Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"
The Fall of the Philippines

December 1941 - April 1942

John Vader

The Japanese Imperial General Staff was Supremely confident that they could take the Philippines with little difficulty— so confident that they did not even allot the whole of their XIV Army to the job. At first it seemed that they were justified; for their landings were only lightly opposed, and their troops advanced rapidly against an untrained and ill-equipped enemy. But the siege of Bataan, on which the American and Filipino forces planned to make their last stand, disrupted their progress. Disease and hunger struck both besiegers and besieged, and Japanese victory was delayed for three months until they could bring up fresh reinforcements.

On July 22, 1941, with the acquiescence of the Vichy government, Japan occupied naval and air bases in south-east Indochina, and to counter this threat the armed forces of the Philippines were brought into the service of the United States. On the same day—July 26—the US War Department established a new command: the US Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), based at Manila under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, who was recalled to active duty.
By the first day of December 1941, the line troops in USAFFE comprised ten infantry divisions, five coastal artillery units, two field artillery regiments, and a cavalry regiment equipped with horses and a few scout cars. The elite troops were the Scouts — highly trained members of the cavalry and artillery regiments — and the 45th Battalion.
On Luzon (see map below) there were two army groups, the North and South Luzon Forces. Major-General Jonathan M. Wainwright’s North Luzon Force was the stronger: there were the 11th, 21st, 31st, and 71st Infantry Divisions, the cavalry regiment, the 45th Battalion, and three field artillery batteries. Brigadier-General George M. Parker’s South Luzon Force stood in the area generally south and east of Manila, and consisted of two infantry divisions and a battery of field artillery.
A Visayan-Mindanao Force, under Brigadier-General William F. Sharp, was given the rest of the archipelago to defend. This force consisted of three infantry divisions, and the remaining division, the US Army’s Philippine Division, was positioned between North and South Luzon Forces. The defence of the entry to Manila Bay and Subic Bay depended on five small fortified islands and their garrisons, commanded by General Moore.
Major-General Brereton commanded the US Air Force in the Philippines, which was given the title of Far East Air Force. Brereton’s most useful aircraft were the B-17s (Flying Fortresses) of Lieutenant-Colonel Eubank’s 19th Bombardment Group. All but one of the fighter squadrons in the 24th Pursuit Group were equipped with modern P-40s (Kittyhawks), under the command of Brigadier Clagett. Within 80 miles of Manila there were six airfields suitable for fighters and only one — Clark Field — suitable for heavy bombers; and although there were seven radar sets in the islands, only two had been set up by December. A makeshift system of air-raid watchers communicated by the civilian telephone or telegraph to the interceptor command at Nielson Field on the outskirts of Manila. The two coast artillery anti-aircraft regiments protected Clark Field’s B-17s and Manila with 3-inch and 37-mm guns, .50 machine-guns, and 60-inch Sperry searchlights.
The US Navy in the Philippines was based at Cavite, on the southern shore of Manila Bay. Under Admiral Thomas C. Hart, the fleet consisted of the heavy cruiser Houston, two light cruisers, 13 old destroyers, 29 submarines, six gunboats, six motor torpedoboats, miscellaneous vessels, and an air arm of 32 PBY Catalinas.
Despite the inadequate training the infantry had received, the shortage of air warning devices, and the lack of airfields, there was an expression of optimism in Washington and in the Philippines that the garrison could withstand an attack by the Japanese.
The Japanese Imperial Staff, however, was completely confident that their XIV Army would conquer the Philippines within three months, and that Luzon Island would be in their hands within 50 days. They based their plan on a detailed knowledge of the American and Philippine forces — their equipment, training standards, fighting ability, and displacement. They were so confident that, instead of committing the whole of the XIV Army, its commander, General Homma, was allotted only two divisions, XVI and XLVIII, supported by two tank regiments, two infantry regiments, and a battalion of medium artillery, five anti-aircraft battalions, and various service units.
The Japanese V Air Group (army) and the XI Air Group (navy) were to provide 500 bomber and fighter aircraft for the invasion.
At Formosa on December 1, General Homma received final instructions from Southern Army Headquarters: operations would begin on the morning of December 8 (Tokyo time). The air forces were to open the attack — planned to coincide with the beginning of hostilities against Malaya— soon after the raid was made against the American fleet in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese Navy’s III Fleet, commanded by Admiral Takahashi, was organised into numerous special task forces which comprised transport and amphibious units supported by cruisers and destroyers. A close cover force of three cruisers would support the main landings.
On Formosa, the experienced and highlyskilled aircrews of the V Air Group readied their Betty bombers and Zero fighters. Then at midnight on December 7/8 a heavy fog closed in over the airfields, preventing the scheduled take-offs at dawn. The Japanese commanders were filled with nervous apprehension as they realised that the Americans on Luzon would have news of the raid on Pearl Harbor and could, with the B-17s of the Far East Air Force, attack the planes lined up on the Formosan airfields.
All hope of surprise was lost.

Japanese "Co-Prosperity" propaganda:

These match-box labels were part of the constant Japanese attempts to turn the native populations of conquered territories against the allies. the matches were circulated through the normal trade channels, and were dropped on Allied-controlled territory as well. Churchill and Roosevelt were main subjects of ridicule.

