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WATER TOWER HILL

 

Many years ago I was looking through the magazines at Battery Morrison when I came upon some graffiti which intrigued me:

THE BASTARDS BULLDOZED THE BATTLEFIELD AT WATERTOWER HILL - 'HISTORY BE DAMNED' - MOTTO OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM

BOB MCGETCHIN

Since then, I have looked askance at the officially sanctioned destruction of  a battlefield, particularly by those purporting to be  preserving hisory. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater! When this collection of comments and images - initiated by Chad Hill -  appeared on the Corregidor Then and Now forum, and I had the opportunity of a rainy day to do it, I compiled them into a permanent page, partly to recall the men who made the battlefield significant, and partly to recall Bob McGetchin (now deceased) and his comment.

ExO

 

Chad Hill

This Japanese photo, according to most references I've found, was taken during the assault on Corregidor, May 6, 1942. One source claimed the photo was taken on Bataan. 

John Whitman, in "Bataan, Our Last Ditch", briefly mentions the Japanese used flamethrowers a few times in that campaign. That was news to me. I don't recall reading about Japanese flamethrowers in any other histories or personal accounts about Bataan or Corregidor.
 

 

 

If this photo was taken on Corregidor, the concrete structure that the Japanese troops are assaulting looks similar to the "short" water tank on Denver Hill, which was the scene of fierce fighting May 5-6. 


Here is a Japanese post-battle photo of the water tank on Denver Hill. In both photos, note the rectangular part on the top.

What may be a wrecked ladder or stand leans against the tank.

 

Here is a 1986 photo I took of the water tank on Denver Hill. Note the damage to the top, partially covered by the leaves. The first photo above also seems to show damage, to the right of the flame. 


Here's a 1926 photo of a similar tank (BLDG 601 TANK 6. Could it be the same one?).
Note the overflow slot near the top (photo from corregidor.org).

Here's an interior view I took of the Denver Hill tank in 1986. Note the concrete "ceiling" that is above the overflow slot. The sergeants must have stood on this during the 1942 battle (see narrative at end).

Here are 2007 photos of the tank. Note the damage to the top. (courtesy fots photos).



According to Senior Archivist J. Micheal Miller of the Marine Corps Research Center at Quantico, Virginia, on the night of 5-6 May USMC Sergeant Major John Sweeney and Sergeant John Haskin destroyed a Japanese machine gun nest at the base of this water tank using grenades. They then climbed to the top where they hurled more grenades at the Japanese infantry below. Haskin was killed while re-climbing the tank with additional grenades, and Sweeney was killed on the top. I've read that Sweeney's remains were not found and recovered until 1946. 

According to the Belote brothers in "Corregidor, Saga of a Fortress", the colorful Army First Sergeant Dewey Brady of Battery Denver was also KIA on top of this tank, on 24 April by schrapnel from a 240mm shell (page 120 and 166). Dewey did not know that he had earned a battlefield commission and been promoted to Second Lieutenant that morning.

If anybody has information on the flamethrower photo, please post. Or any info on Water Tank Hill...

 
 
 
 
Okla

That structure in the flame thrower photo certainly could be one of the water tanks (or a Maginot Line pillbox, but we can eliminate that possibility). Seems that I have read (again, I can't remember where) that a few flame throwers(not used) were present when the first Japanese troops cautiously entered Malinta. Have you ever heard that story?? The trouble with so many of these purported enemy combat film/photos is that they were re-enactments. There is just something about this pic that seems kinda "stilted" or staged. Maybe its because these troops are so evenly spaced and their heads seem to be sticking up a bit higher than you would think with Amer/Fil lead flying about. Flamthrower personnel, of any Army, always drew extra fire. Just my humble. This lastest presentation of yours is, as usual, thought provoking and up to "snuff". Keep the pipe line full. Cheers.
 

Fots2

BLDG 601, Tank 6 is the fresh water tank on Denver Hill. It is the shorter one you think it is, good photo. (The taller tank that was slightly west of 601 held Salt water and was designated as BLDG 642).

