"DEFENSES OF MANILA AND SUBIC BAYS"
_________________
Lieutenant Perry Reid McMahon


 

 

 

 

 

America's Coast Artillery bastions in the Philippines, although neutralized during the withdrawal from Bataan and the subsequent fall of Corregidor, nevertheless were difficult places to retake.

Their big teeth had been pulled—but the concrete and steel emplacements remained, and the tunnel workings were utilized to the utmost by the Japanese.

Army engineers had built well. Even against the most modern of weapons the Coast Artillery positions stood up, and it required intense efforts of all branches finally to reduce them. The Navy, the Air Corps, Artillery, Paratroopers, Engineers, Tanks and Infantry were used at some time or another in the operations against Fort Mills (Corregidor), Fort Hughes (Caballo), Fort Drum El Fraile), and Fort Frank (Carabao Island). But it was only after ingenious usage of these arms that success was finally ours. The following account of the Corregidor operation, furnished largely by eyewitnesses quoted, and by the S-2 of the Battalion which did most of the mopping up after the assault troops were withdrawn, depicts to some extent the difficulties encountered, and steps taken to surmount them.

Naturally enough, defenses in Subic Bay had to be first reduced, the approaches to Corregidor then swept of mines, and Manila Harbor's defenses retaken step by step. However, because of the interest in Corregidor, this narrative will first attempt to outline that operation, then return to Subic Bay for the account of the assault on Fort Wint, on Grande Island, and from there proceed through the retaking of Caballo, El Fraile, and Carabao in order. Considering the area of the ground taken, and that the effectiveness of the positions had been largely destroyed at the time of our withdrawal nearly three years previously, Japanese defense, although expected to be fanatical, was phenomenal.

 

THE ROCK RETAKEN

Fittingly enough from where the "Death March" was begun early in May 1942, the assault of Corregidor started from Bataan, 16 February, 1945— three years later. The strength of Lt. Gen. Masaharu's arrogant legions, which then overwhelmed the defenders of the "Rock," was as nothing compared to the might of American arms which retook it. For days Corregidor had been pounded from the air and from the sea. Even on the mainland some twenty-five miles to Manila, where General Walter Krueger's Sixth Army was busy slaughtering the Japs in the Walled City, soldiers often looked up from their labors to gaze out across the Bay to see flashes from 1,000-pound bomb bursts and minutes later hear the resounding roar.

Now was the time to close with the enemy. Subic Bay and Olongapo Naval base had been cleared earlier in the month. Then as troops of the 38th Infantry Division sailed into the harbor at Mariveles, the town on Bataan from where the Death March started, four miles away across the channel a pall of smoke hung over Corregidor.

The next day to Mariveles came the 3d Battalion, augmented by extra company, of the 34th Regimental Combat Team, which stayed overnight. As the LCPR's were swinging into the harbor, proud in their mission, a five-inch shell from Corregidor screamed across their bows. Another struck the stem of an APD, and others sent up splashes in the sea. Despite the preparation the Japs were still defiant on the Rock.

Next morning the sun was rising over Corregidor as the LCMs bounced away from Mariveles jetty, and far to the south, like avengers from the blue, out of Mindoro came the troop-laden air transports of the 503d Regimental Combat team, paratroopers who had first jumped at Markham Valley in far away New Guinea nearly 20 months ago and had waited long for this opportunity.

One-half of the Regiment were aboard the troop carrying planes. The little dark spots grew larger, and the drone of the motors became discernible. Soon the water-borne 3d Battalion could see the morning sun rays glinting off the silver planes.

They circled wide over the one-mile square head of three-mile long Corregidor -once the strongest fortress in the world. How strong it was now would soon be known. The amphibious flotilla with white wake streaking behind was making a crescent moon as they turned about the west bulge of the islet, headed for San Jose Bay. Troopers who would soon assault the shore climbed high on the sides of the LCM's the better to see the paratroopers jump.

