The Fall of Corregidor
For almost a month the Japanese had been preparing for this moment. Every precaution had been taken to insure the success of the assault and so bring to an end the six-month-long campaign to take the Philippines. Yet General Homma watched the troops embark for the shores of Corregidor with trepidation. Of the three critical moments of the campaign, he told the military commission at his trial, "this was the third."1
The troops in the assault craft that approached the north shore of Corregidor on the night of 5 May were from General Kitano's 4th Division. Homma's plan, it will be recalled, had provided for two landings, to be made on successive nights at opposite ends of the island, and Kitano had accordingly organized his reinforced division into two forces: a left (east) wing and a right (west) wing. The first, which was landing on Corregidor on the night of the 5th, consisted of the 61st Infantry, reinforced with tanks from the 7th Tank Regiment, and artillery and service elements. It was led by Col. Gempachi Sato, commander of the 61st. The right wing, under the 4th Division infantry group commander, Maj. Gen. Kureo Taniguchi, was the stronger of the two forces and was composed of the 37th Infantry, one battalion of the 8th Infantry, an element of the 7th Tank Regiment, several artillery units, and service elements. It was to land the following night on the beach below Topside, near James Ravine.2 (Map 23)
14th Army had completed its preparations for the coming assault during the latter part of April. Ammunition, heavy equipment, and landing boats had been brought to the assembly area, working parties organized to handle the supplies, and combat troops put through the final stages of training. When the landing boats of the 1st Sea Operation Unit had been assembled and equipped, the 4th Division began amphibious training along the east coast of Bataan, north of Limay, and the 16th Division did the same in the Cavite area. Rehearsals had been held and equipment tested at the end of the month to put everything in order for the final test.
The Japanese fully expected the fight to be a hard one. The troops making the landing had been carefully trained in landing operations and close-in fighting. Special attention had been given to methods of removing beach obstacles and reducing strongly fortified positions, and provision was made for the use of smoke screens. Enough rations,
fuel, and ammunition to last one week had been issued to the troops. In anticipation of a water shortage, extra canteens had been distributed and provision made for an additional supply of fresh water at the target.
On 27 April-at a conference attended by representatives of the 4th Division, 14th Army artillery, the 22d Air Brigade, and the Navy-liaison and co-operation between the assault units, the artillery, and the air forces had been arranged. Two days later the air force had begun the final phase of its operations and for a week concentrated on targets along the north shore of Corregidor and on enemy shipping in the bay. On 5 May Maj. Gen. Kizo Mikami, commanding the 22d Air Brigade, had had reconnaissance and bombardment aircraft over Corregidor constantly to report on the movement of troops on the island and to soften up the enemy defenses.
The artillery had begun its preparatory fire on 1 May and by the evening of the 5th had laid waste the entire north shore of Corregidor. That night, after the first troops had embarked at Lamao, the artillery concentrated first on the remaining mobile guns and searchlights on the island and then on the stretch of beach between Infantry and Cavalry Points. Just before the landing, the artillery had shifted its fire westward, to Malinta Hill. To assist in artillery fire that night and next day, General Kitajima had placed a liaison group of sixty men in the assault boats. They would go ashore with the first waves and establish artillery observation posts on Malinta Hill as soon as it was taken.
By the time the artillery and air forces had opened the final phase of the bombardment, the 4th Division had won its fight against malaria and was ready to move into the assembly area. On 4 May, X minus 1, Colonel Sato had assembled his left wing units in the Lamao River valley, near Cabcaben, and the next day marched them to Lamao where, at dusk, they began to embark for Corregidor. The run to the island was made in darkness, the troops expecting to land about 2300, an hour before moonrise. Earlier that day, after Sato moved out, General Taniguchi's right wing assembled near Cabcaben in preparation for their assault the next night, 6 May.