Here are two photos of it taken in August this year. (I was wandering around looking for “grenade rings” but it started to rain so I left. I’ll try again in the dry season when the grasses have died down a bit more).


 

 

Battery Boy

One of the water tanks (Salt Water) is now long gone. Thanks to the construction of the park beside it. I remember the late Bill Delich, a Corregidor survivor telling me that builders of the park have no idea of the significance of the water tower and it was where a real fight was happening between troops from both sides.

The distinction of the two tanks is the top cover. Salt water tanks usually look like reversed "tall hats" (concrete lip extended) while the fresh water tank was more cylindrical (like the photo above).

Here is the photo of the salt water tank in 1921 (bldg. 642 -- as mentioned by fots)

The Japanese flamethrower photo is a staged shot for the propaganda. It was taken after the island has surrendered.
 

Chad Hill

Batteryboy, those are great photos. Is that the eastern slope of Malinta Hill in the background of the 1922 picture of the "tall" tank? I'm not surprised that the flamethrower photo would have been staged, like others were. As Okla pointed out, those Japanese troops are posed very conveniently for a photo shot.

That is too bad the tall water tank was destroyed. I'm very surprised it was allowed to happen. Here is a 1986 photo of it. I apologize for the quality, but there was so much growth it was the best I could do. Only because the tank is gone would I post it:


 


Here's a 1986 view inside the tall tank:


A February 1945 view of Water Tank Hill:



From the pictures you and Fots posted on top of the short tank, it looks like the "roof" has gone since I was there in 1986. Some of the roof was still there then, as was the metal ladder seen in the 1926 photo.

You mentioned looking for grenade rings, and I have a story about that. At that time (1986), I mistakenly thought that Sergeants Sweeney and Haskin had thrown grenades from the top of the "tall" water tank. I tried to climb it, but it became dangerous and I was unable to get to the top. So I climbed up on the "short" tank instead. While I was on top of the short tank I saw several small roundish pieces of wire that were mixed in with some rubbish. I remember wondering if they could possibly be pull-rings from Sweeney and Haskin's grenades but decided that could not be, because I was on top of the "wrong" tank. Years later I learned that the sergeants had been on the short water tank instead, and ever since then I have wondered if those pieces of wire were the pull-rings from their grenades. I left them there, so even if the roof has totally caved in they may still be inside the bottom of the tank.

 

Battery Boy

Great shot of the salt water tank. You are very lucky to have explored it and to be honest, it is the only modern day photo that I have seen of it. 

The Japanese also did a propadanda movie about it but this time it was them on top of the water tower and they threw the grenades against the defenders.

I dont have a clear account of the last fights between the troops from both sides just before the surrender. There were conflicting stories that I have come across about the battle of water tank hill. Nevertheless, Haskins and Sweeney deserve to be in the hall of heroes if you ask me.

 

Chad Hill

That is very interesting, Batteryboy. If the Japanese made a propaganda movie using the salt water (tall) tank with their troops throwing grenades, then that makes me wonder if the tall tank was actually the one the USMC sergeants threw grenades from, notwithstanding my find of possible pull rings on top of the short tank. Wouldn't the Japanese have known which one it happened on? But then maybe the taller tank was more impressive for the camera, or the top of the short tank was damaged too much for stage acting.

I wonder if the body recovery reports stated which tower Sweeny's remains were found on. Miller, in a photo caption for his 1997 USMC monograph "From Shanghai to Corregidor: Marines in the Defense of the Philippines", said that the short tank was where Sweeney and Haskin were killed. That photo (the second one at the top, which, BTW, I have also seen elsewhere) was supplied by the Japanese 61st Infantry Association, and I suspect that his conclusion may have been based on information they might have provided. His monograph has by far the best US account I have read of the Water Tank Hill fight. Unfortunately, I have not seen any Japanese or Filipino accounts.

A close look at the post war photo of Water Tank Hill reveals a shell hole in the top right of the tall tank, which is shown on the 1986 photo taken from inside.