The air transports curved gracefully over Topside, and out of their open doors blossomed the chutes of the paratroopers, to float down and bloom like so many white mushrooms in an early morning pasture. Supplies were dropped in colored chutes-rose, green, yellow and blue.

Here on Topside, the western plateau of the island, the paratroopers would meet the enemy where the bougainvillea vines tried bravely to hide the skeleton frames of the officer's quarters and EM barracks, and hibiscus' scarlet trumpets stubbornly tried to bring back memories of a happier day.

Before the hour was over the scarlet of the hibiscus flower would be matched with the color of American and Japanese blood.

Corregidor had been the pride of the Pacific. Its parade ground was once velvet-smooth, and right smart men marched there. The big guns gleamed in their mechanical perfection, and revolved, ready to roar defiance to aggression in any direction-that was three years ago.

This day, raw dun-colored rock, pock-marked by the disease of war, greeted the eyes of the approaching avengers. Whole hillsides were bare of vegetation, the little railroad's rails were twisted like pretzels, the emplacements of the big rifles, concrete and steel, were shattered remnants. The hour was 0830.

A 35-mile wind blew over Corregidor. Paratroopers drifting toward the parade ground began to slide to the south some settled over the cliff, some went drifting down to sea. But the majority landed on the plateau, some among yellow rocks and boulders, some among the chunks of buildings, some hung up in trees. Many began shooting before they hit the ground.

Mission of the paratroopers was to clean off Topside and advance to the east, having advantage of higher terrain, thus driving the Japs into a pocket in the low ground. While this was going on the 34th would make its beach head at San Jose and take Malinta Hill.

Malinta Hill, which rises sheer almost in the center of the island, has sides of rock and cliffs almost perpendicular. It was up this hill the 34th was to go.

A concentration from the Navy had silenced temporarily the barrage of Jap gun and mortar fire which greeted the LCM's as they grated ashore on the beach-but the beach was dangerous with mines.

Several of the first vehicles run ashore struck mines. It was several hours before vehicles were landed safely. There were casualties. Aid men and litter bearers began gathering up the wounded. Assault waves of the 34th continued to drag themselves up the hill; on the east side the Japs were also trying to make the crest. It was a question there of who would first gain the commanding features of the terrain.

Now as there are two phases of the operation underway at the same time, the paratroopers on Topside, the 34th on Malinta Hill and San Jose, besides the continuing air strikes, and occasional calling in of warships for special missions, it becomes apparent that a chronological sequence in this narrative is almost impossible.

Besides this, since the various groups have their natural espirit, it can be expected that they regarded their particular parts in the assault as being of prime importance. Therefore, after a brief description of the action on Topside, an attempt will be made to present more of the background on the battle.

The paratroopers had gained their first objective and had fanned out. Their job was to kill the Japs in the middle area occupied by the officers quarters and EM barracks. They had landed in the middle of the Japs and then moved outward to prevent them from organizing into groups of resistance.

Then they systematically hacked up the small units and kept them out of contact with any others. As stated before many of the paratroopers had shot their first Japs before they reached the ground. One, Pfc. Donald Rich, Mount Pleasant, Texas, was credited with two while he hung in a tree. Pvt. Carl J. Williams, Hazelton, Pa, shot two with a revolver while he was twisted in his chute.

Paratroopers were being killed too. One was shot in the doorway of his plane before he jumped, and a stick of six artillerymen were killed before they reached the ground. Patrols were still looking for disabled men on the second day, according to Sgt. Charles Pearson, Yank staff writer who had gone in with the assault. It took a patrol all day to bring back a man shot in the stomach.

On the second morning a patrol of paratroopers watched what appeared to be another group of paratroopers setting up a machine-gun on a slope. One of the paratroopers noticed it was a Jap machine-gun and a closer look through a pair of glasses revealed they were Japanese wearing American paratrooper uniforms which they had stripped from the dead. While this is an old Jap trick, it sometimes works.

A machine gun was trained on them and they were driven into a cave. A paratrooper kept them bottled up until a 75mm gun firing point-blank sealed them to their doom.

