Escape from the Bataan Book Review
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Escape from Bataan is memoir by U.S. Navy supply corps ensign Ross Hofmann who had absolutely no idea of what was in store for him at the Cavite Naval Base in the Philippines from October 1941 to May 1942. It is a recount of Hoffmann’s experiences and was edited by David L. Snead and Anne B Craddock. .Published by Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
The memoir begins when Hofmann, serving as an ensign in the Navy Reserve receives a call to attend a Navy Supply Officer’s Course at Harvard School of Business. At Harvard, Hofmann encounters to two other students, Bud and Jack during graduation. The three are united by a common fear of being given a stateside assignment. Therefore, they request their commander to provide them with a different task. Coincidentally, all three are deployed to the U.S. Naval Facility in Shanghai, China. However, they learn that they were being redeployed to the Cavite Navy Supply while at a stopover in Manila, Philippines.
Hofmann gives a vivid description of the excessive pride and self-confidence of their comrades who were serving in the Philippines during October 1941. The Americans had an overwhelming confidence in the unmatched abilities of their comrades, their Filipino allies, and the quality and quantity of the new artillery equipment coming in from the states. This hubris can be seen in Hofmann’s recordings where he gives a glimpse of a conversation over drinks where Army Air Corps pilots describe the superiority of their P-40 Warhawk jets and the improved abilities of the incoming b-17. Moreover, the incoming new B-17 bombers were going to ensure that the Japanese never made it past the edges of Luzon.
The Americans were also confident of their naval arm. Though their ships were older than the ones the Japanese, the Navy espoused confidence in the superiority of their vessels. There is an instance where a fellow Navy officer informs his comrades that increased patrolling of Navy ships and aircraft would give them a warning if the Japanese naval groups were moving toward the Philippines. Furthermore, if the Japanese made it through, there was already a War Plan arrangement to counter them. This plan was Gen. Douglas MacArthur contingency plan.
Hofmann recounted the shock he had when he was woken at 3:45 a.m. to learn of the Japanese’ attack on Pearl Harbor. It was even shocking to realize that none of their fighters or bombers was deployed in the air at the time when the Japanese bombed Clark Air Field. Furthermore, when the Japanese attacked, the P-40s and the B-17s jets were lined neatly on the airfield. The loss of the Air Corps was unimaginable, and Hofmann blamed MacArthur. This is because it was rumoured that MacArthur had denied Gen. Lewis Brereton approval to bomb the Japanese air base at Formosa. Gen. Lewis Brereton who was the commander of the Air Army Corps in the Far East had earlier that morning requested to take off the bomb the Japanese airbase. MacArthur, it was also rumoured, denied Brereton’s request for his aircraft to take off before the attack.
In the memoir, Hofmann narrates the Japanese air attacks that destroyed Cavite Naval Yard, thus forcing the Navy to retreat to Mariveles, which was located south of the Bataan. Hofmann and his comrades are reunited with the remaining marines from the Fourth Marine Regiment. He describes how they thwarted an attempt by the Japanese battalion to outflank them. He then writes and cites how he had predicted that the war in the Pacific would last longer and bloodier. However, the pressure from the Japanese eventually forces him and his fellow soldiers to locate to Cebu.
While in Cebu, they help the fellow American soldiers by providing support to sealing off the place to prevent people from entering and leaving. In this area, they are surprised to discover that Cebu is isolated from the hotspots of the dangerous war zone of the soldiers and rebels that they had left on Luzon where they had been just a few days before their relocation. The locals are more friendly and happy while the stores have enough stock and meals are in plenty. This prompts the American soldiers to have no interest in doing something about the war in Bataan. Nevertheless, Hofmann and his team work hard and earnestly to ensure that they provide the necessary necessities required by the soldiers and locals through the blockades. This is attained by coordinating with the sailors. Knowing of the trials and hardships that the defenders of Bataan are facing due to the Japanese attacks, they relentlessly ensure that the much-needed supplies reach to them. Despite their efforts of supporting the defenders, they are eventually forced by the Japanese forces and are forced to locate. They move to Mindanao where they flew to Australia too. While it easy to narrate how they flew out of Mindanao with a damaged PBY amphibious airplane, it should be noted that such an achievement was a miracle. However, it was their determination and resolve to end the struggle that inspired them.
In Australia, Hofmann served as the in-charge joint Army-Navy procurement officer. He was in charge of the purchase and production and was honourably discharged from his duties from the Navy on the 14th day of March 1946 having risen in the ranks and was serving as a lieutenant commander at the time. While in Australia, Hofmann included a section and conclusion to what had happened after arriving in the country. This included what happened to the fellow soldiers and his thoughts, reflections, and experience during the Bataan escape. Further, his daughter provided of his life after retiring from serving the as a Navy commander
This book, Escape from Bataan, is not just a memoir but serves as a reminder of what fellow soldiers face while out serving their countries in different capacities. It also highlights the significance of resilient and proper leadership of the leaders while training the soldiers, and the mistakes that the soldiers make while on the field. Therefore, it serves to direct and provide hope for both of the planners and the soldiers to relentlessly and untiringly continue with the struggle in the field to achieve their goals.
Hofmann, Ross E., David L. Snead, and Anne B. Craddock. Escape from Bataan: Memoir of a U.S. Navy Ensign in the Philippines, October 1941 to May 1942. 2016.
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