Caught on the ground
‘Air raid on Pearl Harbor. This is no drill.’ This was the dramatic message tapped out from Hawaii at 0800 hours and received at the US Navy Headquarters in Manila, where it was still dark and the time 0230 hours. A Marine officer passed the message to Admiral Hart, who immediately advised the fleet. General MacArthur was not advised by the navy but heard of the attack from a commercial broadcast shortly after 0330 hours. He then ordered the troops to battle stations.
The man most able to do something about an outbreak of war was General Brereton at Clark Field, but he too only heard the news from a commercial broadcast, and it was 0500 hours before he could reach MacArthur’s office to seek permission to attack Formosa. Warned by a telephone call from General Arnold in the US not to be caught with his aircraft grounded and suffer the same fate as the anchored ships in Pearl Harbor, Brereton sent the heavy bombers on patrol— but without bombs — at 0800 hours. Eventually, at 1045 hours, orders were given for two squadrons of B-17s to attack airfields on southern Formosa ‘at the earliest daylight hour that visibility will permit’, and the patrolling bombers were brought back to Clark Field to bomb-up and refuel. By 1215 hours the armed bombers and fighters of the 20th Pursuit Squadron were lined up on Clark Field ready for take-off.
On Formosa, the fog had lifted enough by dawn to allow 25 Japanese army bombers to take off for Luzon. At 0930 hours they were over north Luzon, and attacked barracks and other installations at Tuguegarao and Baguio without interference from American fighters. By 1015 hours, the fog had further dispersed to allow the naval aircraft of the Japanese XI Air Fleet to take off.
A force of 108 bombers, escorted by 84 fighters, arrived over Clark Field at 1215 hours, achieving complete tactical surprise and catching the US bombers and fighters, with their tanks full of fuel, perfectly lined up for strafing runs. While anti-aircraft shells exploded 2,000 to 4,000 feet below them, two flights of 27 bombers accurately hit aircraft, hangars, barracks, and warehouses, starting fires that spread to the trees and the cogon grass around the field. The place became a mass of flame, smoke, and destruction, and for more than an hour the Zero fighters sprayed the grounded B-17s and P-40s with bullets. At the Iba Field fighter base, another group of 54 Japanese bombers, escorted by 50 fighters, destroyed barracks, warehouses, and the radar station. Then Zero pilots found P-40s of the US 3rd Pursuit Squadron circling to land at Iba:
all but two were shot down.
In the first few hours of the war in the Philippines, the Japanese airmen had therefore achieved success beyond all expectation. For the loss of seven Zeros, they had destroyed 17 B-17s, 56 fighters, some 30 miscellaneous aircraft, and damaged many others, while important installations had been blasted or burned, and 230 men killed or wounded. That afternoon, the US Far East Air Force had ceased to be a serious threat to the invaders.
It is doubtful that even if the Far East Air Force had been spared on the first day of war it would have survived for very long, and if the bombers had raided Formosa it is doubtful if many of them would have returned after a meeting with swarms of Zeros. Losses at Clark Field would have been less had there been sufficient warning; but there had been none. Nielson Field was advised of the approaching Japanese, but the two squadrons that took off covered Manila and Bataan while Clark Field was shattered.
The following day the invaders continued their preliminary tactics of destroying air and naval power, attacking Nichols Field to hit aircraft and ground installations. The next day, December 10, a two-hour attack in the Manila Bay area was made on the Del Carmen Field near Clark, the Nichols and Nielson Fields near Manila, and on the Cavite naval base south of the city. At Cavite the entire yard was ablaze after the first wave of 27 bombers accurately dropped their loads in the target area. Repair shops, warehouses, the power plant, barracks, the dispensary, and the radio station received direct hits. Casualties amounted to some 500 men. The submarine Sealion received a direct hit and a store of over 200 torpedoes was lost. Fortunately, about 40 merchant ships in the bay were unscathed and eventually escaped from the island. As a result of the raid Admiral Hart ordered away two destroyers, three gunboats, tenders, and minesweepers, planning to continue submarine and air operations ‘as long as possible’.
Another Formosan fog made December 11 a quiet day but the next day over 100 bombers and fighters swarmed over Luzon, attacking any suitable target without much fear of retaliation: by now the Americans had less than 30 serviceable aircraft left. Seven PBYs were shadowed as they returned from a patrol and were shot down as they approached to alight on the bay. The next day the raiders numbered almost 200. On December 14 Admiral Hart sent the remaining PBYs south to sanctuary; on December 17 the intact B-17s were sent 1,500 miles away to Darwin in northern Australia.
By now the Far East Air Force ceased to exist as a fighting force. Except for a few patched fighters, the army was without air cover and the navy was forced to rely mainly on submarines to protect the thousands of miles of beaches against hostile landings — which had already begun on the northern coast of Luzon.
Philippine Island of Luzon
Bataan Peninsula, Luzon Island