But Topside was cleaned up on the surface. The paratroopers had gone from wrecked building to wrecked building, through the battery emplacements, into the gun wells, and magazines, step by step, creeping and crawling and killing. Gradually they worked down the slope toward north and south docks and junction with the 34th.

To those Coast Artillerymen who haven't been back to Corregidor since `42, terrain conditions as they now exist are beyond imagination, and an accurate description would seem exaggeration. Corregidor today is chaos, churned and strewn as if an earthquake had struck it. It would require a minute search to find the smallest installation intact, or usable. Even the slopes of the golf course are strewn with boulders weighing tons, and punctuated with 1,000-pound bomb craters. In this mass of destruction, the Japs dug tunnels and caves, and camouflaged their openings to perfection.

More than two months later Japs were coming out of these holes in the ravines and cliffs like animals at night, and search as our patrols did, they were unable to locate all the hiding places.

Some weeks after the assault a group of Coast Artillery officers made an inspection tour of the island. Many of these men in earlier days had commanded batteries on the Rock and had their homes there.

Among this group were Brig. Gen. LaRhett L. Stuart now commanding the 102d AAA Brigade on Luzon; Brig Gen. Homer Case, commanding the 32d AAA Brigade also in Luzon; Col. Frank T. Ostenberg, Sixth Army AA officer; Col. Maitland Bottoms, Sixth Army Public Relations officer; Col. J.R. Burns, Sixth Army Chemical officer; Col. Carl T. Tischbein, Chief of Staff of the 14th AA Command; Major John B. Maynard, Jr., and Major E. J. Beller also of the 14th AA Command.

Jap snipers were still hidden on the island as these officers went through their former homes. Major Maynard the son of the late Brig. Gen. John B. Maynard went by what had been his home twenty-three years before when his father was Post Adjutant, and he was a small boy.

What had been homes was a mass of jagged concrete. Not a stick of furniture remained. Corregidor was more like an Aztec ruin than a spit-and polish Regular-Army Post. The Japs had lived as beasts.

It was like cornered animals, too, that they defended it. Our intelligence prior to the operation held that there was a force of 800 Japanese on the Island. When the last organized resistance had ended, nearly 6,000 Jap bodies had been counted, and that was a conservative count according to the officer that made it. "We did not count odd arms and legs, and as we buried masses of Japanese caught in some huge explosion, we did the best we could. How many were buried deep in the sealed tunnels and caves we have no way of knowing. Many of these tunnels had been dug by the Japs, and some of them they blew in on themselves, he said.

But if our intelligence was off, the Japs missed by a mile. According to a statement of a Jap prisoner of war, the Commanding Officer of the Japanese forces on Corregidor through his sources of information, had word that the Americans were going to use two divisions in the retaking of the island. Therefore, he immediately decided on defensive tactics. If he had known the size of the opposing force he would have launched more counterattacks, and many of the Japs who ended their own lives in the hara-kiri way would have had more courage, in the opinion of the PW.

Be that as it may, Corregidor with its major defenses smashed was still a difficult place to take. On the second afternoon of invasion the 1st Battalion of the 503d came in by water, and joined the paratroopers who were still mopping up on Topside.

The 3d Battalion of the 34th had made the top of 280 foot Malinta Hill-at least part of the companies got there and they dug in, and not too soon. The Japs had been knocked back on their side of the hill because of the speed of the 34th's climb but that night they had launched a banzai attack, leaving more than 100 dead sprawled out against the hillside.

The 34th did not advance far beyond Malinta Hill, but did work around the road that bends around the hill to the right from San Jose dock. Men here began to fear the landslides that subsequently cost American lives. One platoon of the 34th was stalking a Jap pillbox against this side of the hill-a destroyer had been firing on it. Suddenly there was an explosion and landslide, most of the platoon was wiped out. The slide carried away a section of the roadway and continued down into the sea.

But just because we commanded top terrain is no indication that we had secured the island. In rushing to the top the first assault waves of the 34th had made no attempts to mop up the caves, tunnels, and holes the Japs were in on the west side of Malinta. Other units were to do this job.

