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The first aerial and artillery attacks


First word of the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor reached General Moore from the Navy radio intercept station on Corregidor at 0340, 8 December, about the same time that General Sutherland relayed the news to the commander in chief. The garrisons of the four fortified islands had been on the alert for eight days and all battle stations were manned. There was little Moore could do except notify his commanders and instruct the sea, antiaircraft, and beach defense commanders to double their precautions against a surprise dawn attack. At 0620 official notification that a state of war existed between the United States and Japan came from MacArthur's headquarters, and the Navy temporarily closed Manila Bay to outbound traffic. About four hours later the first air-raid alarm sounded over Corregidor.[4]

This first alarm and those that followed during the next three weeks proved groundless. The Japanese did not attack Corregidor on 8 December and had no plan to do so at the start of war. But they had no intention either of bypassing the island fortress. They fully appreciated its strategic significance and its importance in the scheme of defense, but their first task was to seize Manila and defeat MacArthur's army. The conquest of Corregidor would follow "as soon as possible."[5]


     The  aerial  attacks    


Hardly had news of the evacuation of Manila and the transfer of MacArthur's headquarters to Corregidor reached Homma on 28 December when he ordered the 5th Air Group to begin operations against the island. Manila would soon be his and though MacArthur's army had not yet been defeated, Homma may have believed that he could soon move against Corregidor. Homma's plans, by agreement with the Navy, provided for a joint attack in which Lt. Gen. Hideyoshi Obata's 5th Air Group (Army) would be supplemented by the planes of the 11th Air Fleet (Navy). The Army air force would strike first, at noon of 29 December, "with its whole strength." An hour later the Navy bombers were to take over. The bombardment would continue for two and a half hours, until 1430, and would, General Obata hoped, "destroy the center of the American Far East Command."[6]

Almost exactly on schedule, at 1154 of the 29th, the first flight of 18 twin-engine bombers of the 14th Heavy Bombardment Regiment, covered by 19 fighters, approached Corregidor at a height of 15,000 feet and in regular V formation. The flight broke into smaller flights, of 9 and 3 planes, which passed lengthwise over the island, then back, dropping 225- and 550-pound bombs on the headquarters buildings and barracks. For the half hour they were over the target, the planes of the 14th Heavy Bombardment dropped almost fifty bombs.

At 1230, 22 bombers of the 8th Light Bombardment Regiment, accompanied by 18 dive bombers of the 16th Light Bombardment Regiment, had their turn. The light bombers followed the same pattern as the first flight, dropping their sixty-six 225-pound bombs on installations and buildings on Bottomside and Topside. The dive bombers, loaded with 35-pounders, attacked from an altitude of 3,000 feet, though to the men on the ground the planes appeared to be at treetop level.

When the dive bombers left at 1300, the Navy bombers came in. Number about 60 planes, the naval formation continued the attack against the island and shipping in the bay for another hour. Altogether, the Americans estimated, the Japanese used about 81 mediums and 10 dive bombers and dropped about 50 tons of bombs during these two hours. None of the few remaining American aircraft rose from the recently established fighter base on Bataan to dispute their supremacy of the air on this occasion or during any of the attacks that followed.

In this first attack the antiaircraft defenses at Fort Mills, Fort Hughes, and southern Bataan gave a good account of themselves, firing a total of 1,200 rounds of 3-inch ammunition. Score for the 3-inchers was thirteen medium bombers. It was with considerable satisfaction that Capt. Roland G. Ames, commander of Battery C (Chicago), 60th Coast Artillery (AA), wrote after the attack that his men "had performed wonderfully" in their first encounter with the enemy and had brought down at least three Japanese planes.[7]

The dive bombers, too, were met by strong and effective opposition. The .50-caliber machine guns of the antiaircraft command downed four of the planes in their first low-level strafing attack. Thereafter, according to American sources, the Japanese did not again attempt to dive-bomb targets on Corregidor until the end of April.

The men had paid little heed to the alarm when it first sounded, since none of the previous air warnings had been followed by attack. Some of those who had recently arrived on the island with the transfer of headquarters from Manila to Corregidor casually took up a better position to watch the large enemy formation. One office in the concrete building on Topside which housed USAFFE headquarters mounted to the second floor for a clearer view of the proceedings. Hardly had he arrived there when he heard "an ominous, whirring whistle, which rapidly increased in crescendo." He made a wild jump for the stairway, later claiming that "the whistle of my descent must have rivaled that of the falling bomb."[8] Others were equally surprised and displayed a tendency to head for the corners of the rooms where they fancied they were safer than elsewhere. Fortunately windows and entrances had been sandbagged and broken glass caused few casualties.