Colonel Sato's plan was to land the first waves at high tide near Cavalry Point, on the north shore of the narrow tip of the island. Later waves were to come in shortly after and land to the right (west), between Cavalry and Infantry Points. As soon as the beachhead was secure, the troops in the first wave, about a battalion in size, would drive south toward Kindley Field. The rest of Sato's force would push west toward Malinta Hill which was to be occupied by daybreak, 6 May. (Map 25)
On the night of 6 May, General Taniguchi's right wing would embark at Lamao and head for the north shore of Corregidor, between Battery and Morrison Points. If all went well the men would land a half hour before midnight and move inland, presumably through James Ravine. One portion of the force was to strike across the island to the south shore; the rest eastward toward Malinta Hill. Meanwhile, Colonel Sato's men were to resume their advance westward from Malinta Hill to join the right wing. When the two groups met, they would combine, under Taniguchi's command, to mop up any remaining enemy resistance. By X plus 2, 7 May, if all went well, the battle for Corregidor would be over.
The plan miscarried almost immediately. At the time the men embarked, the tide on
the Bataan shore was flowing west, out of Manila Bay. The Japanese took it for granted that the current off Corregidor would be flowing west also. Contrary to expectation, the current at the target flowed in the opposite direction and the landing force "was naturally swept away."3 Instead of arriving off Corregidor between Infantry and Cavalry Points, the selected landing site, it approached the island at a point about 1,000 yards to the east, near North Point.
Most of the officers who had planned the landing had not "dreamed that there would be any slip-ups." They thought the peculiar shape of the island would forestall any errors. But, as one Japanese officer later wrote, "the island lost its odd shape as it was approached and it did not serve as a particular landmark."4
Most of the 4th Division staff attributed their difficulty in part to the 1st Sea Operation Unit. They felt that the boats were handled inefficiently and that the commander did not have the unit under control during the embarkation and the journey to the target. Because the men of the 1st Sea Operation Unit had had experience in shore-to-shore operations in the Singapore campaign, and were "high-spirited," 4th Division officers felt they had "made light" of the Corregidor assault and failed to train adequately. "The unit later discovered," wrote Colonel Yoshida, "that it had paid dearly for this lack."5
Not only did the Japanese come in east of the designated beaches, but they became separated during the approach and landed at different times and at some distance from each other. The landing plan had provided that the two battalions of the 61st Infantry land abreast, with the 1st Battalion on the right (west). Off Cabcaben, in the assembly area, Colonel Sato, who was with the 1st Battalion, discovered that the 2d Battalion, which should have been on his left, had "strayed" and was now on his right flank. Charitably attributing this error "to the mental strain" and the "distractions" of the commander of the landing craft, Sato ordered the 1st Battalion to go ahead. The 2d Battalion was to follow and to change course so that it would reach the beach in its proper place on the left of the formation. It was never able to do so or to catch up with the 1st Battalion.
Colonel Sato might have corrected the formation by sending the 1st Battalion westward so that it would once again become the right element. Actually such a course would have compensated partially for the eastward drift of the entire flotilla, but he had no way of knowing this. What he feared most was his own artillery fire. The landing plan provided for the bombardment on the right (west) of the landing beaches "to cover its right flank," and if the landing craft veered too far to the right, they would come under friendly fire. It was for this reason, explained one officer, that "the unit kept on drifting to the left without even knowing the exact location of the landing point."6
This confusion during the approach, plus the failure to make proper allowance for current and tide, brought the Japanese to the wrong beaches and in the wrong order. The 2d Battalion, which had "strayed" to the right, never recovered from its initial error and came in late. The 1st Battalion arrived somewhat east of the place designated for the 2d Battalion, which found itself coming in toward a strange shore near the tail of the island and far from the area upon which the artillery had laid down its preparatory fire. Mutual support of the two battalions, which had been provided for in this plan, was impossible. "Thus," explained Colonel Yoshida, "the Division was forced to start fighting under disadvantageous conditions. ... A long, desperate struggle and heavy sacrifices were required to break the situation."7
The Americans and Filipinos on shore, unaware of the confusion in the Japanese ranks and still reeling under the effects of the bombardment, met the enemy with every weapon they could muster. One 2-gun 75-mm. battery near the tail of the island, just east of North Point, had never disclosed its position and it opened fire, together with some 37-mm. guns, at a range of about 300 yards, on the incoming landing craft. The few remaining searchlights were turned on but were quickly shot out by artillery fire from Bataan. But there was enough light for the guns on shore from the tracers which "like a 4th of July display danced and sparkled pinkly from Kindley Field to Monkey Point."8 At point-blank range they struck the surprised and confused Japanese, sank a number of the boats, and caused many casualties. "Beach defense officers at
