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life  under  siege

 

Since the first air attacks at the end of December the garrisons of the four fortified islands had worked steadily to repair the damages and improve their positions. On Corregidor a tunnel, begun in 1921 but discontinued because of treaty agreements, was rapidly pushed to completion to serve as a command post for the Seaward Defenses. The island's defenses were further strengthened by the addition of an 8-inch gun with a range of 24,000 yards and a 360-degree traverse. This gun was brought over from Bataan and mounted on a prepared concrete base near Malinta. Though it was tested and ready for use by 4 March, no crew was available and the gun never fired a shot at the enemy. At Fort Hughes, one 155-mm. gun facing the sea was dismounted, moved through the tunnel, and emplaced on the opposite side of the island, pointing toward Bataan.

Vital installations were strengthened in various ways. Around the large well at the west end of Malinta Tunnel the engineers placed a circular parapet of sandbags, and over the gasoline storage area on Morrison Hill they placed two feet of heavily reinforced concrete, which they then camouflaged. Similar protection was given the Harbor Defenses telephone exchange at Topside. Near the entrance to Malinta Tunnel and in the port area at Bottomside, the engineers constructed tank obstacles consisting of square concrete posts reinforced with steel rails. About the same time, they placed roofs over the 75-mm. guns supporting the beach defense troops to give them protection against dive bombers.

Shortcomings in the design and location of various installations had become apparent by this time and these were corrected when the intensity of the enemy fire declined. Early plans had not taken into consideration the possibility of artillery fire from the Cavite shore and some of the tunnel entrances now faced the oncoming shells. After one attack Colonel Bunker checked his firing data and concluded that the main entrance to the Seaward Defenses command post "now points exactly along the Jap trajectory."[28] Where possible, other openings were constructed, but in most cases protection was provided by baffle walls.

With the technical advice of the engineers practically all the batteries began to build their own tunnels. Some dug tunnels where there was no apparent reason for one. "We have to be at our gun practically all the time," observed one battery commander, whose men were hard at work on a tunnel, "so we may not be able to spend too much time, if any at all, in a tunnel."[29] Even the troops on beach defense caught the fever and, with whatever materials they could beg or borrow, dug tunnels and constructed overhead protection. "It is safe to venture a guess," wrote the engineer cautiously, "that if all the tunnels constructed on Corregidor after hostilities commenced were connected end to end the resultant summation would not be less than two miles."[30]

Life on the four fortified islands in Manila Bay settled into a dreary routine. When the men were not building fortifications or going about their daily chores, they had little to do. Complaints were frequent and often dealt with the subject of food. The ration had been cut in half on 5 January, at the same time it had been cut on Bataan. The more enterprising of the men found ways of their own to increase the amount and vary the monotony of the ration, but the opportunities were fewer than on Bataan. Sunken or damaged barges washed close to shore offered a profitable field for exploitation during the early days of the campaign. one unit filled its trucks with a cargo of dried fruits salvaged from one such barge and stored it away for future use. "Now," wrote Colonel Bunker, "if they'll only drink a lot of water, they'll be fixed fine."[31]

Some even managed to procure liquor in this way. One of the barges sent out from Manila just before the Japanese occupation had been loaded with whiskey from the Army and Navy Club. It was sunk in shallow water and many of the men spent their off-duty hours diving in the oil-coated waters in the hope of bringing up a bottle. Before the military police took over to relieve the lucky divers of their catch as they reached the shore, a large number of soldiers had laid in a stock of the precious commodity.[32] President Quezon's yacht is also said to have supplied at least one unit with a store of fine wine. When it was being unloaded one dark night, it is reported that an officer directed the dock hands to load two truck simultaneously. When the job was finished, one of the trucks silently disappeared into the night with its valuable cargo, never to be seen again.[33]

