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Three major staff blunders in regard to the coast defense of Manila and Subic Bay command were to be costly. One of them was the abandonment of Fort Wint. 

 

 

A Short History of

Fort Wint

by

George Munson

 

To read map in full detail click to open it full size - 

 

Situated at the mouth of Subic Bay, on beautiful Grande Island, Fort Wint was ideally located to defend one of the world's great natural harbors against enemy warships.  The Fort's importance was four fold.  It  (1) protected the Navy's small base and the Dry Dock Dewey at Olongapo, (2) protected Bataan's back door from enemy naval and amphibious attacks, (3) prevented enemy forces from using the harbor for a supply base only a few miles from our forces on Bataan, and (4) provided early warning of enemy ships and aircraft proceeding south towards Bataan and Manila Bay.

 

   Fort Wint originally had five fixed batteries that mounted two 10-inch disappearing, four 6-inch disappearing, and eight rapid fire 3-inch guns as follows:

 

·        Battery Warwick, two 10-inch disappearing guns

·        Battery Woodruff, two 6-inch disappearing guns

·        Battery Hall, two 6-inch disappearing guns

·        Battery Jewell, four 3-inch rapid fire pedestal guns

·        Battery Flake, four 3-inch rapid fire pedestal guns

 

However, a system of controlled mines was originally designed to be the island’s primary defense against enemy warships.

 

In 1919, the two 3-inch guns and carriages in emplacements three and four of Battery Jewell were removed and installed in Battery Hoyle, Fort Frank.  During the 1920s, two guns and their carriages were removed from Battery Flake and moved to Manila Bay. They were never replaced.  

 

In 1921, the Department Engineer Officer made a study to determine what beach defenses were needed to defend the island against invasion. Numerous recommendations were made including the construction of infantry trenches and the massive use of barbed wire.  A shortage of funds precluded the implementation of these recommendations.

 

The 285th Company (PS) was the first Scout unit to man the Fort. On June 30, 1924, it became Battery G-91st Coast Artillery.  Later that year, the Battery was transferred to Corregidor and small caretaking detachments of Scouts, from the 91st CA (PS) and 92d CA (PS), manned the Fort until 1938. Initially, the detachment consisted of one officer and 27 enlisted men. It was considerably reduced over the years until it consisted of a detachment of only several Scouts. All batteries were put “out of service.” The fire control equipment was transferred to Fort Mills for storage.  The breach blocks were removed and stored in the magazines.

 

The caretakers did not accomplish much as their numbers were very small.  They performed some minor maintenance, kept the jungle from reclaiming the island and discouraged thieves.  During this period, buildings, especially the wooden ones, started to deteriorate.  Roofs began to leak.  The electrical system deteriorated.  The railway became inoperable and the mine system was abandoned. All mine material and accessories were moved to Fort Mills. 

 

On March 8, 1937 Battery A-92d arrived on Fort Wint to prepare Battery Jewell’s two 3-inch guns for firing. Since this battery had not been fired since 1921, the Scouts had a lot of work to do.  Of particular importance was the establishment an adequate fire control system.   During the battery's month long stay, it conducted two fire practices with excellent results.

 

In the fall of 1937, the 92d Coast Artillery test fired five rounds from gun number two at Battery Warwick. The gun had not been fired since March 1927 and an inspection showed that the base ring was sixteen minutes out of level.  The test was needed to determine if this gun could be fired without further settling of the base ring. The gun passed the test and was considered safe for further firing.

 

   In 1938 the War Department leased the Fort to the Philippine Army for use as the Philippine Army Coast Artillery Training Center. Three American officers and a small detachment of Scouts formed the cadre for the Center. Training was frequently conducted in English then translated into several native languages by the Scouts. The trainees fired Batteries Warwick and Jewell on several occasions.

 

War plans called for manning the Fort with detachments from batteries HQ-92d, A-92D, and F-92d.  A-92d was responsible for manning Batteries Hall and Jewell.  However, these plans were changed. In January 1941, Battery D-92d, with two 155-mm GPFs deployed to Fort Wint to conduct training and target practice.  This battery returned in June 1941 to provide the main defense for the island and help train Philippine Army personnel.  A detachment from Battery HQ-92d also arrived to provide administrative support and man two 75-mm beach defense guns.  In the summer, Battery H-92d moved from Ft. Mills to the east end of Subic Bay, near Olongapo.  Its mission was to protect the east end of the Bay with it’s two 155mm guns. The guns could engage any enemy ships that sailed by the Fort’s guns and enemy forces attempting to land on the east end of the island.