Six Japanese advance landings
The first landing on Philippine territory was made on the little island of Bataan, about halfway across the strait separating Luzon from Formosa. This was one of six advance landings planned for General Homma’s XIV Army — the others were at Aparri and Vigan (on the north and north-west coast of Luzon), at Legaspi (near the southern tip of Luzon), at Davao on Mindanao, and at Jolo Island, between Mindanao and Borneo. The immediate objectives were airfields from which fighters could operate to cover the main landings which would follow. The captured Legaspi base would be a threat to American reinforcements from the south, and the landings at Davao and Job Island were designed to secure advanced bases for a later move southwards against the Netherlands East Indies.
The Japanese took a calculated risk in using quite small forces for these first landings — the largest force was only a regiment. On Bataan Island a Japanese combat naval unit of 490 men landed unopposed at dawn on December 8. Two days later, Camiguin Island was seized, to provide a seaplane base some 35 miles from Aparri.
Cautiously supported by strong naval and air forces, the Tanaka Force (named after the commander of the II Formosa Regiment) approached undetected, and landed 2,000 men at Aparri and Gonzaga, 20 miles further on. The regiment’s other one and a half battalions, known collectively as the Kanno Detachment, landed simultaneously at Pandan, near Vigan, at dawn on December 10. Here the Japanese luck ran out: a patrolling P-40 alerted the Far East. Air Force, and the remaining US heavy bombers, with fighter escort, attacked the invaders’ convoy at the landing area. The Japanese fighter screen failed to hold the attacks, and two transports were damaged and beached. But the landing was successful, despite rough seas and the air raid, and by the following evening a small detachment had pushed 50 miles north along the coast to occupy the town and airfield of Laoag.
With three airfields in their hands and no signs of a counterattack, the Japanese commanders decided to move the entire regiment down the west coast and join up with the main forces of the XIV Army that were to land on the beaches of Lingayen Gulf. There were delays while bridges were repaired and a light brush with Philippine troops at Bacnotan was resolved, and Colonel Tanaka’s regiment arrived a few hours after the main landings began.
The 3rd Battalion of the Philippine Army 12th Regiment was in the Aparri/Gonzaga district, and quickly retreated south down the Cagayan valley, offering no opposition. By the evening of December 12, Tuguegarao airfield (50 miles inland) had been lost, and there was no opposition by the Philippine Army at Vigan, and the nearest American and Filipino force was that at Legaspi — 150 miles away. In south Luzon, General Jones ordered road and rail bridges to be demolished, and outpost defences prepared.
At 0400 hours on December 20, the Japanese landed at Davao. A machine-gun squad of the 101st Regiment inflicted numerous casualties until it was silenced by a direct hit from a Japanese naval gun. Nine bombers from Batchelor Field, near Darwin, made a surprise raid on the Japanese force collected to invade Job, but visibility was poor and only near-misses were registered. Jolo fell on Christmas Day.
Within two weeks, General Homma’s advanced landing parties had occupied airfields in north and south Luzon, in Mindanao, and Job. The Japanese air forces had almost liquidated the Allied opposition, and the main invasion troops were carried safely to the Lingayen beaches. Here the main strength of Homma’s XIV Army began to disembark at 0500 hours on December 22. The XLVIII Division, the IX Infantry Regiment, four artillery regiments with 75-mm, 105-mm, 150-mm guns and 150-mm howitzers, two tank regiments with 80/100 tanks, and a large number of service and special troops were put ashore on the north coast of Lingayen Gulf. Nevertheless, choppy seas, an attack by the Darwin-based B-17s, and shelling from two 155-mm guns provided anxious moments for General Homma and his staff.
Along the 20-mile section of the main Japanese landing strip ran the all-weather Highway 3, which formed part of the road network that led into Manila. South of the landing beaches and between the gulf and Manila Bay, was the central plain of Luzon, a flat area of cleared farmland with many towns and villages. Here — and on the beaches — the Japanese had expected to find the main force of American and Filipino defenders. Yet the only beach resistance was at Bauang, where a .50 machine-gun inflicted heavy casualties until the Japanese were able to establish a foothold ashore. Then the defenders withdrew.
Colonel Tanaka sent a battalion to take the Naguilian airfield, and at Agoo—at the southern end of the landing front—the XL VII Regiment, supported by artillery, made a sweep inland to Rosario while the XLVIII Reconnaissance and IV Tank Regiments came ashore and routed a battalion of Philippine Army infantry.
Because of poor landing conditions (due to rough seas), General Homma suspended unloading and disembarking operations during the afternoon, and moved his transports further south to a point off Damortis during the night; and the rest of Lingayan Force was thus ready to land the next day — December 23.
On south Luzon, General Morioka’s incomplete XVI Division, numbering 7,000 fighting troops, landed at Siam and Antimonan on the narrow strip of land between Tayabas Bay and Lamon Bay, and at Mauban, further north. By the evening of December 24, the landing was complete, and the only real resistance came from Philippine regulars at Mauban. Army short-range fighter-bombers and aircraft from the seaplane-carrier Mizuho gave close and deadly support to the Japanese troops who were in control of the neck of the peninsula by nightfall.
With only a strong action on December 24 to delay them, the Japanese had secured their initial objectives and had established a firm grip on northern Luzon. They were now in a position to march south to Manila along the broad highways of the central plain. Only the southern route to the capital remained to be seized. And MacArthur knew that his defence there was weak. He needed reinforcements and was relying on the convoy of seven ships escorted by the cruiser Pensacola to bring in troops, planes, and supplies. But the convoy failed even to test the Japanese barrier of warships and aircraft, and a request by MacArthur to have planes flown in from aircraft-carriers was turned down by a navy which was now so sensitive to the situation that the submarines were also evacuated. Torpedo-boats, minesweepers, gunboats, and tugs were all that remained of the Manila Bay naval force. Marines and sailors ashore were taken into the command of the army, and so too were the remnants of the air force, while the few fighters left were hidden.
Appalled at the inability of the Philippine army to stand up to the Japanese, General MacArthur announced on December 23 a plan for withdrawal to Bataan. He planned to declare Manila an ‘open’ city after he had moved his headquarters to the island fortress of Corregidor, and the large quantities of ammunition and fuel which had already been stored on the Bataan peninsula, were now augmented as small barges and boats hastily carried more supplies from Manila to Corregidor and Bataan.
By Christmas Day, 1941, when MacArthur moved into Corregidor, the main defence line ran from near Binalonan—where the cavalry had made such a good stand — along the other side of the Agno river and past Carmen to the foothills of the Zambales mountains.
General Tsuchibashi’s infantry and tanks attacked the centre of the defence line and soon moved through Villasis and crossed the river to take Carmen by the evening of December 26. With the main road under his control Tsuchibashi forced the Americans to use the railway to evacuate the rest of the 11th Division, and Tsuchibashi’s troops then moved quickly along Route 3 to intercept the train at Moncada but a road block of three tanks and a 75-mm half-track delayed them, and the Philippine infantry got through.
After the Americans moved back from their third to their fourth defence line, extending from foothills to foothills across the 40-mile plain, the Japanese XLVIII Division broke through at Cabanatuan, and both the 11th and 21st Philippine Divisions were forced into another withdrawal. Aggressive artillery action by the Filipino gunners slowed down the Japanese advance, but by December 31 General Homma’s troops were only 30 miles from Manila.
With the Philippine army forced back to Bataan, General Homma was convinced that the campaign would now be brought to an early and successful conclusion. Another Japanese general, Morioka, believed that the ‘defeated enemy’ was entering the peninsula like ‘a cat entering a sack’ — but he did not foresee the consequences of joining the cat in the sack.
Against the line at Porac, Homma sent the IX Regiment, which penetrated 2,000 yards on January 2. The next morning, the Takahashi Detachment, supported by 105mm guns, moved up to intercept an attack by a battalion of 21st Division. The Japanese found the opposing infantry easy to deal with, but withering fire from the Filipino artillery stopped the Takahashi Detachment from causing a rout. On the marsh flank, the Japanese advance was made along the highway, where fighting was continuous and confused, infantry and artillery battling it out with occasional use of tanks by both sides. The defenders continued to withdraw, and the Japanese followed, harassing the retreating infantry with small-arms and artillery fire. Then, from tanks forming a road-block on the Lubao/ Sexmoan road, accurate firing cut some of the Japanese columns to pieces. That night the attack was renewed across an open field in bright moonlight, and again the American guns drove back the Japanese; repeated attempts resulted in more heavy casualties.
As a result of the battering the Japanese had received, their fast pursuit slowed down to cautious probing, while the Americans and Filipinos crossed the Culo bridge at the Layac road-junction in a confused congestion of vehicles, guns, and troops. Once again an obvious target was ignored by the Japanese air force, and the Culo bridge was blown up after the retreating army had crossed.
MacArthur realised that the Japanese success was achieved mainly because of their superiority at sea and in the air, and although he pleaded with his superiors for an Allied effort in the Pacific—the first step would be to land an army corps on Mindanao — he accepted the fact that relief was virtually impossible. He posted his defence across the mountainous peninsula of Bataan and prepared for the final stand.