 

Battery Boy

I am not certain what water tower did they use in the propaganda film but they were inspired by the actions of Haskins and Sweeney.

When Lt Lawrence and his men surrendered, they were treated fairly well as the Japanese respected them for their fighting abilities and for inflicting so much casualties during their landing.

Some of the oddities of war...
 

Chad Hill

Fots, thank you for verifying that the B&W photo I posted of the fresh water ("short") tank was indeed the one on Denver Hill. I'm sorry I overlooked that the last two color posts were yours- one of my "senior moments", I guess (alright Okla, nothing meant there;D).

Is it possible you might know approximately how far the fresh water tank was from the salt water tank? Would they be, say, a grenade's throw distance apart?

Here's why I ask. I've just finished reading the late USMC Sergeant Otis King's account of the Water Tank Hill battle in his privately published 1999 book, "Alamo of the Pacific". Generous with text and maps, it rivals Miller's account in detail. Although King manned a machine gun at Battery Point with the 3rd Batallion, 4th Marines and apparently did not participate directly in the WTH fight, he of course had many personal contacts and references at his disposal.

According to King, at about 0345 on May 6 Sweeney and Haskin began their grenade assault on the Japanese machine gun, which was inside the dried out water TANK firing through a hole in the concrete wall, "below the water TOWER". (Capitaization is mine).

The two men climbed to the top of the tower "and lobbed hand grenades down into the water tank below, silencing the machine gun". He then recounts their deaths in the same way as others, except that they perished on the "tower".

So, that makes me wonder about how far apart the fresh and salt water tanks were. It seems they were a fair distance from each other, if I remember right.

Most accounts, including Miller's, seem to loosely exchange the words "tank" and "tower", creating some confusion. Miller, for example, says that the "Japanese machine gun was placed in a hole in the base of one of the water tanks", says S & H climbed up the "water tower", and captions his photo with "these two water tanks" while identifying the short one as the tank they died on. Maybe the darkness caused confusion in the minds of the few survivors historians relied on, men who certainly had many other serious things happening around them, and to them.

So, another question comes to mind, Fots. Did you happen to notice a hole in the wall near the bottom of the fresh water tank that a machine gun could have fired through?

 

Fots2

From the 1936 map, the distance between the two water tanks is 260 feet.

There is at least one hole in the tank wall. Honestly I was not looking for holes, there may be more. If I remember correctly it is in the south side and about 3ft above the ground. The Japanese could have supported the machine gun on something to fire out of there. Here is a photo of the hole.

 

 

Okla Hey Guys....This is, as usual, good provacative stuff. These "little" Corregidor "riddles" and mysteries are never ending. I, for one, am tickled to death about that. Cheers.

 
Chad Hill

Fots, that kind of looks like this hole, which I found in the tank in 1986. Looking at the very bottom right of the hole, a trace of light can be seen through the other side of the tank. Maybe it is blocked out by that large concrete (?) block in your photo.


Thank you for taking the time to check the distance between the water tanks. 260 feet...nearly 87 yards. That sounds like a long grenade throw, but then, they may have been on top of the tall tank, which would help. Still, to throw accurately that far at night, and to the inside of the short tank, which still had some of its roof left to block a grenade, makes me wonder. But stranger things have happened.

Okla, yes it could be another one of those little Corregidor mysteries. Even stranger, I have come across a couple of accounts that seem to say there were two short tanks on Denver Hill, in addition to the tall tower. Looking above at the B&W post war Water Tank Hill photo, I see a dark object behind and to the left of the tower. Can't say for sure if it's a water tank, but it doesn't strike me as looking like the stubby short tank I saw in '86.

That couldn't possibly be, Fots, could it? I better call it a night-

 

Fots2 That large block in my photo is a metal tank inside the old destroyed concrete tank.

I see no other tanks on the 1936 map but they had more than five years (until 1942) for new construction that is not recorded. I don’t know of any other tanks in the area today.

