General MacArthur wades ashore in the 24th Infantry Division sector, 20
October 1944. (National Archives)
1st Cavalry Division troops advance inland through swampy terrain.
Infantrymen cautiously move toward an enemy machine gun position.
Japanese transport under attack. (National Archives)
Filipino volunteers carry supplies into the mountains to reach 1st Cavalry
Division troops. (National Archives)
"Liberation Ceremony" by Paul Sample (Army Art Collection)
young men had nothing to eat for three days except for what was in four
paraffin-sealed olive drab boxes of K rations they had stuffed in the large room
pockets in the legs of their baggy fatigue trousers before they jumped.
These combat rations usually contained a tin of cheese or eggs and ham, a
tasteless biscuit, a piece of chocolate that was covered with an unappetizing
white crust thought to be caused by the hot damp climate.
If there had been any water on the island, you could mix the package of
lemon powder or some bouillon with it, but water was too precious to be used for
that just now. The soldiers, even
though they were constantly hungry, ate the K rations with little enthusiasm.
There were no set meal times and the men broke into the sealed packages
at the odd moment when they could. The
concentrated, tasteless food only made them thirstier.
large area surrounding Wheeler Point had been very nearly stripped of vegetation
after the massive bombing before the 503d's daring assault. As Browne and the
assembled platoon leaders looked out from the promontory,
the entire company defense area could be easily seen.
Browne showed them the ground that D Company was to defend on the western
side of Cheney Ravine, tying in
with F Company that was defending the eastern side of the ravine. He pointed out
the entire company defense sector that continued southwest through Wheeler Point
ending just north of Battery Wheeler where the company tied in with C Company
defending atop the 12" gun battery.
as the S3's order was, it was very nearly sunset by the time he had completed
it. There clearly would not be
enough time for Lieutenant Turinsky or his platoon leaders to fully comply with
the orders because it obviously would be dark long before the platoons could
move into the defensive positions Browne had outlined. Because time was short,
the defense was hastily organized and incomplete. The 503d had a long-standing
policy that, in effect, prohibited night movement.
Once it was dark the platoon and squads would not move except in very
minor adjustments or at your own risk in a serious emergency; to do otherwise
was to risk being shot by your own comrades.
All of the troops were trained to treat any movement at night as hostile
and to fire without warning. Because
of this rule the company never got completely into the positions they were
ordered to occupy on the regiment's perimeter line.
- 2 -
the second night on Corregidor the company had defended the south edge of the
golf course extending west to Battery Wheeler that the 1st platoon had seized
late in the afternoon of February 17. The
first platoon occupying the battery that night had withdrawn a short distance to
the east after the battery's magazine exploded and caused several casualties in
the platoon. The company had
captured Battery Cheney without opposition late in the afternoon of February 18
and the 2d and 3d platoons took positions at the battery.
D Company's command post was in the reinforced concrete end station, B'4,
called "the bunker" by the men in the company.
The 4th platoon was 30 yards east of the bunker with their mortars placed
in a large deep crater. This was
how the company was deployed when the battalion order for the night defense was
given. This, essentially, is how the company would be deployed that
night after the order was given, with
the exception of two squads positioned east of Cheney trail in front of Wheeler
spite of the fact that the 2d Battalion commander had directed that D Company's
right flank was to anchor at the bottom of Cheney Ravine, D Company's right
flank actually began on the hill, where Battery Cheney stood, 500 yards west of
the correct position. This meant there was a 500 yard gap in the regimental
perimeter but in effect the gap was much larger than that.
F Company was to defend the eastern side of Cheney Ravine with their left
flank resting at the bottom on Cheney Ravine tying in with D Company's right
flank. F Company's position
actually began at Battery Hearn 500 yards to the east of where their left flank
should have been. There was no provision made by either company to block Cheney
Ravine, the most obvious route of attack in the 2d Battalion defense zone.
This left a 1000 yard undefended gap across Cheney Ravine on the night of
18 February and neither the regimental nor battalion commander was aware of it.
Had the Japanese chosen to take Black Trail, instead of Beltline Road and Cheney
Trail, as they did, Lieutenant Endo could have marched his force of more than
1500 marines on to Topside parade ground wholly intact. There was little other
than local defense at the Topside Barracks that housed headquarters and service
units. The troop there certainly were in no position to resist a
battalion sized attack at the Topside athletic field, had Endo's marines reached
there unchallenged by going through the gap.
it turned out F Company's failure to defend Cheney Ravine would be of little
consequence, but D Company's omission was more serious as the main attack came
up the west side of the ravine on Cheney trail which was D Company's
responsibility. Granted, the 2nd
platoon was blocking Cheney Trail but it was much too far south and allowed easy
access to the high ground at Topside rather than blocking the trail further
north, forcing Endo into an uphill battle to reach the high ground at Topside.