The first defense line on Bataan extended from the precipitous slopes of the northern mountain, Santa Rosa, down to the sea on either side. Wainwright had three reinforced divisions, the cavalry, and supporting artillery in his 1st Corps on the left flank, and on the right Parker had four divisions plus a regiment from the Philippine Division. Eight miles behind was the rear battle position served by the PilarBagac road. Preparing this line for a final defense was the USAFFE reserve — the rest of the Philippine Division, the tank group, and a group of self-propelled 75-mm guns. Corps and USAFFE artillery was emplaced to cover the front lines as well as the beach defenses in all sectors.
Some 80,000 troops were now on Bataan and about 26,000 civilians had also fled there. Food and motor fuel had been stored to satisfy the requirements of 43,000 men for six months. Now there would only be enough food for a few weeks. There was no mosquito netting and the shortage of quinine tablets was already reflected in the number of malaria cases admitted to the hospital. A few fighter aircraft were miraculously still serviceable and engineers prepared fields for them as well as helping the infantry and artillery to dig in.
The Philippine army was as ready as it could be, under the circumstances, for General Homma to begin the battle.
A concentrated artillery barrage against 2nd Corps began at 1500 hours on January 9. The defending guns replied effectively against the attacking infantry. The II Battalion crossed the Calaguiman river and managed to reach the cover of a sugar cane farm before midnight, where they were only 150 yards from their enemy’s 3rd Battalion. While it was still dark, the Japanese opened up with artillery and mortar fire, then rushed out of the cane field in a screaming banzai charge in the face of intense fire. As the leading men dived across the barbed wire coils those following ran over their backs unimpeded, only to be shot down by the defenders — and on the following morning, January 11, between 200 and 300 Japanese lay dead on the field, while the Philippine Army Scouts, who had been rushed up from the reserve, were almost back to their original line.
Colonel Takechi’s IX Regiment moved against General Parker’s left flank to circle behind the Americans while pressure was maintained at the other end of the line. Little headway was made and both sides suffered heavy losses, yet the pressure was maintained again the following day when
II Battalion attacked the 43rd Regiment. Artillery fire helped to prevent the Japanese from gaining ground but the next day’s fighting left them in possession of a hill between two Philippine army regiments.
Here, a counterattack took the Japanese by surprise and a Philippine regiment pushed so far into their lines that the Japanese were almost able to surround them. Attacked from three sides the Filipino troops fled to the rear in disorder. Across the peninsula, Japanese attacks against Wainwright’s 1st Corps successfully pushed them back to the main defense line where fighting became intense. Beginning on January 18, it lasted until January 25, with both sides suffering heavy casualties. One of Wainwright’s divisions was forced to escape along the coast without rifles and in complete disorder. Disease and lack of food were beginning to take their toll on the defenders as Japanese pressure forced a general withdrawal, which began on January 23.
In a bold move to open up a front behind the main defense lines and draw away infantry and artillery, two Japanese battalions landed at two points near Mariveles at the tip of Bataan. At first contained in the very rough country by a miscellaneous force of airmen, sailors, and service troops, the two battalions were destroyed after three weeks of bitter fighting.
But General Homma’s troops were running into more trouble as they pressed against the last barricade — the Orion-Bagac line. With American artillery shooting accurately from high positions, attacks were costly; but even so they made several intrusions against the long, thinly defended line. General Nara and General Kimura were both successful in making deep penetrations which were then consolidated. But then these strong pockets were gradually wasted by long, arduous fighting in the rough country.
It was now Homma’s turn to withdraw and lick his wounds. By the end of February, the XIV Army had suffered 7,000 casualties, including 2,700 dead, and between 10,000 and 12,000 were down with dysentery, beriberi, and various tropical diseases. Homma could barely muster three effective battalions — if the Philippine army had launched an offensive at this time it could have recaptured Manila. But a lull settled over no-man’s-land, and sections and platoons patrolled the area between the lines, General Homma awaited reinforcements and the American generals prepared for the final assault.
In Washington on February 8, the War Department received a startling message from Philippine President Manuel Quezon, proposing that the US immediately grant the Philippines their independence, that the islands be neutralised, that American and Japanese forces be withdrawn and the Philippine army be disbanded. At the same time General MacArthur sent a supporting message to the Chief-of-Staff, General Marshall, explaining that the Philippine garrison had sustained a casualty rate of 50%. ‘There is no denying the fact that we are near done,’ he added.
President Roosevelt repudiated the neutrality scheme, insisting that the fight must continue. He authorised MacArthur to surrender Filipino troops if necessary but forbade the surrender of American troops: ‘so long as there remains any possibility of resistance.’ Meanwhile, America and its Pacific allies had agreed to place MacArthur in command of a new Allied HQ in the south-west Pacific. MacArthur had earlier advised Marshall that he intended to ‘fight to destruction’ on Corregidor. When commanded by his President and urged by his senior staff officers, MacArthur accepted the proposed move. He left when the fighting on Bataan had reached a stalemate. With him to Mindanao on four PT boats went his wife and son, and the boy’s nurse, Admiral Rockwell, General George (air force), General Sutherland, and 14 other staff members. At Mindanao they were met by General Sharp who took them to Del Monte airfield. In the early hours of March 12 the entire group took off in B-17s and, at 9 am, landed safely at Darwin.
In his first public statement on reaching Australia, MacArthur said that the relief of the Philippines was his primary purpose. ‘I came through and I shall return’ he pledged.
General Wainwright was appointed the new commander of the Philippine forces, and selected General King to command the Luzon forces on Bataan. Here the most pressing problem was food: army-built rice mills threshed the local palay; Filipino fishermen netted fish; horses, mules, carabao, pigs, chickens, dogs, monkeys, snakes, and iguanas were slaughtered; everything edible on the peninsula was harvested—but the troops’ diet became more and more meagre. The absence of sufficient vitamins resulted in outbreaks of beriberi, scurvy, and amoebic dysentery, and malaria and dengue fevers spread with disastrous rapidity.
Before MacArthur left he advised Wainwright to ‘give them everything you’ve got with your artillery. That’s the best arm you have’. But on Good Friday, April 3— which was also the anniversary of the legendary Japanese Emperor Jimmu — it was General Homma’s guns, howitzers, and mortars which opened up the final offensive.
Homma’s XVI Division and 65th Brigade had been reinforced with healthy troops — the IV Division, arriving from Shanghai, and a detachment of infantry, artillery, and engineers also reaching Bataan. Some 60 twin-engined bombers were flown in to Clark Field for a co-ordinated air and artillery assault against the whole American line. The initial objective was Mount Samat, a 2,000-foot rise behind the centre of the Philippine army’s coast-to-coast defense line.
On April 3 the awesome bombardment began. For five hours the Japanese guns, mortars, and howitzers pounded the sick and weary troops defending the last few miles of Bataan. More than 60 tons of bombs were dropped on the devastated line in front of Mount Samat. By evening, the stocky brown men of 65th Brigade and IV Division had advanced 1,000 yards; the shell and bomb battering had made the preliminary move much easier than Homma expected, so he repeated the formula the following day, ordering his infantry to continue the attack without bothering to consolidate the earlier gains.
Bombing attacks by the XXII Air Brigade were particularly successful on April 4. By sheer chance the bombs fell among two battalions — the 42nd and 43rd — who stampeded south for 4,500 yards, thus opening the centre for the Japanese 65th Brigade, which pushed deeply behind Mount Samat and threw fresh strength against the flank of 2nd Corps. By dawn on April 7, the Japanese had pushed a bulge 4 miles deep into the centre of the defenders’ line, and were commanding the heights of the northern slopes of the Mariveles range.
General King planned to use a counterattack to stop the Japanese offensive. The 45th Brigade, supported by a few tanks, attacked the point of the bulge on the slopes of the Mariveles. But the attempt was futile: there were no flanking attacks to support the brigade, and the corps began to disintegrate. Whole units disappeared into the jungle, communications broke down, and roads and trails became choked with stragglers. Japanese aerial and artillery bombardment was maintained over the whole front, concentrating whenever a stand was made—and as 2nd Corps retreated, 1st Corps became exposed to flanking movements, and also withdrew.
General Wainwright could see that the rout could only be stopped by a strong attack by 1st Corps against the Japanese 65th Brigade and IV Division. He made this suggestion to General King but the Luzon commander refused to issue the order, for he had only a disorganised, routed, decimated, sick and demoralised army which would be slaughtered piecemeal if he did not surrender it. It was his decision, therefore, which ended the fighting on Bataan. On April 9, he sent two emissaries forward with a white flag to meet the Japanese commander.
That night the ammunition dumps were exploded and some 2,000 people — nurses, US army and navy personnel, some Cavalry Scouts, and other Philippine Army troops — escaped in small boats and barges to Corregidor.
On Bataan, 78,000 men of the starved and beaten army went into captivity. The conquerors concluded their victory by forcing their captives into a ‘death march’, from Mariveles to San Fernando. With the barest rations of food or water, the prisoners were forced to march the 65 miles under the hot sun, and many of them were clubbed and bayonetted on the roadside — a vicious end to a vicious battle. Now General Homma turned to the siege of Corregidor — the formidable ‘Gibraltar of the East’ — in order to claim possession of Manila Bay and demand the capitulation of the whole of the Philippine Commonwealth.