Life everywhere on the islands went underground and the symbol of the new mole-like existence was Malinta Tunnel. "Everyone who doesn't need to be elsewhere," observed Captain Ames, "was in a tunnel--chiefly Malinta."[34] During the bombings it was always jammed with Americans and Filipinos who huddled back against the boxes of food and ammunition stacked along the sides to a height of six feet. Crowded into the tunnel were the highest headquarters in the Philippines, the lawful government of the Commonwealth, the 1,000-bed hospital, vast quantities of supplies, power plants, machinery, and other vital installations. One lateral alone was taken over by USAFFE. Here General MacArthur had a desk, before which were lined up his staff officers' desks. To the rear were the double-decker beds where the staff slept. Malinta also housed those dignitaries who had been evacuated from Manila. The civilians followed the routine of the military garrison, but an exception was made for the women, who were assigned special facilities in an area know as the "ladies' lateral."[35]

For the men outside, a trip through the tunnel was an interesting experience and never failed to rouse wonder. Milling about were Philippine and American government officials, officers of all services and all ranks, nurses in white starched uniforms, war correspondents, laborers, repair and construction crews, barbers, convalescents, and frightened soldiers in search of safety. "It is a revelation to walk through these tunnels," wrote Captain Ames to his wife. "At one time you are rubbing elbows with the daughter of some P.I. [Philippine] official, dodging a lady war correspondent, talking to a naval officer, being jostled by a plumber, . . . and having your shoes mopped by some Filipino janitor."[36]

Outside the tunnel the men encountered unusual and sometimes strange sights. President Quezon, ill with tuberculosis and confined to a wheel chair, spent as much time as he could outside the dust-laden tunnel, as did the U.S. High Commissioner Francis B. Sayre. On 30 December a small group witnessed Quezon's second inauguration in an impressive ceremony at the mouth of the tunnel and listened to speeches by the President, the High Commissioner, and General MacArthur. Some was, too, larger sums of money and more gold than they had ever imagined in their youthful dreams of pirate treasure chests. But values change in war and they watched without visible emotion the unloading of the gold, silver, and securities of the Philippine treasury on the Corregidor docks and their removal to a strong room deep in the tunnel.

Life on the islands had its seamier side. Not all men were brave and each garrison had its share of "tunnel rats," the taunt reserved for those who never left the safety of Malinta Tunnel. Such men were said to have "tunnelitis," a disease characterized by a furtive manner and the sallow complexion associated with those who live underground. For these men, those outside the tunnel had only contempt, tinged perhaps with envy. "We say of them," wrote one of those on the outside, "that they will lose tunnel-credit if they are seen outside the tunnel. And we josh them about the DTS medal (Distinguished Tunnel Service) . . . if they gather plenty of tunnel credits. As opposed to shell-shocked, we say of confirmed 'tunneleers' that they are shelter-shocked."[37]

Such unfair judgments were perhaps inevitable where some men were exposed to danger and others, by reason of their assignment, enjoyed the safety--and discomfort--of Malinta Tunnel. Nerves wore thin during the enforced intimacy of the prolonged siege, and there were few opportunities for recreation. During their idle moments men discussed the most fantastic rumors. deplored the lack of support from the Untied States, and commented smugly about the invariably misinformed "brass hats in Malinta Tunnel.": And always the men exercised the immemorial right of the soldier to "gripe." The days passed thus with monotonous and dreary regularity, filled with work, idle conversation, and speculation about the future.

 

  

 

                F O O T N O T E S              

[28] Ibid., entry of 25 Mar 42.

[29] Ames, Diary, note to ltr of 24 Jan 42.

[30] Harbor Defense Rpt of Opns, Exhibit E, p. 4.

[31] Bunker, Diary, entry of 9 Jan 42. Captain Ames also mentioned the shipment of dried fruit in his diary on 6 January.

[32] Ames, Diary, 6 Jan 42.

[33] This story was picked up from several participants and cannot be supported by direct references to sources or interviews.

[34] Ltr, Ames to his wife, 12 Jan 42, in Ames, Diary.

[35] Amea Willoughby, I Was on Corregidor, pp. 103-04, 134-40.

[36] Ltr, Ames to his wife, 12 Jan 42, in Ames, Diary.

[37] Ibid., 6 Feb 42. See also Hanson Baldwin, "The Fourth Marines at Corregidor," Part 2, Marine Corps Gazette (December 1946), pp. 27-28.