The first bombs hit the vacated station hospital and many of the wooden structures on Topside and Middleside. One bomb struck the post exchange, went through the roof and three concrete floors, buried itself in eight feet of earth, and left a crater about twenty feet in diameter. Fully half the barracks and headquarters buildings were demolished and only a part of the foundation of the officers' club remained after the bombing. Many of the structures were of corrugated iron, and the danger from flying bits of metal was often as great as that from the bombs. Bottomside, after the bombing, appeared to be "one huge mass of jagged and bent sheet iron."[9] Fire sprang up at many points so that to an observer on Bataan the island appeared to be enveloped "in clouds of dust and black smoke."[10] Altogether about 50 percent of all wooden buildings on Corregidor were destroyed during the first bombings. Headquarters, USAFFE, promptly moved into Malinta Tunnel the next day.

Fortunately, damage to military installations, the major target of the Japanese aircraft, was comparatively slight. Two of the gun batteries suffered minor damage which was repaired within twenty-four hours. Several of the small vessels docked at Bottomside and at anchor near the island were hit, and two Philippine Army planes at Kindley Field on the tail of the tadpole were destroyed. Power, communication, and water lines were temporarily disrupted but little permanent damage was wrought. Casualties for the day were twenty killed and eighty wounded.

After the first bombings there was a marked change in the reaction of the men. Before the 29th, despite warning, they had crowded the doorways and windows to watch the planes and speculate about probably targets, safe in the knowledge that Corregidor would not be hit. "All of us," wrote Captain Ames, "were too careless of bombs and bullets at first."[11] But that attitude quickly changed. "Now," noted Colonel Bunker, commander of the Seaward Defenses, "they all stampede for the nearest cover and get as far under it as possible."[12] As a matter of fact, it soon became difficult to get some of the men out of their shelters, even when there were no planes overhead.

There was a marked change, too, in the attitude toward the weather after the first attack from the air. Bright moonlight, "by which we had wooed our sweethearts and wives," carried the threat of night attack. It gave away the position of vessels and made the large searchlights of the harbor defenses nearly useless. The beautiful sunrise and sunset of the tropics lost their attractiveness when enemy planes chose that time for attack. In the muted light of dawn and dusk it was difficult to pick out the attacking aircraft. Clouds, unless they were high and solid, were considered "a curse" by the antiaircraft gunners, and cloud formations through which enemy aircraft could drop for a bombing run were a "pet hate." The feared typhoons, on the other hand, were eagerly awaited. "We prayed for them . .," wrote Captain Ames, "to break up and destroy Jap planes and ships."[13]

For the next eight days, until 6 January, the Japanese continued to bomb Corregidor intermittently, with less and less effect and at greater cost to themselves. There were no enemy aircraft over the island on the 30th, when President Quezon was inaugurated for the second time, or on the 31st. There is some indication of air action on the first day of the New Year, but it was on the 2d, the date Manila was occupied, that the Japanese came back in force.

The day was overcast, with a low ceiling of shifting clouds. Shortly after the noon hour the first enemy bombers burst through a hole in the low-hanging clouds, released their bombs, then flew up into the safety of the clouds. Altogether fifty-four enemy aircraft participated in the attack that day. They left behind, in Colonel Bunker's words, "a scene of destruction." On a tour of inspection, he saw huge sections of corrugated iron "scattered in painfully distorted shapes" all over the parade ground, and "gaping, square, empty openings" in the barracks.[14]

The bombardment of the 2d was the beginning of a five-day assault during which hardly a yard of the island did not feel the effects of the enemy bombs. Except for the attacks on the 2d and the 5th, the sole enemy target was Corregidor. on the 2d, Fort Drum, and on the 5th, For Frank came in for their share of the bombs but were never the primary target.

The pattern of the daily Japanese attacks was usually the same. During the morning a lone photo reconnaissance plane, whose pilot the Americans referred to familiarly as Photo Joe or The Lone Ranger, would circle Corregidor and the other the fortified islands for a time and then return to base. About 1230 the bombers would come in, flying at an altitude well above 20,000 feet and at a speed of about 160 miles an hour, bomb the island for about two hours, then fly off. Until the last day, they approached the target from the same direction in a large V formation, then broke up into smaller formations for the run over the island. Only at the end did the Japanese abandon this regular formation and approach the target from different directions in scattered formations and at varying altitudes.