Japanese flame-thrower attack on an American blockhouse in the main defense-line on Bataan. On January 23, the defenders were forced to fall back.

GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR, born in 1880, had been associated with the Philippines armed forces since 1928. He had commanded the 42nd Rainbow’ Division in the First World War, and was wounded and gassed in action. In 1925 he had become the youngest major-general in the US Army, and first commanded the department of the Philippines in 1928/30. President Hoover appointed him US Chief-of-Staff in 1930, but MacArthur retired in 1935 to become an adviser to the Philippine government. Appointed Field-Marshal in 1936, he retired the following year, but he was retained as head of all Filipino military forces by President Quezon. When the Filipino armed forces were incorporated into the US forces in July 1941, Roosevelt nominated MacArthur as C-in-C. On the Allied defeat in the Philippines MacArthur arrived in Australia on March 17, 1942, to assume command of all Allied forces in the Pacific theatre. His counteroffensive in the autumn of 1942 in New Guinea started the Allied reconquest of the Pacific.

The Battle for Luzon
The first Japanese landings on Luzon were a calculated risk, for only relatively small units—the largest was a regiment—were used to make the first landings, and occupy the airfields in north and south Luzon, Mindanao, and Job. Not until these were in Japanese hands did the main landings by the remainder of Homma’s two divisions follow. Japanese planners had made a shrewd assessment of Allied strength in the Philippines: they were so confident that Homma was not even given the full strength of XIV Army—only two divisions to tackle eleven divisions and some of the strongest fortresses in the world.
Once the main Japanese force had landed, their advance was extremely rapid, and the inability of  the Philippine army to stand up to them soon convinced General MacArthur that a withdrawal must be made to the Bataan peninsula—which was easily defensible, and on which large quantities of ammunition and fuel had been stored. By January 2, 1942, the Allied cat ‘was entering the sack’, and the Japanese were ready to finish the campaign quickly. But their first impetuous rush on to
the peninsula was met with strong resistance as the 80,000 Allied troops on Bataan prepared to defend a main line on either side of Mount Santa Rosa. The first Japanese attack on January 9 was contained with heavy casualties to both sides and it was not until January 23 that the Allies withdrew to the line running from Orion to Bagac. Here stalemate ensued, for both sides
were exhausted by the savage fighting, disease, and lack of food. Only on April 3 were the Japanese sufficiently reinforced to begin the final assault, which brought surrender on April 9.
1941 July 22: Japan occupies naval and air bases in south-east Indo-China.
July 26: Philippine armed forces are brought under US command. General MacArthur is recalled to active service.
December 8: News of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is received at 0230 hours, but the Japanese still catch the majority of American aircraft in the Philippines on the ground when they attack at 1215 hours. Some 17 B-17s, 56 fighters, and 30 other aircraft are destroyed.
First Japanese landing on the island of Bataan.
December 10/22: Japanese advance forces land in north and south Luzon, Mindanao; Jolo, capturing airfields and liquidating
December 22: Main Japanese landings at Lingayen Bay and Lamon Bay meet with light resistance. The Japanese now begin to advance on Manila from north and south. December 23: MacArthur announces a plan for withdrawal to Bataan, leaving Manila as an ‘open city’.
December 26: Carmen falls, and Japanese gain control of the main road to Manila. December 31: Japanese have advanced to within 30 miles of Manila, but their failure to destroy the bridges at Calumpit allows the American and Philippine troops to withdraw and form a defence line between Porac and Guagua.
1942 January 2: Japanese attempts to break the Porac line are repulsed by American artillery. The defenders withdraw across the Cub bridge.
January 2/9: American and Philippine troops dig in on Bataan peninsula.
January 9: A concentrated artillery barrage opens the Japanese attack on 2nd Corps.
January 9/February 28: Savage fighting, the Japanese suffer heavy casualties while forcing back the defenders. February 8: A proposal that the Philippines be granted their independence and declared a neutral area is rejected by President Roosevelt.
March 12: MacArthur, under orders from Roosevelt, leaves for Darwin. General Wainwright takes command of the Philippine forces.
April 3: Japanese artillery bombardment begins the final offensive. Fresh Japanese troops have arrived while the defenders of Bataan have been decimated by disease and lack of food.
April 4: Japanese force a way through the centre, and turn the flank of 2nd Corps. April 7: Japanese have pushed a salient, 4 miles deep, into the centre of the defenders line. Both 1st and 2nd Corps have to withdraw quickly.
April 9: General King decides that further resistance is useless, and surrenders the remaining forces on Bataan. About 2,000 persons escape to Corregidor. But some 78,000 are forced to make the 65-mile-long death march from Mariveles to San Fernando.
The Fall of Corregidor

December 1941 - May 1942

Fred Stolley


Japanese Soldiers Batter Corregidor with Captured 12-Inch Guns

Corregidor, ‘the Gibraltar of the East’, was said to be invulnerable; but after the fall of Bataan, the fate of the island was sealed. It could no longer be supplied, it could not ‘sail away’, and hunger, disease, and incessant shelling had so weakened the garrison that the final assault could not be resisted for long. With 15,000 troops on the island, the Americans were unable to find a reserve capable of containing 1,000 Japanese.

When the 4th Marines at Bataan climbed aboard the barges and started across the channel to Corregidor they were apprehensive about the trip. They had heard a radio announcer in Manila tell the world, and certainly the interested Japanese, that the Marines were making the crossing that night. Previously, the 4th Marines had been stationed in the International Settlement in Shanghai to protect American lives and property, and in that capacity had many small clashes with the Japanese. The Marines didn’t think that the Japanese would miss a chance to take a crack at them while they were sitting ducks on the barges.
‘You can’t bomb Corregidor,’ the radio announcer taunted them. ‘You are afraid to bomb Corregidor.’ But the Japanese ignored the invitation and the trip was uneventful. It was December 27, 1941.
Once ashore on Corregidor, the Marines began to gain a little confidence in the invulnerability of the ‘Rock’. In their sweat stained khaki, most of them unshaven, they stared in amazement at the military police who met them at the dock at Bottomside. The MPs were in starched suntan khaki, their shoes were spit-shined, and the brass on their white belts was highly polished. Was there really a war on?
Electric trains whisked the Marines to the barracks at Middleside; and as the guides escorted them to quarters, they saw soldiers playing quietly at pool and billiards in comfortable orderly rooms. ‘What is this,’ grunted a sergeant, ‘Wonderland?’
‘We’ll know for sure if Alice comes and kisses us goodnight,’ wise-cracked a private.
The next day Colonel Samuel Lutz Howard and his staff conferred with Major-General George F. Moore, US Army, Commander of the Harbour Defenses and the Fortified Islands of Manila Bay, on the strategic deployment of the 4th Marines. The rank and file of the regiment were left free to clean their weapons, shave, and wash clothes. That afternoon they found the canteens and clubs were open and many slaked their thirst and told sea stories over cold bottles of San Miguel beer. As late as midnight, a dance band still played softly at the officers’ club.
By this time the Marines were convinced that the Rock was a pretty solid place but they were still cautious. Several times during the day the air raid warning sounded, and the Marines dutifully took cover — much to the amusement and scorn of the regular garrison. Ologapo was demolished, the Navy Yards at Cavite and Sangley Point in ruins, major airfields and other military installations were bombed out of existence; but the ‘Rock’ was invulnerable . . . so the soldiers said. Their uncomplimentary remarks to the Marines, who continued to keep one eye on the skies even while shooting craps and playing poker, caused several small riots.

