hyperlink presentation 1999 by Corregidor  Historic Society

While the tactical withdrawal to Bataan had been completed successfully, much of its strategic success was lost due to poor staff work at the USAFFE HQ. Three major staff blunders in regard to the coast defense of Manila and Subic Bay command were to be costly.

1. The transfer of many noncombatants to Fort Mills, to the extent that they outnumbered the combat troops two to one.

2. The abandonment of Fort Wint

3. The failure to provide any field forces to defend the Cavite shore opposite Fort Frank.  Prewar planning had always assumed that a field army would defend this area.

 

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On February 1, 1906 Major General John P. Story as chairman of the National Coast Defense Board submitted to William H. Taft, Secretary of War a final report outlining a proposed coastal defense system for the United States and its possessions. Ten stateside and one overseas ports, Subic Bay, were declared "ports of first importance" for armament with modern coastal defense weapons. A further eight United States Forts and six overseas ports were designated "ports of secondary importance" for armament. Second from last, ahead of Port Sorsogan, Philippine Islands but after Guam was the entrance to Manila Bay. A total of eight 14 inch. two 12 inch, four 6 inch, twelve 3 inch guns and eight 12 inch mortars were recommended to protect Manila Bay.

When Admiral Dewey's fleet seized Manila Bay in 1898 the Spanish had mounted coastal defense guns on the islands of Corregidor, Caballo and El Fraile. In addition guns had been placed on the mainland on the Bataan and Cavite side of the Bay. The only island unfortified was Carabao lying only 500 years offshore from Cavite Province.

What General Story and his committee recommended and what actually happened in the construction of coastal defense installations in the Philippines again demonstrated that recommendations and studies prepared by blue ribbon committees often have little impact of later decisions. The manner in which the defense of Manila Bay rose in ascendency over Subic Bay is outlined in my article "Subic Bay and Fort Wint", also published by CORREGIDOR THEN AND NOW.

 

 

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Corregidor was an effective bottle stopper for the closing of Manila Bay in clear weather. This was not the case for a dark rainy night or a fog shrouded morning. In order to give complete coverage of the South Channel, the waters between Corregidor and Cavite forts would have to be placed on the islands of El Fraile and Carabao. Earlier at the request of the Army President Theodore Roosevelt on April 11, 1902 by Executive Order had set aside the islands of Manila Bay as military reservations. The Executive Order included the 44.5 acres of Carabao Island. This action was affirmed by Congress on July 1, 1902 and reaffirmed by Executive Order on March 14, 1904.

 

The development of a coastal defense fort on Carabao Island presented Corps of Engineers with two problems. The first was that except in one spot the island had sheer cliffs of 100 feet rising from the ocean and ending in a narrow crest line down the center of the island. The second was that Carabao was dominated by the Pico de Loro Hills on the Cavite shore which rise to a height of 2,225 feet as compared with Carabao's 185 feet. Any enemy battery established here would soon render the rear slopes of Carabao untenable while to place the guns on the forward slopes would make the gun batteries an inviting target for attacking warships. The Corps of Engineers solution called for the mounting of the guns on the reverse side and establishment of a field army in the Pico de Loro Hills to keep an attack enemy's field artillery out of range of Carabao.

 

In order to quickly develop a workable defense of Manila Bay, first priority was given to fortifying Corregidor and Carabao with the now designated Fort Mills and Fort Frank respectively. Fort Frank was named in honor of Brigadier General Royal T. Frank and was designated on outpost the Manila Harbour Defense which was headquartered at Fort Mills. Armament for Fort Franks consisted of two 14 inch disappearing guns mounted in two separate batteries. At the northern end of the island was located Battery Greer and 1,200 feet to the south in the western bulge was Battery Crofton. Located to the rear of Battery Crofton on the north-south axis of the island were the two mortar pits of Battery Koehler each with four M-1908 mortars. While the shoreward side of Fort Frank was to be protected by a field army on the mainland in the event of war, the Corps of Engineers apparently did not put full faith in this plan for the batteries were connected to each other by a deep communication trench.

In the War Department Annual Report for 1913 Brigadier General E. Weaver, Chief of Coast Artillery reported in regard to the coastal defense Manila Bay:

The Armament of Corregidor Island is completed and mounted with the exception of four mortars which are now under manufacture and will be shipped this fall.

On Carabao Island the emplacements for the 14 inch batteries and mortar batters are practically completed. The guns and carriages will be shipped in the fall (1912) and mounted probably before the close of the fiscal year (June 30, 1913). With the installation of this armament the strength of the defenses of Manila Bay will be greatly increased. The fire control and search light installations for Carabao have proceeded simultaneous with the battery construction, and the mounting of the guns will complete the defense at that point.

On Caballo Island (Fort Hughes) the emplacements have been started, and the armament for the batteries are under construction.

It is believed that the last obstacle to the success of the project for the fortification of El Fraile Island (Fort Drum) has been met by the latest plan of construction.

The following year Brigadier General Weaver reported that "Fortification construction continues at the entrance to Manila Bay and has progressed to include the completion of Fort Frank, Carabao Island; that at El Fraile and Caballo Islands is making good progress."