SEARCHLIGHT ON CORREGIDOR
the scene," wrote an observer, "reported that the slaughter of the Japanese in their barges was sickening."9
By this time the moon had risen and the clouds had drifted away. Thus, when the 2d Battalion of Colonel Sato's 61st Infantry approached the shore shortly before midnight, it was clearly visible to the men on the beach. There was now enough light for artillery fire, and the Americans opened up with everything they had. The remaining 12-inch mortar of Battery Way went into action with a boom, followed by the shriek of the rotating bands. From nearby Fort Hughes came fire from the mortars of Battery Craighill while the remaining smaller guns at both forts, the 3-inchers and the 75's, dropped their shells on the landing barges nearing the shore. To the Japanese in the small boats it seemed as though "a hundred guns rained red-hot steel on them." Eyewitnesses at Cabcaben described the scene as "a spectacle that confounded the imagination, surpassing in grim horror anything we had ever seen before."10
The Japanese, who had believed they could come ashore "without shedding blood," lost heavily during the landing. Although the 1st Battalion reached the beach on schedule under supporting fire from 14th Army artillery, it was hard hit. Estimates of its casualties varied from 50 to 75 percent.11 Casualties in the battalion which came in late exceeded those of the first landing, one Japanese officer placing the number of drowned alone in his own unit at 50 percent. Total casualties for both landings were estimated at several hundred, and one Japanese officer claimed that only 800 men of the 2,000 who made the attempt reached the shore.12
Though the Japanese attempted no further landing that night the Americans believed that they had and that it had been frustrated. At about 0440, as dawn was breaking, small boats believed to be landing barges were seen approaching the Bottomside area of Corregidor. All remaining guns were directed to fire on these craft and on Cabcaben where other boats could be seen. Battery Stockade, with two 155-mm. fixed
guns and two more roving batteries, hit the approaching formation with damaging effect. Fort Drum opened fire at a range of 20,000 yards and dropped over 100 rounds on the vessels. Ordered to shift fire to the North Channel, the commander at Drum replied that he could not see any targets because of the dense cloud of smoke and dust over Corregidor. "Just fire in the smoke, anywhere between you and Cabcaben," he was told, "and you can't miss them."13
Though the Americans were mistaken in their belief that they had driven off a third assault, they had succeeded in sinking and damaging many more of the enemy's fleet of small boats. Between half and two thirds of the landing craft leaving Bataan that night had been put out of action. When Homma received the report of "the disastrous state" of his troops and the loss in landing craft he was thrown into an "agony of mind."14
The situation was not as bad as Homma believed. Troops of the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry, had come ashore near North Point at about 2310, and, after a brief fight with the men of Company A, 4th Marines, stationed along the north shore from Malinta Hill to the east tip of the island, had established a beachhead on the island. One portion of the battalion advanced south across the tail to the south shore and by 0100 had reached Monkey Point and cut off those troops on the eastern tip. The rest of the battalion had turned west and advanced along the axis of the island toward Malinta Hill, the main objective of the landing. By 0130 this force had taken the position formerly occupied by Battery Denver on a ridge in the narrow neck between Infantry and Cavalry Points. There the Japanese established a north-south line across the island.15 Already the tanks and artillery were coming ashore.
Thus far, the fighting had been confused and un-co-ordinated. The 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, holding the East Sector and a shore line about 10,000 yards long, had only one company on the north shore, with one platoon posted in the area where the Japanese landed. Opposition at the beaches, therefore, had been slight and the Japanese had been able to advance swiftly. It was only when he heard voices "not American" that a marine on Denver Hill realized the enemy had reached that point. "The place," he wrote, "seemed to have Japs all over it."16 Not until 0200, when the situation had clarified, was it discovered that only two platoons stood between the enemy and Malinta Tunnel. At that time the first elements of the reserve, two companies, were committed.
Meanwhile General Moore had stripped his Seacoast batteries to provide additional troops for the beach defenses. At the first news of the landing, men from the 59th Coast Artillery (Batteries Cheney, Wheeler, and Crockett) were made available to Colonel Howard. Later other coast and antiaircraft artillerymen were released from their assignments and formed as infantry troops.