The last Allied footholds off Luzon:

The defenses of Manila Bay were centered on the "Gibraltar of the East", the island fortress of Corregidor; Fort Mills.

On the 29th, the Marines were given a briefing on the harbour defenses by their company officers. Many of the old-timers in the regiment had been stationed in the Philippines before and had already circulated stories about the ‘Gibraltar of the East’. The fabulous tunnels, the heavy armament, Fort Drum the concrete battleship—all had been embellished with the purple prose of the master raconteurs.
The harbour defenses in Manila Bay were made up of four forts built on islands. Fort Mills was the island of Corregidor. Shaped like a tadpole, it was 3 1/2 miles in length and 1 1/2 miles at its widest point. Its head pointed towards the west, and its tail stretched eastward; and at the junction of its head and tail, it was only 600 yards wide. This narrow low area was called Bottomside, and it contained a small village, docks, shops and warehouses, the power plant, and the cold storage plant. To the west of Bottomside the promontory rose to a small plateau known, appropriately enough, as Middleside. Here were the hospital and barracks.
Topside was another plateau, the highest point on the island. It had a parade ground with officers’ quarters, headquarters, and barracks grouped around it. The cliffs from Topside dropped to the sea; but cutting into the cliffs were two ravines, Cheney Ravine and James Ravine, which gave access from the beaches to the Middleside and Topside areas.
The largest part of the tail end of the island was Malinta Hill and under it was the most extensive construction on the island — Malinta Tunnel. Its main tunnel, connecting Bottomside with the tail end of the island, was 1,400 feet long and 30 feet wide. It had 25 laterals, each about 400 feet long, branching out at regular intervals. Malinta ran almost due east and west. A hospital was housed in its own set of laterals and had an entrance facing north. The Quartermaster Corps had another complex that went south and fed into the navy tunnel, which had an entrance on the south side of Malinta Hill.
From Malinta Hill the island stretched out to the tip, at which point the terrain was level enough to support Kindley Field, a small airfield. There were 65 miles of roads on Corregidor and an electric railroad with 13 1/2 miles of track.
On paper, the armament of Corregidor was awesome. Fifty-six coastal guns ranging in calibre from 3 to 12 inches ringed the island. Two of the 12-inch guns had a range of 15 miles and in addition there were six 12-inch guns with a range of 8 1/2 miles and ten mortars of the same calibre. Nineteen other 155-mm guns could also reach out to 17,000 yards. In the anti-aircraft department there were 24 3-inch guns, 48 .50calibre machine-guns, and five 60-inch searchlights.
The main worry in the ordnance situation was the ammunition supply. There was plenty of ammunition but little of it was of the type suitable for attacking land targets, and there were no shells to provide illumination for night fire. And what was really needed — mechanically fused 3-inch highexplosive shells for anti-aircraft defense — was in short supply.
Fort Drum, the concrete battleship. To build it, El Fraile Island had to be shorn off, encased in concrete and armed with 14-inch guns.

