American forces surrender on Bataan
9th April 1942: The long fighting retreat on Luzon in the Philippines ends with the largest American surrender since the Civil War
On the 9th April the American and Philippine forces that had resisted the Japanese for so long on the Bataan peninsula were forced to surrender. Around 75,000 American and Filipino troops had retreated down a series of defensive lines in the hope that a relief force would come to their aid. That hope was now revealed as the illusion it had always been. For all of those captured this was the beginning of a long period of torment, for many it meant a brutal death.
The Japanese were clearly not going to abide by the Geneva convention, nor by any other recognised standard for the treatment of their prisoners. The shocking brutality and capricious violence of their captors became immediately apparent, even as men were searched upon capture.
Lt. Colonel William Dyess1 was among them, and was witness to an early atrocity:
The victim, an air force captain, was being searched by a three-star private. Standing by was a Jap commissioned officer, hand on sword hilt. These men were nothing like the toothy, bespectacled runts whose photographs are familiar to most newspaper readers. They were cruel of face, stalwart, and tall.
The private, a little squirt, was going through the captain's pockets. All at once he stopped and sucked in his breath with a hissing sound. He had found some Jap yen.
He held these out, ducking his head and sucking in his breath to attract notice. The big Jap looked at the money. Without a word he grabbed the captain by the shoulder and shoved him down to his knees. He pulled the sword out of the scabbard and raised it high over his head, holding it with both hands. The private skipped to one side.
‘Before we could grasp what was happening, the black-faced giant had swung his sword. I remember how the sun flashed on it. There was a swish and a kind of chopping thud, like a cleaver going through beef.’
Before we could grasp what was happening, the black-faced giant had swung his sword. I remember how the sun flashed on it. There was a swish and a kind of chopping thud, like a cleaver going through beef.
The captain's head seemed to jump off his shoulders. It hit the ground in front of him and went rolling crazily from side to side between the lines of prisoners.
The body fell forward. I have seen wounds, but never such a gush of blood as this. The heart continued to pump for a few seconds and at each beat there was another great spurt of blood. The white dust around our feet was turned into crimson mud. I saw the hands were opening and closing spasmodically. Then I looked away.
When I looked again the big Jap had put up his sword and was strolling off. The runt who had found the yen was putting them into his pocket. He helped himself to the captain's possessions.
This was the first murder...