Retaking Fort Wint

 

As Corregidor guarded Manila Harbor, Fort Wint, on Grande Island, guarded Subic Bay and Olongapo Naval base. Subic Bay, with deeper water than Manila Bay, was a favorite with the Navy, whereas the shallow waters surrounding Manila made ship maneuvering in this area sometimes difficult.

Fort Wint was thus known in the past as "Little Corregidor," because of its similarity of position and importance in the combined defense of the Naval base in Subic Bay, and its acting as a bulwark to Bataan and the famed Zig Zag pass which could afford a flanking attack on Manila proper.

Therefore, on 30th January, one day after the 38th Division's landing in Subic Bay at San Narcisco, west coast of Zambales Province, not far from the San Marcelino airport (of which readers of the Pacific War will hear more),"Little Corregidor" was assaulted, and taken.

While this was another instance of the unpredictable ways of the Japanese, for the purpose of this article, the planning, tactics and final capture of the island will be described in a step by step manner.

As early as Leyte, officers of the 2d Battalion, 151st Infantry, had learned that they might be called upon to lead the assault. It was the first time most of them had ever heard of Grande Island.

The Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. L. Robert Mottern, of Indianapolis, Ind., now Regimental executive officer, was alerted on the subject, and intimation made that his battalion might be called upon on the first, second, or third day following D-Day in Subic Bay to make the assault.

He was given aerial photos and all the way up from Leyte to Luzon his officers spent most of their time studying them, spending an estimated sixty to seventy-five hours in the work with a pair of stereoscopic glasses. A huge drawing of the island was marked with all possible plans for the island's capture.

Before the battalion disembarked, Col. Mottern had called in all company commanders and platoon leaders and went over in detail the plan and tactics to be employed, so that every man had a complete picture of the terrain involved.

However, upon landing, the Battalion was given the mission to take a wooded area on Luzon about four miles inland from San Narcisco, which it did, and by 1500 the troops, exhausted by the excitement and strain of the beach head, were in need of rest.

But about this time an order was received from the Regimental Commanding Officer, requesting Col. Mottern to report, and to march his battalion back to Yellow Beach. Upon reporting at Corps, he was told to make ready, assault and capture Grande Island. The order stated his battalion would set sail from Yellow Beach at 1700, run down the coast some sixty miles and make the attack the following day. This was deemed a physical impossibility. Just a few minutes before the Colonel was ordered to Corps, a number of patrols had been sent out which had to be rounded up. L Company of the 3d Battalion was to be taken as reinforcement, and this Battalion was some miles farther down the beach.

It was necessary to march them back and load equipment for an amphibious operation. All in all it was impossible to get underway at 1700 but by 2100 the task force was loaded on APD's (Army Personnel Destroyers) and ready to move. The men had not eaten, they had their original canteen of water, and they were tired soldiers.

There is somewhat of a digression here to point out the wonderful cooperation between the Navy and the Army in the Pacific War. But the Battalion Commander wants it pointed out, and the Infantry wants the sailors to know how they appreciate the kindness shown them that day.

The APD's had bunks, nice, neat and clean—there was no sleeping on steel decks. The Navy had plenty of ice water, and on one ship they broke out Coca-Cola, on another cold beer, and on a third, the Captain served ice-cold tomato juice. A special meal was cooked and hot coffee served. Several destroyers, one cruiser, and several mine sweepers accompanied the force, as Subic Bay was heavily mined.

In determining a plan, Col. Mottern had picked out a sandy beach on the north side of Grande Island, adjacent to the sea wall which rises some eight to ten feet above the waterline. He had not talked to Army headquarters or to other higher echelons, nor to the Navy, and soon after he got aboard ship he was called into conference on another ship. During this conference a Commodore pointed out that the landing would he made on the sea wall.

Col. Mottern explained that his plans called for a landing on the beach, and that the sea wall afforded cross in machine-gun fire, similar to the situation at Tarawa.