At the west end of the main electrical tunnels going into Malinta from the San Jose side squads of riflemen had covered the entrance every night since D-Day; they had got results, about four Japs a night, but the night of the first big explosion they got a real haul.  First a red flash of name rolled out of the tunnel. Then the troops heard Jap jabbering.

The infantrymen thinking none could have lived through the explosion couldn't believe their ears, but the Japs jabbering increased and then they started to pour out of the tunnel. "We poured in rifle, carbine, BAR, pistol and grenade fire from our three sides, and across the way a machine gun opened up – they never had a chance, but all night they kept coming out," an infantryman told Cpl. John McLeod, Yank staff writer, "then," he added, "just before dawn we heard some more jabbering in the tunnel and about fifteen or twenty shots. A bunch must have committed suicide."

This was on the night of 21 February, D plus 5; there were to be more explosions on Corregidor.

On D plus 4, the 2d Battalion, 151st Infantry, came in to relieve the pressure on the D-Day troops. By this time the 503d had worked down to north dock and had started up the road that leads past Malinta Point and continues to the eastern end of the island. It was slow work, and mop-up as they might, they had by-passed pockets of Japs who were still deep in their underground workings in the ravines, the cliff sides, and even the more level terrain on Topside.

As an illustration of this, Lt. Maurice P. Murphy, S-2 of the 2d Battalion, explained the fighting on Corregidor at this phase as "tough, but not spectacular." We just had to dig them out, or seal them in. We lost some men doing it, and it was hard work, it was what the experts call a war of attrition, I suppose. There was the Jap pocket in caves between Wheeler and Searchlight Points.

"These caves were just above water's edge at high tide, and approach from the sea side was difficult. A sheer cliff protected them from above. The 503d had tried to get them out. They had lowered a man with a tommy gun down on ropes, and when they pulled the ropes up, the soldier was dead."

Then at low tide they attempted to make a frontal attack; the Company Commander was killed, as was another officer and two enlisted men. Several others were wounded.

When the 151st took over this sector the Japs were still defiant in their caves. A destroyer was called in to fire point blank at the caves, and two alligators with 20mm cannons went in close. The Japs opened up with mortar and machine guns, and the alligators were caught in the cross fire. "We had to get out," said the officer in charge, "but we got off several rounds of WP and bazooka fire. Later Japs were seen trying to escape on rafts. They were picked off by rifle fire. We kept hacking away with patrols, cleaning up the pockets."

That is an example of the incongruous story of Corregidor; one action leads to another, then back to the first action again for some new exploit of the Japanese.

The Japs' final attempt to blow up Malinta Tunnel and the hill over them came on 24 February just before dawn. Platoons dug in on the top of the hill had been fearful of this — minor explosions had shaken the hill like an earthquake, and they were fearful of landslides burying them alive.

Very earliest reports indicated that the Japs intended to blow up the whole hill and everything in it and on it. They had waited until the American force had gained strength on the top.

If their demolition experts had been a little more expert their plan may have worked, but the Japs get fouled up too. Instead of one huge blast there was a series of six.

The beachhead was scattered with debris and rocks blown from the tunnel mouths. From the west entrance an automobile engine block was hurled 200 yards. From ventilator shafts on the top of the hill fire and smoke poured for the next twenty-four hours. Men in foxholes were blown two feet in the air by the concussion.

Just before the Japs set off their final blast on Malinta, according to Cpl. McLeod, the Yank writer who was there, they poured out of the hospital lateral entrance and made a banzai charge. Shooting from the old American Coast Artillery position just over the road at Malinta Point, seven men accounted for twenty-three Japs in as many seconds. That dampened the enthusiasm of the others and they hid as best they could from the murderous fire.

This fits in with subsequent events. Some observers surmised that the Japs finally blew up the tunnels and virtually committed mass hara-kiri because they were out of water and thirsting to death. Canteens of a few dead Japs contained only drops of water. A water point near the hospital entrance was under our constant small arms fire, yet dozens of Japs made the dash for the point every night. While the Japs may have been without water, and it was one of the causes for their realization that they had lost the Malinta area, they were not, according to a Jap prisoner of war, attempting a mass hara-kiri.