 

       In July,1941 the Navy moved the Dry Dock Dewey to Mariveles. The Navy strengthened the Fort’s defenses by laying a mine field across the main shipping channel. In November, Battery C-91st with four 3-inch anti-aircraft guns arrived to provide air cover and help teach Philippine Army personnel how to fire anti-aircraft guns. On December 1, the Philippine Army personnel were inducted into the armed forces of the United States as the 2d Battalion, First Coast Artillery Philippine Army. 

 

    The start of the war found the defenders moderately ready to defend the Fort. Batteries C-91st, D-92d, and  H-92d were combat ready. The 2d Battalion, First Coast Artillery Philippine Army was a combat unit in name only. The 365 members of the Battalion would need a lot more training before they would be ready to man coast defenses.

The first enemy activity was observed shortly before noon December 8, 1941, when a flight of 54 enemy bombers flew directly over the Fort and headed Northward.  They were too high for C-91st to engage, but the Scouts open up anyway and the Japanese promptly spread their formation and proceeded onward.

 

Battery C-91st engaged in combat for the second time on December 12.  Before dawn, Filipino coast watchers reported 5 Japanese battleships and 10 destroyers headed south toward Manila Bay.  Seven Navy PBY seaplanes based at Olongapo searched for four hours without finding them. Returning at 0900, the planes were resting in the harbor when at 1010 Japanese fighter planes strafed and destroyed all seven PBYs.  The Scouts of Battery C-91st fired 40 rounds of 3-inch shells at the 10 Japanese planes and cheered as one fell burning east of Suesta Light House.

  

   The Japanese returned the next day at 1145 with 27 planes and bombed the Navy base at Olongapo.  The Scouts fired 34 rounds of 3-inch shells dispersing the planes towards the east.  On December 15 at 1230, three bombers dived over Grande Island and were disbursed by the accurate fire of Battery C-91st. There were no casualties.  On December 23, 1941 at 11:40 AM, Fort Wint spotted two fast sailing boats with square sails at 30,000 yards going southeast.  Corregidor was alerted.

 

    On December 18, a small boat with about 30 armed Japanese soldiers was observed heading toward Suesta Light House at the mouth of Subic Bay. Several shots were fired across its bow, but the boat did not stop or alter its course. Firing was then directed on the boat using one 3-inch gun at Battery Jewell and one 3-inch anti-aircraft gun at Battery C-91st. The boat was sunk with no survivors. During the period 8 – 25 December, the Japanese bomber the Fort 10 times causing minimal damage. About 200 bombs were dropped. Five men were slightly injured.  During this period, Battery D-92d fired several times at suspected enemy forces in the hills on the western side of Subic Bay. Results were unknown because the Battery had no gun spotters in the hills.

 

On December 23, Lt. Colonel Napoleon Boudreau, the Fort Commander, received orders to abandon Fort Wint the next day.  War plans called for Boudreau's forces to hold the Fort until directed to withdraw to Bataan by the Commanding General, Philippine Division.  Major General Wainwright never gave this order.  It is unknown who did, but some commander seeing that the personnel on Fort Wint were not falling back into Bataan perceived that they would be left guarding an abandoned port, directed that the Fort be abandoned.   Battery C-91st left that evening.

 

   Captain Al D'Arezzo and his Scouts of Battery D-92d removed the breach blocks from the fixed guns and threw them into the bay.  The next morning, the rest of the troops left the island for Olongapo.  War plans called for his battery to be use as field artillery on Bataan.  His orders were to proceed to Bataan with his battery and report to the senior Field Artillery officer.  It took him four days to get to get there. The 2d Battalion, First Coast Artillery Philippine Army and Battery H-92d were attached to the 31st Division Philippine Army.  C-91st provided anti-aircraft support on Bataan until it retreated to Corregidor when Bataan surrendered.  

 

The fate of Fort Wint and Subic Bay was sealed when General MacArthur decided to retreat behind the Mabatang - Mauban line.  If Boudreau's forces had remained on the island they would have been surrounded and cut off without a supply line.  The Fort could not have withstood an amphibious assault.  Almost all the guns faced westward and the eastside of the island was flat and had a big beautiful sandy beach; ideal for landing troops and difficult to defend.  The loss of Subic Bay shortened Japanese supply lines by allowing them to unload their supplies at Olongapo, the "door step" of Bataan rather than at Lingayen Gulf.

 

 

George Munson  is our premier authority on all issues relating to the Philippine Scouts in the defense of Manila Bay. He  is a military auditor stationed at Ft. Lewis. He lives at Bremerton, Washington. 
 

 

 ©2000 George Munson  - all rights reserved -

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