There was no artillery, mortar or machine gun fire planned in the ravine
to deny this obvious attack corridor to the Japanese, who could freely move
around unmolested in the ravine and its trails until they reached the company
position where Cheney Trail entered Topside.
Even had there been artillery or mortar fire on request, D Company could
not have communicated with 2d Battalion Headquarters to request fire (or anyone
else for that matter) because there was no telephone line installed and,
inexplicably, someone had ordered radio silence for the night.
- 3 -
3d platoon was deployed along north side of the flat-topped hill where Battery
Cheney stood and then extended east along the north wall of the battery's gun
port. The entire platoon was
positioned above the steep, nearly vertical walls that dropped sharply into the
deep ravine or on to the beaches below the western cliffs.
The position could have been held by a corporal's guard against a field
army, since the attacking force would have had to scale a very steep cliff to
reach the 3d platoon, which would have been looking down their enemies' throats
all the way. Instead an entire rifle platoon was used in this virtually
unassailable position, probably for no other reason than they had ended up there
when they assaulted Battery Cheney earlier in the afternoon and there was no
time to move them. The 3d platoon would be out of the fight that night.
real danger was the Cheney Ravine corridor, but that critical attack route got
little attention and, as a result, was lightly defended, as we shall see.
The 2d platoon had two squads deployed to the rear of Battery Cheney,
roughly parallel to and above Cheney Trail.
Their third squad was deployed on a line that was roughly parallel to and
east of Cheney Trail running south until it met the left flank squad of the 1st
platoon, which had also deployed 30 or 40 yards east of and roughly parallel to
Cheney trail where it crossed in front of company headquarters at Wheeler Point. The two rifle squads from the 1st and 2d platoons along the
trail fought the entire night suffering heavy casualties but the four remaining
squads were out of the fight. The
19-man mortar platoon had two 60mm mortars, with about 30 rounds of ammunition,
sited in a large bomb crater that once had been a 40 foot stretch of Cheney
Trail. The 4th platoon position was
40 or 50 yards behind the 1st and 2d platoon's two rifle squads and 30 yards in
front of the company headquarters' bunker.
They had not, however, registered their weapons on any targets to support
the company defenses. The mortar men were positioned astride Cheney Trail and
the entire platoon fought in the battle throughout that long pitch black night.
force blocking Cheney Ravine was too far to the south and not deployed in
sufficient strength to defend the most logical attack route that must have been
apparent at the time. Why hadn't
they planned artillery and mortar concentrations to be delivered on request?
It wasn't done because there wasn't time to do it.
It takes time to arrange for observers to plan their fires and to
register mortars and artillery. Whatever
the reason, no artillery, mortar or machine gun fires were available to D
Company in Cheney Ravine in the early morning of the 19th of February, when they
were so desperately needed. While it is true that the company hadn't been given
enough time to do the job, there was another reason.
the company settled in their positions for the night, there was no great concern
about the apparent weakness in the position.
It wasn't that the company leaders didn't recognize there were flaws in
the defense, because nearly all of them had considerable experience establishing
a defense in a combat situation. It
was the fact that no one seemed unduly worried about it. What could account for
the dangerous attitude?
of the answer for this lack of concern was the state of mind of the men of D
Company. The Japanese garrison
defending Corregidor was small, according to the intelligence estimate.
Since everyone believed the enemy strength figures they had been given ,
certain risks were taken early in the fight for the Rock that were justified on
the basis of what they knew, or thought they knew.
The easy successes on the Corregidor battlefield thus far bore out this
reasoning. Did this wrongheaded
thinking effect D company on that Sunday afternoon, as they hurriedly tried to
set up their defenses near Wheeler Point? The answer is yes; the decision to
enlarge the perimeter, and the faulty series of miscalculations arose directly
from this short-sighted view of the enemy numbers.
There is no doubt that the reason for this dangerous attitude was the
incredibly faulty intelligence given the regiment by USAFFE and the 6th Army.
In the big scheme of things, this was perhaps a minor aberration, but for
the soldiers of D company it turned out to be a serious matter of life and
death. James and William Belote, in
their book "Corregidor: The Saga of a Fortress" commented on
the grossly inadequate enemy strength estimates used by USAFFE for the 1945
Corregidor operation, concluding that "MacArthur's planners had been
grievously misled." They
indeed could have added that everyone had been misled.
- 4 -
official estimate of 850 Japanese defenders as shown in 503d's Field Order 4#9
(the written orders for the Corregidor operation) was far wide of the mark.
Hr. K. Ishikawa, a former private first class in the Ichinosawa
battalion, one of only 40 Japanese known to have survived the 503d's 1945
assault, puts the strength at 6800 Japanese troops on the island during February
1945. All of the thinking was
conditioned by the fact that the regiment was facing a mere 850 troop garrison.