In addition to Fort Mills was Fort Hughes on Caballo just south of Corregidor, a quarter of a square mile island that rose to a height of 380 feet on its western side and armed with 17 guns ranging from 14-inch to 3-inch anti-aircraft; 4 miles south of Hughes was Fort Drum.
To build Fort Drum, the engineers cut away the entire top of El Fraile Island down to the water line; using the solid rock as a foundation, they built a battleship 350 feet long and 144 feet wide with walls of concrete up to 36 feet thick. USS Drum, as the sailors called it, was armed with four 14-inch guns, four 6-inch guns, and antiaircraft defense of three 3-inch guns. This brute was built to withstand anything in the armament of the 1941 era.
The southernmost of the fortified islands was Fort Frank on Carabao Island, only 500 yards from the shore of Cavite Province. Carabao rose 100 feet straight out of the sea and was armed with 21 guns ranging from 14-inch to 75-mm beach defense guns.
In peace time the combined force on the fortified islands in Manila Bay was under 6,000 men, most of whom were stationed on Corregidor. But the war changed that. As the areas were bombed out, first came the survivors from the Cavite Naval Base and then the troops from the headquarters and service establishments in Manila. On Christmas Day, General Douglas MacArthur established his headquarters there and with him came a military police company, two ordnance companies, an engineer company, and service detachments. By the time the 4th Marines arrived, the island was crowded with men of all services, of several nationalities, under a host of command structures.
On December 29 briefing was over for the Marines at about 1130, and they milled about collecting their mess gear on the third and second decks of the Middleside barracks where they were quartered. Some had gone below and were having a smoke outside when the air-raid warning sounded.
Prodded by their NCOs, the Marines moved to cover on the first deck of the barracks running the gauntlet of the jeers of the headquarters and service army billiard players.
There was a moment of silence, broken only by the click of the billiard balls, and then the guns of the 60th Coast Artillery (AA) opened up. The curious flocked to the windows and even to the rooftops to see what was going on when the incoming flight of 18 twin-engined bombers of the Japanese XIV Heavy Bombardment Regiment released its first load.
The saga of Corregidor had started.
Lieutenant-General Masaharu Homma was a practical soldier and a good tactician. He did not believe that Corregidor was an impregnable fortress, but his first task was to seize Manila and defeat MacArthur’s army . . . Corregidor could wait. It could not slip away in the night.
Once Manila had fallen he issued his orders for an air attack on Corregidor. Lieutenant-General Hideoshi Obata’s V Air Group (Army) would strike at noon on December 29 ‘with its whole strength’, and an hour later navy bombers of the XI Air Fleet would take over.
They were six minutes early. At 1154 the first flight, covered by 19 fighters, hit the ‘Rock’. They criss-crossed the island for half an hour dropping 225- and 550-pound bombs. At 1230, 22 light bombers and 18 dive-bombers had their turn, and they were relieved by the navy. Using about 60 aircraft, the Japanese continued the attack on the island and shipping in the harbour for at least another hour.
General Douglas MacArthur’s USAFFE headquarters (United States Army Forces Far East) were located Topside on the ‘Rock’ and he came out to observe when the air raid sounded. He remained in a casual posture, chomping on his cigar as the first wave released its bombs.
‘Get down, General, get down,’ an aide shouted. But the general remained standing through another wave before his aide could convince him to get in a staff car and go to Malinta Tunnel.
In the entire mêlée, the happiest men were those manning the anti-aircraft guns of the 60th Coast Guard Artillery. They were in action from start to finish in the 2k-hour air-raid. The cheers heard by those huddled in the ground floor of the barracks and in the pseudo air-raid shelters came from the gun crews as they shot down Japanese planes. Three high-flying bombers were downed by the 3-inch guns, and the .50-calibre batteries took care of four of the Japanese dive-bombers.
But after the ‘All Clear’ sounded, the dazed non-combatants moved out of the rubble of what was once ‘The Gibraltar of the East’, and started to reorganise.
The island was in shambles. The first rack of bombs had smashed the Officers’ Club, the vacated station hospital, and many of the other wooden and corrugated-iron buildings from Topside to Bottomside. Other bombing runs hit more important targets, but the results were the same. Under the cloud of dust and smoke, Corregidor looked like one mass of jagged and bent sheet iron. Before the dust had cleared, the troops were organised and moved out to their combat posts. The bandsmen who played at the officers’ club became stretcher bearers, and everyone on the ‘Rock’ not assigned to a duty station in Malinta Tunnel started to dig in. But everything was anti-climactic after the first air raid. It was a routine of ‘get-bombed-dig-your-buddy-out-and-tomorrow-he’ll-dig-you-out’.
The bombers were back again on January 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, dropping their bombs from an altitude of from 24-27,000 feet. The anti-aircraft batteries did yeoman duty.
To fire effectively at such extreme altitudes, men of the 60th had to overcome many difficult problems. Only after the aircraft released their bombs were they in range of the 3-inch guns. Men would stay at their positions, tracking the attacking aircraft until the bombers were directly overhead; then they would get in only four to six rounds before the bombs hit the target area. These tactics demanded stern discipline and iron nerves but the boys of the 60th had it. Battery Chicago, for example, became so efficient even under these trying conditions that its men ran up the almost unbelievable rate of 34 rounds per minute.
The 60th was credited with shooting down at least 25 aircraft during this six-day period but the record does not tell the complete story. The batteries kept the Japanese bombers flying so high they were inaccurate in their bombing and many important targets, such as the power plant and the pumping stations, survived.
For the rest of the month the ‘Rock’ enjoyed an uneasy rest from the bombers for the Japanese V Air Group had left the Philippines. Life turned into a dreary routine of digging in and looking for food.
It was at this time that the rumours started. Many of the men took President Franklin D. Roosevelt literally when he announced: ‘Hundreds of ships . . . thousands of planes . . . are coming to your rescue.’ Men waited for this dream convoy daily and in the sunset would climb to a high point looking to sea for it.
A few learned the real score when a submarine carrying AA fuses arrived from Hawaii in February. The working party unloading the submarine were told about the tremendous damage the Japanese had inflicted on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. The propaganda radio station in Manila played on this nerve factor by using a familiar American song as its theme . . . ‘Waiting For Ships That Never Come In’.
Up to this point the ‘Rock’ had been spared from artillery tire; but late in January a small Japanese artillery unit, under Major Toshinori Kondo, had set up near Ternate in Cavite province just 12 miles from Corregidor. Well concealed in valleys, his guns opened up on February 6 and continued to fire at one-minute intervals for three hours. Everyone attempted but no one succeeded in—getting a fix on Kondo’s guns. They did little damage and everyone soon got familiar with the new sound of incoming artillery, but it was an ordeal.
While the shooting was going on, President Roosevelt worried about the fate of Bataan and Corregidor; but in particular he worried about the fate of MacArthur. The United States could not afford to lose its most famous soldier; so on February 22, he ordered MacArthur to leave and proceed to Australia. The general obeyed the order but waited until the last minute and did not leave until March 12. When he left he turned to General George Moore at the dock. ‘Keep the flag flying,’ he said, ‘I am coming back.’
For the people on Corregidor, MacArthur’s departure seemed a ray of hope. They knew that if anything humanly possible could be done to help them, MacArthur would do it.
Major Kondo’s little guns had stopped firing; but in the middle of March, Colonel Masayoshi Hayakawa and his 1 Heavy Artillery Regiment moved into the Pic de Loro hills, much closer to Fort Frank. The I Regiment was armed with ten of the most powerful artillery pieces in the Japanese army—240-mm (9.4-inch) howitzers. With these brutes he proceeded to clobber Fort Frank and Fort Drum. He did considerable damage to Fort Frank but the 36 feet of concrete on top of Fort Drum held magnificently. Each shell that hit would chip up at least 4 inches of concrete; and living inside the concrete battleship was like living in a steel barrel with someone pounding the outside. But the men and the fort held up well.
On March 22 the Hayakawa Detachment pulled out and went to join the final assault on Bataan. The forts of Corregidor had a short breather, but on March 24 the bombers came back and General Homma had started the last stage of his drive to take the ‘Rock’.
The attack came from 60 army and 24 navy aircraft. Using Clark Field as a base, each plane could make three or four trips in the day so they were able to start their attack at 0930 hours and kept it up until 1630. That night they came back for their first night raid of the campaign, and for the next three days they continued the attack with at least 50 bombers a day.
The raids did some damage but again it could be said that the gunners of the 60th had saved the ‘Rock’. The Fort Mills power plant was still intact; a few beach positions had been hit but casualties were light; and Corregidor was still in fighting shape.
But now the food shortage was taking its toll. From January 1, the troops had been on half rations.
‘The best meal we had,’ a soldier wrote, ‘was the day the bombs hit the mule stables.’ In addition to the starvation, the quinine supply was low, and the malaria rate high.
The men on Corregidor accepted the fall of Bataan stoically. They had watched with awe the purple-green skies as demolition men blew up the ammunition dumps and military installations on the mainland and knew it was to be their turn next.
With the fall of Bataan, the Japanese had a straight shot at Corregidor, just 3 miles across the north channel. They didn’t hesitate to set up everything from 75-mm to their big 240-mm guns, all bearing on Corregidor — the bullseye of the target. For the siege they assembled the best in the Imperial Japanese Army: an Intelligence team of 675 men with flash and sound gear; a squadron of observation planes and a balloon company; 46 155-mm guns; 28 105-mm guns, and 32 75s; but the weapons that were to do the most damage were Colonel Hayakawa’s 240-mm monsters. With the artillery team assembled and with the observation balloon up, the duel started. Observers in the balloon were able to pinpoint targets on Corregidor, by now stripped of protective covering and camouflage, and direct battery fire into any and all positions. It was an uneven fight.
The Corregidor batteries had some good days. Battery Geary dropped some of its 670-pound mortar shells on a Japanese artillery concentration destroying a battery, then another battery and an ammunition dump, and finally on a group of tanks.
But when the big 240s started to slam back with their 400-pound time-fused projectiles it was just a matter of time. Battery James suffered 42 killed on April 15 when heavy fire collapsed a cliff over a temporary dirt tunnel the batterymen had constructed. The men suffocated before rescue teams could dig them out. Battery Crockett had been hit, batteries Geary and Craghill were plastered as soon as they opened fire. Only the 14-inch rifles of Battery Wilson on Fort Drum were able to stay in action constantly.
April 29 was Emperor Hirohito’s birthday and the Japanese gunners prepared a celebration. For several days they stockpiled their ammunition, and on signal began the salute to their Emperor at 0725.
The din was terrific with the big guns firing almost — it seemed to the dazed defenders — with the rapidity of machine-guns. The huge 240s came in with a sound like tearing silk, and their tremendous detonations literally picked the beach defenders up and threw them out of their foxholes. Bombers attacked from overhead, but the men on Corregidor didn’t realise that an air raid was going on at the same time — so intense was the artillery fire.
By noon, fires had broken out all over the ‘Rock’ and exploding ammunition dumps added to the danger of the artillery and bombing. Jagged pieces of steel flew, trees were uprooted and hurtled through the air, and solid rock cliffs were pounded into rubble until it seemed that no living thing could exist on Corregidor.
The barrage continued for the next two days; then on May 2 the Japanese intensified their fire: in a five-hour period they rained a total of 3,600 rounds on to the Geary/Crockett battery area. Finally one of the time-fused armour-piercing 240 shells crashed through the weakened concrete of a main powder magazine at battery Geary; and to the Japanese in the observation balloon it looked like Corregidor blew up.
The defenders thought so too. As far down as Bottomside the concussion was great enough to start men haemorrhaging through the nose and ears. Several 13-ton mortars flew through the air like toy guns; one was found on what was left of the golf course 150 yards away, and debris mixed with unexploded 12-inch mortar shells came down all over the island. Men staggered out of their foxholes after the smoke had settled to start rescue operations, and it was fortunate the Japanese ceased their firing operations for the day or the casualties would have been trebled.
In the meantime, General Homma was having his problems. He had landing craft for the final assault, but they were in the Lingayen Gulf or Subic Bay area on the west side of Bataan. In order to move the landing craft into the Manila Bay area, it was necessary to pass through North Channel under the guns of Corregidor. After several feints during the daylight hours, the necessary landing craft were brought down during the night under cover of artillery fire.
Now the Japanese were ready. The Americans were tired, sick with malaria—but ready to fight back after having lain in their foxholes without a chance to fire back.
On the morning of the 5th, the Japanese opened up with everything they had. But from Corregidor there was little answering fire: most of the batteries were out of operation. By late afternoon, all wire communications were knocked out, searchlights were put out of action, land mines were detonated, machine-gun positions caved in, barbed wire entanglements were torn up, and beach defences were in a hopeless shape.
‘It took no, mental giant,’ wrote General Wainwright, ‘to figure out that the enemy was ready to come against Corregidor.’
Homma’s IV Division was indeed ready. The men had completed landing manoeuvres, and thousands of bamboo ladders had been built to scale the cliffs of Corregidor. The moon was to be full that night.
By 1830 hours, all the harbour forts were being pounded with the full Japanese arsenal but then the concentration of fire went to the island’s tail and to the beaches of the north shore. At 2100, with the shelling growing more intense rather than slacking off as it usually did with the approach of night, word went out from Colonel Howard to bring all weapons out of cover and man the beaches.
Half an hour later the sound locators of the 60th picked up the sound of landing barges being warmed up in the vicinity of Limay. The Japanese were on their way.
It was a curious situation. The beaches were manned with a heterogeneous group of Marines, soldiers, sailors, civilians, and Filipino scouts, as ragged and bob-tailed an outfit as has ever been gathered together in combat. Their armament ranged from Enfield rifles to bomb chutes constructed to drop 30-pound air bombs on the beaches. But few of the defenders had ever fired a shot in anger against other troops.
It would seem that Homma’s well-trained IV Division would have no trouble in going ashore against such a defence after the preinvasion bombardment. But, even in the moonlight, the coxswains of the landing barges were having trouble hitting their assigned landing areas. An unexpected current, sweeping through the North Channel, drove the landing force out of its assigned area to the tail of the island, thousands of yards from their objective — Malinta Tunnel.
As they drifted sideways towards the east, fighting the current, the beach defences took aim on them. They opened up with 75s, 37s, machine-guns, and rifles. The defenders fired until the grease ran out of their weapons, and the Japanese, who had been expecting an easy landing, were shocked at their losses.
But at least 30% got ashore and established a beach-head. A few of the barges, one carrying Colonel Gempachi Sato who commanded a unit of the 61st Infantry Regiment, slipped ashore unseen.
While the beach defenders continued to slaughter the second wave of Japanese, Colonel Sato organised the survivors and started. his move toward Malinta Tunnel.
The fighting that followed was so confused that no clear picture emerges. Small groups set up strong points and defended them to the death, but lack of communication among the defenders finally led to defeat. As late as daylight the next day, some of the beach groups did not know the Japanese had landed.
Colonel Howard didn’t learn of the landing until almost midnight, and when he ordered his regimental reserve into action, it had trouble getting through Malinta Tunnel into the zone of action. With 15,000 men on Corregidor, 4,000 or 5,000 of them concentrated in Malinta Tunnel, Howard and Moore found themselves unable to scrape together a reserve capable of combating 1,000 Japanese. There were many administrators, technicians, and commanders available, but what the ‘Rock’ needed at this point was some fighters.
On the other hand, General Homma was biting his nails in frustration. When he received the report that between half to two-thirds of the landing craft had been destroyed, he felt there was a real danger that his men might be driven back into the sea. Although he had 14,000 men available he had only 21 boats left. When he heard that the Americans were counterattacking. he went into panic.
However, the attack had not failed. Small detachments of the Japanese had outflanked the American counterattacking elements, light artillery had landed and was firing effectively in support, and they delivered the final blow at about 1000 hours when they threw into action three tanks which they had brought across.
Corregidor was finished. All reserves had been committed, all effective guns were out of action, and the Japanese had a beach-head established in force. At 1000 hours on May 6, General Wainwright had his aide broadcast a surrender message to General Homma, and orders went out to the troops to destroy their weapons. Corregidor, the ‘invulnerable’ fortress, had fallen.
The men on the ‘Rock’ reacted in many ways. Some got into the stores of medical alcohol and got drunk, others got into the hoarded food supplies and went on an eating binge, but most of them looked into the future and wondered how long it would take MacArthur to come back.

