1945. The Japanese, who thought that the Catholic priests and nuns were helping the American and Filipino forces, forcibly went into the college and took De La Salle College Director Brother Egbert Xavier, FSC, and his companion, Judge Jose Carlos. They would vanish into the dark, never to be seen again. Not satisfied with this, they killed everybody within the campus on February 12. Forty-one civilians and 16 Christian Brothers would die.

Bayview Hotel in the 1930s (John Tewell). Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johntewell/3374525349/in/photostream/
Bayview Hotel in the 1930s (John Tewell|Flickr)

The aftermath would greet the allied forces with a completely destroyed Manila, and the streets littered with the bodies of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Rather than intimidate U.S. troops entering the city, it filled them with deep anger.  Manilla would be taken from the Japanese Army house by house and street by street in brutal urban combat involving tanks and flame throwers blasting and burning the Japanese troops from every position they tried to hold, 6,000 US casualties, and 16,000 Japanese casualties. There were very few prisoners taken among the Japanese troops, some of this was due to their refusal to surrender combined with the determination of avenging US soldiers not to accept their surrender after witnessing what they had done to the civilian population. February 22, 2022, will mark 77 years after the massacre.

“The devastation of Manila was one of the great tragedies of World War II. Seventy percent of the utilities, 72 percent of the factories, 80 percent of the southern residential district, and 100 percent of the business district were razed… Hospitals were set afire after their patients had been strapped to their beds. The corpses of males were mutilated, females of all ages were raped before they were slain, and babies’ eyeballs gouged out and smeared on walls like jelly,” said a local newspaper.

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