There simply was not that sense of urgency that should have been foremost
in the company plans and the execution of orders. They were misled.
This was part of the reason why regiment expanded the perimeter by moving
D Company to the western edge of Topside. After the banzai at Wheeler Point,
which was the only organized attack in any strength during the whole
campaign, the regimental commander drew in the perimeter and D Company took
positions at the western edge of the parade field.
D Company would never leave these positions until they rode down to
Bottomside in a few of Service Company's 2½ ton trucks and boarded LCI 545 at 3
o'clock Thursday afternoon on the 8th of March, bound for Mindoro.
intelligence error by 6th Army and MacArthur's headquarters, USAFFE, affected
the judgment of everyone from MacArthur down to the individual rifleman.
It affected the planning before the assault and the conduct of the battle
once they had landed there. That was the reason no one in D Company was unduly
worried as the officers and NCO's hurried to get the platoons in position around
Wheeler Point late in the afternoon of 18 February.
It was why an obvious route of attack, Cheney Ravine, was largely
ignored, why the perimeter was expanded by regiment and why the company couldn't
call out on their SCR 300.
There certainly was little risk involved facing a mere 850 Japanese
ferocious attack that was mounted the night of the 18th and in the blackness
early Monday morning of the 19th of February came as a great and fatal surprise.
Had the true facts been known at the time the company probably would never have
been left out there in the first place.
the Japanese under Lieutenant Endo, who replaced naval Captain Akira Itagaki
(killed early on the 16th of February), had planned to attack and dislodge the
paratroops from Topside, a highly unlikely prospect.
His marines would strike at night from the western end of the Rock with
two columns. The eastern column
would attack first at Battery Hearn and as they stormed the Topside Barracks
area, the western column would take advantage of the confusion and attack from
the west to seize Topside from that direction.
At least one, and more likely three battalions of Japanese marines were
stationed on the western end of the island to provide the reserve for the
defense against amphibious landings expected on Bottomside.
The Special Naval Landing Forces, i.e. marines, had been safely sheltered
in bombproof quarters on the western side of Corregidor, well removed from the
tremendous aerial and naval bombardment preceding the 503d's assault.
The Japanese planned to man the fixed defenses near the invasion beaches
with army troops and provisional naval formations, comprised in part by sailors
whose ships had been sunk in Philippine waters.
These second-class troops were poorly armed and trained and were expected
to withstand the heavy bombardment certain to come on the beaches and contain
the landings as well as they could. Some
of these formations had one rifle for five men with the rest being armed with
spears. After the American
amphibious forces stalled, the well trained and well equipped marines waiting on
the western side of the island out of harm's way would swoop down from Topside
and finish off the American landing forces or push them into the sea.
The defense plan was unusable after the 503d seized Topside because the
Japanese reserves could not be moved or at least not until the Japanese cleared
Topside. D and F Companies faced
these elite SNLF troops on the 18th and 19th of February in the largest (and
only) planned attack of any size during the 503d's battle to regain the island.
- 5 -
first shots in Endo's battle to seize Topside were fired by F Company 1000 yards
east of Wheeler Point at 10:30 PM the night of the 18th when a 500 man force of
shouting, cheering Japanese in the eastern attack force came out of the Battery
Smith magazine charging four abreast down Belt Line Road toward Battery Hearn.
In a fierce protracted night battle, F Company's riflemen at Battery
Hearn stopped the marines dead in their tracks. Private Lloyd McCarter would win
the Medal of Honor that night for his part in the battle. The first phase of
Endo's plan for his eastern column to storm Topside Barracks by attacking down
Beltline Road ended in dismal failure. The
marines suffered heavy casualties at the hands of F Company riflemen and only a
mere handful of the marines would ever reach the parade ground and they would be
dispatched quickly by the headquarters troops quartered there.
The second part of the attack would begin a few hours later after Endo's
western column had marched noiselessly up Cheney Ravine to battle the intrepid
rifleman of D Company in the early morning darkness.
was sometime after one o'clock in the morning when nearly 900 Japanese marines
under Lieutenant Endo assembled near the western end of Cheney Trail. The column
quickly and quietly climbed up the winding trail, cut out of the steep western
wall of Cheney Ravine and finally reached Topside 500 feet above the rocky
western beaches, they had left more than an hour ago.
Lieutenant Endo must have been greatly pleased by his good fortune when
he reached the high ground at Topside without being discovered. His attack
column walked to within 50 yards of the two 2d platoon squads, looking down from
their perches high above Cheney Trail in the rear of Battery Cheney, but the men
neither heard nor saw the Japanese attackers in the black moonless night.
