Douglas MacArthur's escape from the Philippines

a powerboat speeds across the water, riding high so the hull is exposed. "PT 32" is painted on the hull in large white letters.
PT-32, one of the four PT-20 class motor torpedo boats involved

On 11 March 1942, during World War II, General Douglas MacArthur and members of his family and staff left the Philippine island of Corregidor and his forces, which were surrounded by the Japanese. They traveled in PT boats through stormy seas patrolled by Japanese warships and reached Mindanao two days later. From there, MacArthur and his party flew to Australia in a pair of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, ultimately arriving in Melbourne by train on 21 March. In Australia, he made his famous speech in which he declared, "I came through and I shall return".

MacArthur was a well-known and experienced officer with a distinguished record in World War I, who had retired from the United States Army in 1937 and had become a defense advisor to the Philippine government. He was recalled to active duty with the United States Army in July 1941, a few months before the outbreak of the Pacific War between the United States and the Empire of Japan, to become commander of United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), uniting the Philippine and United States Armies under one command.

By March 1942, the Japanese invasion of the Philippines had compelled MacArthur to withdraw his forces on Luzon to Bataan, while his headquarters and his family moved to Corregidor. The doomed defense of Bataan captured the imagination of the American public. At a time when the news from all fronts was uniformly bad, MacArthur became a living symbol of Allied resistance to the Japanese.

Fearing that Corregidor would soon fall, and MacArthur would be taken prisoner, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to go to Australia. A submarine was made available, but MacArthur elected to break through the Japanese blockade in PT boats under the command of Lieutenant (junior grade) John D. Bulkeley. The staff MacArthur brought with him became known as the "Bataan Gang". They would become the nucleus of his General Headquarters (GHQ) Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA).


Douglas MacArthur was a well-known and experienced officer. The son of Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur Jr., who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his services in the American Civil War, MacArthur had graduated at the top of the United States Military Academy class of 1903.[1] He was an aide-de-camp to his father from 1905 to 1906, and to President Theodore Roosevelt from 1906 to 1907.[2] During World War I he commanded the 84th Brigade of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division in the fighting on the Western Front. After the war he served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, and as Chief of Staff of the United States Army. He retired from the United States Army in 1937, and became a field marshal in the Philippine Army.[1]

MacArthur's job was to advise the Philippine government on defense matters, and prepare the Philippine defense forces when the Philippines became fully independent, which was to be in 1946.[3] The Philippine Army, almost entirely manned and officered by Filipinos with only a small number of American advisors, was raised by conscription, with two classes of 20,000 men being trained each year, starting in 1937. In addition, there was a regular U.S. Army garrison of about 10,000, half of whom were Filipinos serving in the U.S. Army known as Philippine Scouts.[4] When MacArthur was recalled from retirement in July 1941 to become commander of United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) at the age of 61, he united the Philippine and United States Armies under one command.[1]

A painting of a godlike General MacArthur in his peaked cap, staring into the rising sun.
MacArthur became a symbol of Allied resistance to the Japanese

In getting the Philippine Army ready for war, MacArthur faced an enormous task.[5] On a visit to the United States in 1937, MacArthur lobbied the Navy Department for the development of PT boats—small, fast boats armed with torpedoes—for which he believed that the geography of the Philippines, with its shallow waters and many coves, was ideally suited.[6][7] The nascent Philippine Navy acquired three, known as "Q" boats, after President Manuel L. Quezon.[8] In August 1941, the U.S. Navy created Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three, under the command of Lieutenant (junior grade) John D. Bulkeley. It was a half-strength squadron, with only six PT boats instead of the normal twelve, numbered 31 to 35 and 41.[7] It arrived at Manila in September 1941.[9] It was understood that a fleet consisting of more than PT boats would be required for a successful defense of the Philippines.[4]

As early as 1907, U.S. naval and military planners had concluded that it would be impractical to repel an invasion of the Philippines. The best that could be hoped for was that the garrison could hold out on the Bataan peninsula until help arrived. In the 1920s it was estimated that they could do so for about 60 days. By the 1930s, the planners had become decidedly pessimistic in view of the increased capability of aircraft, and by 1936 they were agreed that the Philippines should be written off.[10] But in July 1941, this decision was abruptly reversed, and it became the policy of the U.S. government to defend and hold the Philippines. This was based, at least in part, in the belief that Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers could deter or defeat an invading force.[11]

Soon after the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941, MacArthur, in accordance with the pre-war plan, declared Manila an open city, and ordered his forces on Luzon to withdraw to Bataan. The Philippine government, the High Commissioner's office and MacArthur's USAFFE headquarters moved to Corregidor Island.[12] Although the dependents of U.S. military personnel had been sent back to the United States, MacArthur was, until his recall from retirement, a Philippine government employee, so his family had remained in the Philippines.[13] MacArthur's wife, Jean MacArthur, and young son, Arthur MacArthur IV, went with him to Corregidor.[14] Arthur celebrated his fourth birthday on Corregidor, on 21 February 1942.[15] When an aide asked about Arthur's possible fate, MacArthur replied: "He is a soldier's son."[16]

Most of the United States Asiatic Fleet retired to the south of the Philippines. A small force was left behind under the command of Rear Admiral Francis W. Rockwell consisting of the submarine tender USS Canopus, the submarine rescue ship Pigeon, gunboats Oahu, Luzon and Mindanao, minesweepers Finch, Tanager and Quail, five tugboats, three small patrol boats, and the PT boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three.[17] The loss of Manila and the U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay meant that fuel and spare parts became scarce. The PT boats relied on Canopus and the floating dry dock USS Dewey for assistance with maintenance. Despite this, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three continued to patrol. On 17 December, , PT-34 and rescued 296 survivors from SS Corregidor, which had been carrying refugees to Australia when it struck a mine and sank in Manila Bay. A week later, ran aground while patrolling south of Manila Bay, and was set on fire to prevent her being salvaged by the Japanese. met a similar fate a month later, after its engines failed and it drifted onto a reef.[17] The PT boats attacked enemy barges off Luzon on the night of 23 January 1942, a small Japanese warship on 1 February, and a small vessel, probably a fishing trawler, on 17 February.[18]