Placing these men in position east of Malinta Hill proved a most difficult task. They had to move from their battery positions, across Bottomside which was under intermittent but intense enemy artillery fire, into Malinta Tunnel via the west entrance, through the tunnel, then out by way of the east entrance. By this time the Japanese were concentrating artillery fire on this entrance, the only avenue of approach to the thin line in front of the Japanese. One enemy barrage caught Battery C of the 59th Coast Artillery on its way across Bottomside, killing one officer and wounding a number of men.
Between 0200 and 0400 the Japanese made no advances but threw back three counterattacks against their Denver Battery line. While their artillery continued to pound away at Malinta Hill and the area to the west, pinning the Americans and Filipinos to the ground, the men of the 2d Battalion, 61st Infantry, joined their comrades in the 1st Battalion. With these reinforcements, Colonel Sato was able to increase the pressure on the Marine line in front of him.
At 0430 Colonel Howard decided to send in the last of his reserves. The danger of a break-through was too serious to delay any longer. With the 2d and 3d Battalions, 4th Marines, held in place in the Middle and West Sectors by the threat of additional landings, he had only the untrained men of the 4th Provisional Battalion and the artillerymen. These he sent into the line with orders to counterattack and regain control of the east end of the island.
It was an impossible assignment. The 4th Provisional Battalion, led by Maj. Francis Williams, USMC, was not a battalion at all. Many of its officers and most of its men were neither qualified nor trained as infantrymen ; it was not organized as a battalion of infantry and did not have the equipment and weapons normal in an infantry battalion. It was, one of the officers remarked, simply "a group of 500 sailors with 500 rifles-nothing more."17
The 4th Provisional Battalion had moved into Malinta, Tunnel earlier that morning and had been waiting at the east entrance for several hours when it received orders to counterattack. During that time the men had suffered acute discomfort from the heat and dust and from the concussion of shells falling just outside the entrance. They had witnessed also a steady stream of wounded marines brought into the tunnel past their position, a sight that "did little to boost the morale of the men about to move into the battle area."18
At 0430 Major Williams moved his battalion out in a column of companies. Before the last company cleared the tunnel, the company at the head of the column had already suffered casualties from artillery fire. All along the avenue of approach the battalion ran into interdiction fire and it had gone only 500 yards before it was dispersed by a heavy concentration. With much difficulty the column was formed again and managed to move forward to within 200 yards of the front. There Major Williams formed a skirmish line, and the battalion completed its journey in this formation.
The sector assigned the provisional battalion comprised the left (north) portion of the thinly held line facing the Japanese dug in on both sides of Denver Hill. The right side of the line was taken over by the Headquarters and Service Company, 4th
Marines, plus miscellaneous Army and Navy troops. In reserve were sixty men of the 59th Coast Artillery led by Capt. Herman H. Hauck.
Preparations for the counterattack were completed by 0600 and fifteen minutes later the men moved out. The Japanese, surprised by this "obstinate and bold counterattack,"19 fell back, and the Americans made gains along both flanks. In the center, where the Japanese had emplaced a heavy machine gun in one of Denver Battery's gun pits, the counterattack stalled. Other means failing, Lt. Bethel B. Otter, USN, commander of Company T, 4th Provisional Battalion, and five volunteers set out "with the strong determination to get the gun that dealt so much misery to Company T and the rest of the Battalion."20 Armed with hand grenades the six men crawled to within thirty yards of the gun pit, then hurled the grenades. Their aim was accurate and the machine gun was put out of action, but other Japanese troops moved in and opened fire on the Americans, killing Otter and four of the men.
On the north end of the line, the advancing men of Company Q discovered two assault boats, loaded with Japanese troops, hung up on the rocks. A small group of men was sent down to the beach to pick off the helpless enemy. It took thirty minutes and the expenditure of several thousand rounds of ammunition for the untrained sailors to complete the job.