- 6 -
2:30 AM the Japanese suddenly stumbled onto the squad deployed across Cheney
Trail south of Battery Cheney. So
sudden was the onslaught, the startled riflemen had neither heard nor seen the
marines until the head of the Japanese column quickly went through the position
before a shot could be fired. The
surprise was so complete that no alarm was sounded immediately, and the lead
Japanese marines, moving swiftly, ran into the 4th platoon position in the
crater in the middle of Cheney trail. By
that time the men defending along Cheney Trail were alerted.
There were some subdued voices giving commands and a few rifle shots
sounded in the deep darkness, but other than that it was strangely quiet. In moments the enemy was now well within the positions along
the trail. It was as if the
Japanese had blundered into the squad's positions, so black was the night, and
for want of something better to do they merely went ahead on Cheney Trail.
The Japanese were fired on shortly after they were discovered and as the
attackers and defenders mingled in the darkness the D Company men couldn't tell
friend from foe.
takes time in the telling but it happened very quickly.
The Japanese struck the 2d, 4th and 1st platoons in that order.
In the chaos the survivors fell back to the bunker.
The mortar men managed to get off a few 60mm rounds, a gesture more than
anything else during a confusing fight where nothing could be seen.
The men who had been overwhelmed at their defensive positions along
Cheney trail were drifting slowly back toward the north side of the bunker at
Wheeler Point. They fired their
rifles at the vague shapes which were shouting and milling about in confusion in
the utter black darkness in front of them.
The Japanese were talking loudly now, as if their leaders were urging
their men to move forward on the trail. The
surviving men from the two squads of the 1st and 2d platoons and the 4th
platoon, who were driven back to Wheeler Point joined with Company Headquarters'
men. From their position north of the bunker, this brave band fought the
attackers through the seemingly endless night. Most of the casualties the
Company suffered that night occurred at the bunker as the defenders poured heavy
fire into Endo's column now stalled on Cheney Trail where it crossed the
promontory at Wheeler Point.
is difficult to imagine why Endo did not maneuver around the company but he did
not; instead they chose to attack the riflemen head on in the coal black
darkness. There were about 40 men now in place around the bunker pouring fire
into the column stalled on Cheney trail. The
Japanese had attacked on the narrow trail, a tactic that gave them considerable
control of their column while attacking at night.
However, once the head of the column stops the whole column stops, and
confusion becomes inevitable. If
the attack is to continue you must either destroy the obstacle and move through
it or maneuver around the blocking force. The
head of the column must keep the attack route clear at all costs. Only a small
part of the greatly superior force could be brought to bear on the defenders,
who were now backed around the concrete bunker. Immediately behind the bunker
were the cliffs, so there was no retreat for the defenders.
- 7 -
simple decision can often pre-ordain the result of an entire battle, and such
was the case here. Had Endo chosen to advance by way of Black Trail, there would
have been nothing to stop him, nor
even to give warning of the column's approach until it reached the parade field
and its objective, Topside Barracks. Once
committed to the Cheney Trail route there was no choice except to mount attack
after attack in the restricted area of the Wheeler Point headland to destroy the
for flares fired throughout the night by warships laying off shore, there was no
artillery support; D Company's men did the job themselves with their rifles,
BAR's and carbines and stopped the charging marines.
The light machine gun platoon from Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion was
at Battery Chaney and could not support the beleaguered defenders at Wheeler
point, only a few yards away.
fighting there was done by roughly the equivalent of two rifle squads, one from
the 1st platoon and one from the 2d platoon totaling probably less than 20 men,
19 men from the 4th platoon and 8 men from company headquarters.
The rest of the company for one reason or another was not involved in the
fighting that night. This small band fought at Wheeler Point, stopped frenzied
attack after attack in wave after wave by Japanese marines trying to break
through to the south. The defenders
suffered terribly; 14 of them died that night and 15 were wounded.
A bitter loss when you consider probably less than 50 men had held the
cream of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces at bay.
This would be the last attack of any significance by the Japanese on
Corregidor The terrible
losses suffered by the Japanese forces in this violent clash of arms, in part,
surely weakened their ability to launch another major attack and in fact they
the savage encounter, which probably lasted less than three hours that black
night at Wheeler Point, more than 250 corpses of Japanese marines were strewn
along a bloody 200 yard stretch of Cheney Trail where it passes through the
promontory at Wheeler Point and around the bunker where the combatants were
locked in close combat in the dark. For
the men of D Company who were there, Wheeler Point will always be called Banzai
- 8 -
about 9:30 on Monday morning the litter party from the 161st Engineers left
Topside and finally got through to Wheeler Point.
They left with seven litter cases and fourteen walking wounded.
As the column moved slowly up Chaney Trail it passed by twelve of the
company's riflemen covered with green ponchos.
long terrible fight was finally over.
they stood and everywhere with gallant front,
in fair array the shock of war,
they fought like men expert in arms,
knowing no safety could be found,
from their own hands.*
* Robert Southey 1744-1843
More Reading: John Lindgren
writes about how this article came to be.