According to the story this PW told through an interpreter to Lt. Murphy, the Japs, once they saw they had lost the main tunnels about Malinta, drew up a daring plan.

Their demolition engineers were to set charges sufficient to blow up the whole hill, and powerful enough to kill the Americans on the top. The main force of the explosion was to be directed toward the west end, the explosion was not to interfere with the east entrance. The Japs were to gather here and as the blast went off make a dash for it in the confusion and assemble in the vicinity of Monkey Point for a new stand.

But hundreds of them were caught in the blast which roared through the famed underground defenses of Malinta. Something must have gone wrong with the plan. When a few days later General Douglas MacArthur went down into Malinta Tunnel at the west end he had to step about the ashes and charnel of these Japs to conduct his inspection. In parts of the area the heat had been so intense that all that remained were the half melted metal parts of their accoutrements, and the fire-glazed steel of helmets strewn about in the grotesque positions in which their onetime owners had died and were consumed by flame.

We were winning the battle of Corregidor but it was not over.

As the mop-up proceeded down the tail of the pollywog toward Monkey Point the Japs repeated the tactic of blowing themselves and as many of their enemies with them as they could into the next world. In the area near where the Navy had its handball courts before the war there was a big underground powder magazine.

Many of the Americans killed on Corregidor died when the Japs blew up this area. How many Japs died no one knows. The crater cuts away part of the hillside.

Now we swing back again to Topside, where the paratroopers had floated out of the skies many days ago. Japs were still there. A PW picked up by the Navy trying to leave the inferno of Corregidor on a raft at night, and being as loquacious as most captured Japs, said there were 300 hidden in a cave in the cliffs between Morrison and Battery Points.

Both Paratroopers and Infantrymen of the 2d Battalion had been killed while patrolling in that area but as Lt. Murphy said "we could never find where they were coming from" Additional patrols were sent to scour the terrain, one man was killed and a section pinned down by machine-gun fire. Next day a larger patrol was organized, engineers were included, and a ventilating shaft was discovered. Twenty-one men were busy pouring oil down the shaft; some of them had by this time been in the Caballo operation where this device was first tried–suddenly a terrific explosion blew out the side of the hill. Many claim it was the largest explosion on Corregidor. It blew a crater so large that a football field could be laid out in the bottom of it, and the sides used for tiers of seats.

The lieutenant of engineers in charge of the men was blown 200 feet into the air. Two days later, one half of his body was found. Others in the crew were never seen again.

"I'm sorry to say," recalled Lt. Murphy, still busy keeping the journal on Corregidor, "we didn't get many of the men back."

"We were in mess line when we heard the explosion. We knew immediately what it meant. We fell out with picks and shovels to dig the men out. We found an arm here and a leg there."

"It was the biggest explosion I ever saw or heard," added the lieutenant. "It blew so much dirt and shale into the sea the water was discolored for two hundred yards off shore. Boulders five or six feet in diameter were hurled into the sea like pebbles."

"We now believe we had stumbled onto the cave of the 300 Japs, and when they realized that they were going to be killed decided to set off the explosion themselves. We had not poured enough oil in and had not set any fuses. If there were 300 there, then 300 died."

This hunting of Japs continued on Corregidor for weeks, and about the middle of April, American patrols were occasionally seeing Japs.

The Rock was a tough place to retake; not ordinary warfare and the Japs fought to the last man. The 503d took twenty-two prisoners, the 34th none, and the 2d Battalion, 151st, a total of seven.

The key to the harbor defense of Manila Bay had fallen, but there were others, and next on the agenda came Fort Hughes on near-by Caballo, but before that, we will review the fall of Fort Wint.

 

This article was originally published in the Coast Artillery Journal, July-August 1945 Edition.

THE ROCK RETAKEN | RETAKING FORT WINT | THE FORT HUGHES OPERATION
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