Total damages for the six days' bombing were extensive. on the 2d and 3d the buildings on Topside and Middleside were hit again and two of the island's precious water tanks destroyed. On the 4th the principal target was the wharves, shops, and warehouses on Bottomside. The next day a barge was bombed and set afire. it drifted into shore and set fire to a diesel oil dump near the power plant. On the 6th there was a tragic accident when thirty-four men took cover in an incomplete bomb shelter. A large bomb fell near the structure, which collapsed and killed thirty-one of the men. By the 7th practically all unprotected surface installations had disappeared or were in ruins. Bomb craters were uniformly scattered over the island and one could hardly walk more than twenty-five yards in any direction without stumbling into one.

The worst destruction was caused by fire. Barely adequate during peacetime, the Fort Mills fire department proved unable to cope with the conditions created by the hail of bombs. Much material, such as lumber, hardware, mattresses, and medical and chemical warfare supplies, which had been stored on the surface in wooden buildings, was burned. Concrete structures suffered less from the bombings and form fire, and the supplies stored in them were salvaged.

After the first attack no effort was made to keep the electric railroad line on the island in operation. It had been hit in so many places and was so exposed that it was fruitless to attempt its repair. Almost daily the main telephone cables were cut by bombs. Crews worked at night to repair them, but the next day the lines would be cut again. The maintenance of communications was a never-ending task, and there was never time to bury the cables deep enough to place them out of reach of the bombs.

The armament of the island suffered comparatively slight damage. The coastal batteries with their magazines and power plants had been bombproofed before the war and escaped almost unscathed. The more exposed antiaircraft units suffered more from the bombings than the seacoast batteries, but such damage as was caused was repaired quickly, usually within twelve hours. There were some casualties among the gun crews, but they were not serious enough to interfere with operations. The largest number of casualties came to those who failed to take shelter or were careless. There is no record of the total casualties for the period from 29 December to 7 January, but at least 36 men were killed and another 140 wounded during the first, second, and last days of the attack alone.

The air attacks against Corregidor ended on 6 January, the day the Bataan campaign opened. They had proved costly to the Japanese and had produced no decisive military results. But even if they had and if Homma had wished t continue to bomb the island after 6 January, he would have been unable to do so. By that time the 5th Air Group was preparing to move to Thailand, and Homma was left with only a small air force which he could ill spare for attacks against Corregidor. Except for sporadic raids by three or four planes and occasional dive bombing and strafing, the first aerial bombardment was over.


                F O O T N O T E S              

[4] The account which follows is based upon the following sources: Harbor Defenses Rpt of Opns, pp. 16-79, and Exhibits E through M; The Siege of Corregidor, Mil Rtps on the United Nations, No. 12, 15 Nov 43, MID WD, pp. 37-52; Porter, AA Defense of Corregidor, pp. 10-17; Rockwell, Narrative of Naval Activities in Luzon Area, pp. 8-22, Off of Naval Rcds; Gen Marquat, USAFFE AA Officer, Rpt of Performance of U.S. CA in Manila-Bataan Campaign, copy in OCMH; Gulick, Memoirs of Btry C, 91st CA (PS); diaries of Col Bunker, Maj Tisdelle, and Capt Roland G. Ames (including letters to his wife), all in OCMH.

The basic Japanese sources are: 14th Army Opns, I, pp. 13-14, 25, 96, 115, 124-36; 5th Air Gp Opns, passim; Japanese Naval Opns in Phil Invasion, Japanese Studies in WW II, No. 13, pp. 17-18, OCMH.

[5] 14th Army Opns, I, 25. Presumably this would be some time in January or early February since the defeat of MacArthur's army was to be accompplished forty-five days after the landing.

[6] 5th Air Gp Opns Order, A, No. 171, 5th Air Gp Opns, p. 40.

[7] Ltr, Ames to his wife, 30 Dec 41, in Ames, Diary. Captain Ames copied in his diary the letters he wrote to his wife and which he sent out whenever he had the opportunity.

[8] Collier, Notebooks, II, 53.

[9] Tisdelle, Diary, entry of 29 Dec 41.

[10] Gulick, Memoirs of Btry C, 91st CA (PS), p. 40.

[11] Ames, Diary, entry of 29 Dec 41.

[12] Bunker, Diary, entry of 4 Jan 42.

[13] Ames, Diary, undated "Sidelights," following letter of 6 January 1942 to his wife.

[14] Bunker, Diary, entry of 3 Jan 42. Japanese records make no mention of the attacks after 29 December. Information about these attacks is derived entirely from the American sources cited.