General MacArthur wades ashore in the 24th Infantry Division sector, 20 October 1944. (National Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st Cavalry Division troops advance inland through swampy terrain. (National Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infantrymen cautiously move toward an enemy machine gun position. (National Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

The 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.

A 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.

Short 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 -
 

 

 

On 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 Point.

In 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.

As 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 -
 

 

 

The 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.  

The 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.

The 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.

When 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?

Part 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 -
 

 

 

The 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 2 ton trucks and boarded LCI 545 at 3 o'clock Thursday afternoon on the 8th of March, bound for Mindoro. 

The 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 troops.  The 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.

Meanwhile, 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 -
 

 

The 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.

It 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 -
 

 

At 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. 

It 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.

It 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 -
 

 

A 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 roadblock. 

Except 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.

The 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 never did. 

During 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 Point.

 

- 8 - 

 

 

At 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.

The long terrible fight was finally over.

 

Manfully they stood and everywhere with gallant front,
Opposed in fair array the shock of war,
Desperately they fought like men expert in arms,
And knowing no safety could be found,

Save from their own hands.*

 

John Lindgren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Robert Southey 1744-1843

More Reading:  John Lindgren writes about how this article came to be.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

         

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