To the Japanese the situation on Corregidor seemed desperate. They were still some distance from Malinta Hill, which was to have been occupied by dawn. Without control of this hill, the landing of the 4th Division's right wing, scheduled for 2330 of the 6th, would be a risky undertaking. The problem was discussed at 4th Division headquarters early that morning and some members of the staff argued strongly for a one-day postponement of the attack scheduled for that night. The proposal was seriously considered but final decision deferred, pending the outcome of the day's action. Nothing more was done than to urge "the left flank unit to keep on attacking."21
The Japanese were worried, too, about their supply of ammunition, which was dangerously low. The amount originally allotted for the assault was adequate but the small boats which were to have brought ammunition ashore after the landings were in such haste to get out of range of American fire that they "threw the ammunition into the nearby waters and returned to Bataan." By 1100, it was estimated, the Japanese on shore would have been out of ammunition. "When I recall all this," wrote Colonel Yoshida, "I cannot but break into a cold sweat."22
Back at 14th Army headquarters on Bataan, General Homma spent a sleepless night waiting for the news that Malinta Hill had been taken. Repeatedly he sent his aide to 4th Division headquarters to ask about the progress of operations on Corregidor and "every time I was disappointed." Even division headquarters had no clear picture of the situation "because the lines of the hostile troops got mixed up." With the 2,000 men he believed had been put ashore facing a force estimated at 14,000 men, there was a real danger, Homma felt, that his troops might be driven back into the sea. "I had plenty of troops on this side of the
sea," he explained later. "[But] I could not send reinforcements with the 21 boats which were left." The news that the Americans were counterattacking, therefore, threw him into a panic. "My God," he exclaimed, "I have failed miserably on the assault."23
Homma need not have been so concerned. Actually, the assault had not failed and the counterattackers had already run into serious trouble. Small detachments of Japanese had infiltrated the left of the American line and were firing at the rear of the advancing troops. The Japanese had also set up their light artillery and were now using it with devastating effect against the American troops on the line. Finally, at 0800 Colonel Howard had decided to commit the last of his reserves, Captain Hauck and the sixty men of the 59th Coast Artillery. By this time the counterattack, though netting the Americans about 300 yards in some sectors, had bogged down for lack of supporting weapons and reinforcements.
The final blow came shortly before 1000 when the Japanese sent the three tanks they had brought ashore into action. The tanks advanced to the ridge line and, according to Colonel Yoshida, "annihilated the powerful enemy in the vicinity." "This action," he went on to explain, "not only made it possible for the two battalions to establish liaison with each other but also caused the enemy commander to ... report this fact to the United States."24 Though this sweeping claim for the tanks is not borne out by the facts, it is true that the first appearance of armor on the front panicked the troops and caused some to bolt to the rear. It took the combined efforts of commissioned and noncommissioned officers to calm the troops and prevent a rout.25 "The effect of the tanks," concluded the Japanese, "was more than had been anticipated."26
By 1000 the situation of the Americans was critical. The troops on the front line were pinned down securely. Attempts to move forward were discouraged by the enemy's heavy machine guns and light artillery; movement to the rear only brought the men under fire from the heavier guns on Bataan and strafing aircraft. The tanks were in action and there were no weapons with which to stop them. Casualties had been heavy and the wounded men were still in the line. There were no litter bearers, and if there had been, the injured could not have been evacuated. The walking wounded were allowed to go to the rear, but most of those who availed themselves of this opportunity became "litter or Graves Registration cases."27 Already between 600 and 800 men had been killed and about 1,000 more wounded. To continue the fight when there was no hope of being able to hold out longer than a few more hours would be a needless sacrifice of lives.
Perhaps the deciding factor in the decision to lay down arms was the fear of what might happen that night. It was apparent from the artillery fire on James and Cheney Ravines, where only two companies were posted, that a landing would soon be made there. All reserves had been committed and practically all guns had been destroyed. Even if the Japanese did not make another landing it was virtually certain that the enemy on the east end of the island would reach the tunnel, with its 1,000 wounded men, in a few
hours. The result would be wholesale slaughter.28
On the basis of this estimate of the situation, General Wainwright at 1000 decided to surrender, to sacrifice one day of freedom in exchange for several thousand lives. Like General King, who had surrendered Bataan four weeks earlier, Wainwright had made his estimate and concluded there was nothing to be gained by further resistance.
Having made his decision, Wainwright ordered Beebe to broadcast a surrender message to General Homma. General Moore was to put into effect the previously prepared plan for the destruction of all arms larger than .45-caliber, to be accomplished by noon. At that time the American flag on Corregidor would be lowered and burned and the white flag hoisted. These arrangements made, Wainwright announced his decision to President Roosevelt and General MacArthur.
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