In order to man the batteries of Fort Frank three companies of Artillery would be needed. As coast artillery companies varied in accordance to the battery to be manned, troop strength for Fort Frank batteries was 11 officers and 349 men divided as 3 officers and 67 men per 14 inch battery and 5 officers and 215 men for the mortar battery. There were of course additional officers and troops assigned to Fort Frank's Headquarters for administrative purposes. A normal tour of duty at Fort Frank was four months with the remainder of the year spent at Fort Mills. There was no formal assignment of any coast artillery company to any one particular battery in the Harbor Defense of Manila Bay due to the lack of sufficient manpower to fight all the batteries at once. A 14 inch coast artillery complement therefore could for example be expected man many of the various 14 inch batteries or for that matter any of the batteries comprising the Manila Harbor Defense system.

Troop strength was such in early 1941 that the 78 men of Battery D 91st CA(PS) [PS: Philippine Scouts] were responsible for manning Battery Geary (eight 12 inch mortars) and twelve 75mm shore defense guns at Fort Mills at Batteries Greer and Crofton at Fort Frank. This of course was an impossible mission since for full manning Battery Crofton needed 67 men and Battery Geary needed 215 men. In reality the harbor defense of Manila Bay was more in a caretaker status than a war footing.

In early 1911 the blessing and curse of modern communication technology reached Fort Frank. That year a 1/8 kilowatt radio was installed on Carabao Island as well as at Fort Drum, Fort Wint and Fort Mills. Fort Frank was assigned the call letters PIA. The following year Fort Mills radio was upgraded to 10 kilowatts. A 1 kilowatt radio intended for Fort Wint was also retained at Fort Mills. Fort Frank kept its 1/8 kilowatt radio but its call signal changed to WVL. A 1/8 kilowatt radio was also installed at Fort Hughes that year. The 1 kilowatt station retained at Fort Mills was finally transferred to Fort Wint in 1913. On October 3, 1914 Brigadier General G. P. Scriven, Chief Signal Officer of the Army, in his annual report stated:

Radiotelegraph stations were maintained and radio operators furnished at Fort Mills, Fort Wint and Fort McKinley. The small radio Stations heretofore maintained on Carabao, El Fraile, and Caballo Islands have been discontinued, their use no longer being necessary following the laying of submarine cables between the points.

The fortifications of Manila Bay at the outbreak of World War 1 represented the most modern type of coastal defense works in the world. The garrison of Fort Frank and the other forts settled down to the humdrum "romantic" duties of soldiering in the Far East. The war in Europe was away and those German Naval and Army units in the Far East were quickly captured or chased out of the area by the Japanese and British by the end of 1914. However when war was declared by the United States on April 6, Fort Frank and the other forts of Manila Bay were brought to war footing. The Secretary of the Army ordered that no troops were to be withdrawn from the Philippines for use in Europe, and that additional troops be raised in the islands. This directive was complied with by the Army, and in fact Philippine Army strength was increased. This fact should make an interesting advanced study as to the reason behind this order , since coast defencse forts on both coasts in the United States were stripped of men and in some cases equipment. As Germany posed a more "real" threat to the East Coast than to the Philippines was the garrison in the Philippines increased mainly in fear of Japan changing sides?

Conclusion of the war saw a slow rundown in the strength of the troops in the Philippines. With the United States having promised the Philippines freedom in 1946, and little desire being expressed by the people of the nation to enter into an Asian conflict Congress cut back on funds for the Army in the Philippines. In addition to the dead hand of the Washington Naval Treaty, which forbade upgrading of coastal defense fortifications in the United States islands of Hawaii, suddenly gripped the Philippines. The outbreak of World War II in September, 1939 thus found Fort Frank and the other forts of Manila Bay equipped with obsolescent or obsolete fortifications and weapons. Indeed some officers who served there at this time and reviewed this article think this is an understatement.

The fall of France in June,1940 to Germany, coupled with Japan's increasing pro-Axis and anti-United States/Great Britain outlook led to a start at modernizing the Manila Bay forts. A scarcity of funds, equipment, materiel and construction workers however resulted in only a partial correction of obvious deficiencies. Since first consideration was given to Fort Mills, little was left for the other forts. The result was that upgrading at Fort Frank was limited to the construction of Battery Frank North. This Construction consisted of three 360 Panama mounts for 155 mm guns.

General Moore's after action report states that three Panama mounts were built but four guns were in the battery. Exact location of this battery is not known. In addition there were two concrete shell magazines, one fuse magazine and one temporary galvanized iron observing station. Also in recognition of the vulnerability of Fort Frank to air attacks, Battery Ermita consisting of four mobile 3 inch guns was established on Carabao.

 

December 8, 1941 found Fort Frank possessing the following armament and garrison:

BATTERY

No. Guns Cal. Type Troop Vertical Range Feet
Crofton 1 14-in DC F-91 PS 17,000
Creer 1 14-in DC D-2 PA 17,000
Koehler (2 Pits) 8 12-in M-1908 Mortars D-2 PA 14,000
Frank 4 155-mm Pan GPF D-2 PA

F-92 *

17,000
Ermita (AA) 4 3-in AA

E-91 PS

27,000 ft. (Vert.)**
Beach Defense 3 75-mm   F-91 PS 7,000
Fixed S/L 1   HD Det. Hq-91 PS * F-92 at Corregidor - Ed
AA S/L 1   Sperry 60-IN Det.-60 CA

**Due to the age of the powder and shells, combined with their long storage in the Far East, this range was seldom reached during the campaign.

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