1941 December 23: Japanese receive the surrender of Wake.
December 25: Japanese receive the surrender of Hong Kong. December 29: Japanese aircraft make their first heavy raid on Corregidor.

1942 January 1: The US troops on Corregidor are put on half rations. February 15: Japanese receive the surrender of Singapore.
February 22: Roosevelt orders General MacArthur to leave Corregidor. March 12: MacArthur leaves Corregidor— ‘I shall return.
March 24: Japanese begin their attack on Bataan, and begin a regular artillery bombardment of Corregidor.
April 8: Japanese receive the last surrenders of Bataan.
May 5: The Japanese forces cross to Corregidor island and establish a beach-head.
May 6: Japanese receive the surrender of Corregidor.

Japanese troops go ashore to complete the occupation of Corregidor island. General Homma’s original plan of attack had nearly been defeated by strong American resistance—but his forces had gained a foothold despite their losses, and fought their way towards the heart of Wainwright’s defense at Malinta tunnel.



May 6: men of the Allied garrison swarm out of Malinta tunnel in surrender—the end on Corregidor, and of the Philippines campaign. Some 15,000 American and Filipino troops had surrendered to a landing-force of 1,000 Japanese. Numbers had not been lacking— ‘But what Corregidor had needed was some fighters’.

Japanese Victory Parade Through Manila, Capital of the Philippine Islands

FRED STOLLEY was editor of Walla Walla, the 4th Marines newsweekly, in Shanghai in 1941. He was on Corregidor, commanding a machine-gun platoon, when the island fell to the Japanese, and survived three and a half years as a prisoner-of-war. He returned to the Far East in 1952 as a combat correspondent in Korea, and then as press chief of the 1st Marine Division. On his return from Korea he became associate editor of the Marine Corps Gazette until he retired in 1957. He joined the US Naval Institute in 1961, as assistant editor of the Naval Institute Proceedings, and went on to serve as promotion manager.

Return to World War II Photos Page
Contact Us
©2001 All rights reserved.