He explained he was in command of the assault troops and he refused to land them against the sea wall. Consequently as this impasse developed, a further conference was held with Commodore Carlson on still another ship, and then with Rear Admiral Ralph S. Riggs, about 0800. Admiral Riggs refused to interfere, but suggested a compromise. The two places lie adjacent to each other, and there would be time to make a decision once the assault waves were on the way, he explained, but meanwhile the course would be steered toward the sea wall.

Therefore, Col. Mottern stayed on Commodore Carlson's CP boat until H Hour, set for 1100. Just previous to this hour the battalion was formed and the first of the three waves started toward land. By this time the shore of the island was close enough to be studied through glasses, and just as Col. Mottern and staff left to get into the third wave boats Commodore Carlson said the beach looked to be a suitable landing place, and the course was changed by radio message.

A dry landing was made, and the infantry dispersed rapidly on shore. Subsequently it was learned that jagged rocks lined the approach to the sea wall and that a landing would have been difficult.

This just goes to show, it was pointed out, the Army and Navy can get together and make sound decisions when the chips are down.

The reason H Hour was so late was due to sweeping mines out of Subic Bay, necessarily a daylight operation.

Now during the approach to Grande Island through Subic Bay, the first glimpse of island is from the south, and the landing beach is on the north, this meant a horseshoe turn of the task force, and it was necessary to pass close by. An officer, later explaining his feeling on this, the first of the assaults on the Coast Artillery positions, said:

"All the time we could see those huge Coast Artillery guns up there and they were terrifying. We suffered more mental anguish and torture than on any other operation we were subsequently to make, and that includes Corregidor.

"All vegetation had been burned off the island by bombs in the softening-up process, and those huge guns stood out in silhouette, and those concrete emplacements which we at the time thought were going to be manned by Japs which we would face in the next few minutes were enough to make any man jittery."

Just before the landing, a Naval observation plane dipping low saw a small American flag hung on a pier, and a message printed out with white sand stating: "Zambales Guerrillas–U. S. Army."

Seeing this, the Navy learned that Grande Island was in our hands, but the doughboys making the assault did not know it. Therefore, when we landed it was a walkthrough, and here is the tactical scheme employed. F Company, supported by machine guns from H Company was to take the west third of the island, proceeding to the crest of the long ridge running north and south along the west coast.

G Company when it hit the beach was to turn to the left and clean out the barracks area, and once this area was cleared, it was to turn south and secure the east third of the island.

L Company, borrowed from the 3d Battalion, was to fill in the gap up the middle, using what platoons were necessary. The Navy stood offshore waiting to fire at whatever targets of opportunity presented themselves. The whole thing was all timed and by 1215, Col. Mottem sent the prearranged message:

"I am assuming control of the Island"

About 1300 the troops had a very joyful and colorful flag-raising ceremony. The old flagstaff stood near the center of the island and a soldier shinnied up the 75-foot pole, and threaded a rope through the pulley.

There was one casualty. The prime mover of a 57mm antitank gun ran over a bomb dud. No one was injured in the prime mover, but 100 yards away a lad in L Company was hit in the neck, severing the jugular vein. He died.

The Air Corps had done a wonderful job. The island was studded with craters and one direct hit—it must have been a 1,000-pound bomb—shattered the concrete about a gun emplacement, but the gun, had it not been destroyed by the Americans when they moved out nearly three years before, could still have been fired.

The Guerrillas told us that a small garrison of Japs had remained on the island until a few days before we made the landing; a month or so previously they had several hundred on the small 600-yard almost square piece of land.

There were no tunnels on the island. It was the only one of the coastal defense sites that the Japs had not dug in much. They seemed content to use the old American emplacements.

Why they didn't defend it may never be known, but the Americans have given up trying to determine what the Japs are going to do long before this — maybe they just didn't have the manpower.

Today [1946 - Ed.] Grande Island, scarred and battered, has been made into a recreation site and rest camp for the Navy.

 

 

 

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