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World War II

Bataan Death March

The Bataan Death March was when the Japanese forced 76,000 captured Allied soldiers (Filipinos and Americans) to march about 80 miles across the Bataan Peninsula. The march took place in April of 1942 during World War II.

Soldiers marching
The Bataan Death March
Source: National Archives

Where is Bataan?

Bataan is a province in the Philippines on the island of Luzon. It is a Peninsula on the Manila Bay across from the capital city Manila.

Leading up to the March

After bombing Pearl Harbor, Japan quickly began to take over much of Southeast Asia. As the Japanese troops approached the Philippines, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur moved the U.S. forces from the city of Manila to the Bataan Peninsula. He did this hoping to save the city of Manila from destruction.

After three months of fierce fighting, the Japanese defeated the U.S. and Filipino army on Bataan at the Battle of Bataan. On April 9, 1942, General Edward King, Jr. surrendered to the Japanese. There were about 76,000 combined Filipino and American troops (around 12,000 Americans) that surrendered to the Japanese.

The Plan

The Japanese commander knew he had to do something with the large army he had captured. He planned to move them to Camp O'Donnell, about eighty miles away, which the Japanese would turn into a prison. The prisoners would walk part of the way and then ride the train the rest of the way.

The size of the army captured took the Japanese by surprise. They thought there were only around 25,000 Allied soldiers, not 76,000. They divided the army into smaller groups of 100 to 1000 men, took their weapons, and told them to start marching.

Captured soldiers

Source: National Archives
The Death March

The Japanese did not give the prisoners food or water for three days. As the soldiers became weaker and weaker many of them started to fall behind the group. Those that fell behind were beaten and killed by the Japanese. Sometimes exhausted prisoners were driven over by trucks and other army vehicles.

Once the prisoners reached the trains they were crammed into the trains so tight they had to stand for the rest of the journey. Those that could not fit in were forced to march the entire way to the camp.

End of the March

The march lasted for six days. No one is sure how many soldiers died along the way, but estimates put the death toll between 5,000 and 10,000. Once the soldiers reached the camp, conditions didn't improve much. Thousands more died at the camp from starvation and disease over the next few years.


The prisoners that survived were rescued in early 1945 when the Allies retook the Philippines. The Japanese officer in charge of the march, General Masaharu Homma, was executed for "war crimes against humanity."

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