 

Chad Hill

Fots, I wonder when the metal tank was installed. I'm not sure I remember it from the 1980s, but I sort of remember that pipe inside the water tank in one of your photos...must be the "over-fifty" syndrome, I guess.


I kind of bite my lip posting this 1986 photo, because it's such poor quality. This is the other side of the tall tank (salt water). The growth was so dense it was impossible to hack it all down with my bolo if I wanted to have time to see anything else that day.

Only because the famous tank is gone forever and there seems to be almost no recent time pictures of it would I post this.




I've watched a couple of 1942 Japanese newsreels that had brief glimpses of Water Tank Hill. What struck me was that the Japanese took pictures of only the tall (salt water) tank. The short (fresh water) tank was not shown at all.

There was no hand-grenade reenacting in these particular newsreels, just short, panning views as the narrator spoke Japanese in the background. It was evident that the footage was taken shortly after the battle, because other segments showed U.S. POWs walking around Malinta Tunnel and finally ending up in the 92nd Garage Area.

One narrated scene that showed the tall tank lasted about 20 seconds. Although I don't speak Japanese, I couldn't help but wonder why the narrator would focus on one tank only, and not the other. Maybe he figured the height would be more impressive to a Japanese audience. But the thought struck me that surviving Japanese soldiers may have led him to believe that more of the fighting occurred at the tall tank. The tank that was bulldozed in recent years.


.

Salt water tank, Water Tank Hill. Post-battle, 1942

 

John Eakin

I'm not sure this is the same water tower, but last night I was transcribing some abstracts of death records and found this:

63. Sobert Richard Nuest, Ens., USNR, Swore on May 22, 1943, that George L. Cook, SF2c, USN, while a prisoner of war at the 92d Garage, Corregidor Island, PI, was sent out of the prison area on a wood gathering detail and that this occurred on May 17, 1942; that while in the vicinity of the water tower in the eastern sectar of Corregidor Island Cook picked up a hand grenade which exploded, killing him instantly; that his body was brought to the 92d Garage and identified by Richard Enoch Tirk, Ens., USNR, that the foregoing facts were related to me by Ens. Kirk and that I believe them to be true.

Even if it is not the same water tower, it is consistent with there having been a grenade battle in the area and may be indicative of the amount of duds. Sad, though that someone would survive such fighting only to die from XO.

 

Chad Hill

Johneakin, by chance have you seen any death records on USMC Sergeants John H. Sweeny or John E. Haskin, the two marines who were killed throwing grenades from one of the water tanks? Sweeney died on top of a tank, and Haskin died while climbing the tank to resupply his friend with grenades. According to one account Sweeney's body was not found and recovered until 1946. I've wondered if any surviving records would say which tank his remains were found on.

Also, I see again that the words "water tower", rather than "water tank", were used. On a hill where there are two tanks, one tall and one short, it strikes me that "tower" would apply to the taller structure. The short tank has never seemed like a "tower" to me. It's easier to see how Sergeant Sweeney's remains may have gone undetected until after the war if they were on top of the tall tank.

It's occurred to me that Sweeney and Haskin may have climbed and thrown grenades frombothwater tanks that night. In all the frantic confusion it appears that some territory on the hill changed hands back and forth several times.

That would explain some things.

 

John Eakin

Not yet, but we still have a long way to go. Most of what I'm working on now are from the Death March or Corregidor. Most just say I saw the bodies of blank. But every now and then there's some narrative. Here's one:

During the engagement with the enemy in the vicinity of Kindley Field following the hostile landing on Ft Mills, and at about 0200 6 May 1942 I observed Capt Noel D. Castle, C.O., Co D, 1st Bn, 4th Rgr, walking the Malinta Point trail at _ towards the north side of the road. PFC Edward G. Free, USMC and I were manning a machine gun about 20 yards away. Upon recognizing Capt. Castle I called out, “Go back, there is a sniper shooting this way”. Without stopping Capt. Castle continued on. About a yard from the enbankment on the north side of the road he was hit by what I believe to be rifle or machine gun bullets. I saw him fall forward and disappear from sight over the edge of the road. Shortly after this the enemy opened up with an artillery concentration from Bataan and Free and I were forced to take cover. I jumped into a nearby hole and Free ran across the road into the draw where Capt Castle lay. The concentration lasted maybe ten or fifteen minutes after which each of us returned to our gun. Free then told me that Capt. Castle was hit in the chest and abdomen and was in a bad way. He told me that the Captain could not move and that he had loosened his pistol belt and other equipment. We then moved our gun to a new position and continued in the fight. I did not see Capt. Castle after he fell over the edge of the road.

 

Chad Hill That's very interesting, Johneakin. I had not read such a detailed account of his demise before. Captain Castle was also involved in much of the fighting at the Denver gun pits and water tanks. Thank you for providing that account, the records of what happened in the area that night are so sparse. Please keep us posted on your fascinating research.
 

1937 USMC photo of Captain Noel Castle

 

ExO Sparse yes, but not completely sparse!

 

CAPT NOEL O. CASTLE, EXPERT TEAM SHOT WITH BOTH RIFLE AND PISTOL,
WAS KILLED LEADING THE FIRST COUNTERATTACK ON DENVER HILL.
HE IS SHOWN HERE AT THE CAMP PERRY MATCHES IN MARCH 1937,
WHEN HE WAS A MEMBER OF THE MARINE CORPS RIFLE TEAM.


http://corregidor.org/USMC/rkv/html/usmc_07_05.html
 
Chad Hill Yes, EXO, thank you for including that link. Miller's account of the Water Tank Hill fight is probably the best that I've seen. We're fortunate that you made it available here. Another good reference is "Alamo of the Pacific", by the late Otis King (Sgt., USMC).

 
ExO

I spend a fair amount of time ensuring that introductory articles such as by J. Michael Miller are readily available to access via a subject menu system. Sure, these things are available elsewhere on the internet, in different forms, but people don't always know what keywords to look for beyond the bleedingly obvious ones. Nor will they bother to spend the time looking for anything requiring esoteric keywords. (Hence the need for introductory articles pitched to junior high-school levels.) Similarly, they may be able to find one or two images, but not a concentrated source of them.


 

COL SATO CONFERS WITH HIS STAFF DURING THE FIGHTING FOR DENVER BATTERY HILL.
THE ABSENCE OF AN AMMUNITION RESUPPLY THREATENED THE SUCCESS OF HIS LANDING.


I suspect that there are vast tracts of the Corregidor website that see little action, and hence few know what's available, even the cognizenti.

The site is now so big, I regularly find pages which I had forgotten entirely about.

I do dream that people who see a spot on a page where an image or story should go would submit that image / story for inclusion. Silly me!
 

 

Chad Hill

Yes, EXO, it is a vast website. Every week or so I search it and find things I've not seen before. I tip my hat to you, it's at the very top of the WW2 websites.

 

Okla

Hey Chad...I certainly echo you statement. There would be a huge void in my day (and most evenings) if this site disappeared. EXO does one heck of a job here and is to be commended. Fots and I joke about being "hooked", I, being stateside with no hope of ever visiting the PI, am hopelessly dependent on EXO and his splendid efforts. Wife is of the opinion that I spend too much time "prowling the Philippines" via this forum/website. She is probably right on target, but I told her that this is one little enjoyment this old goat ain't gonna give up. So there old woman. Stuff it!!!! Cheers.
 

Chad Hill

Looking at these photos of the salt water (tall) tank, I noticed what could be a smaller structure nearby that does not seem to resemble the fresh water (short) tank. As far as I know there was not a third structure near the two tanks on Water Tank Hill. The tanks were 260 feet apart, as noted in an earlier post. I do not have the digital 1936 or 1932 maps yet, only a small and very faded 18"x 8" copy of the '36 map which I got from a SeaBee in 1987, and it does not appear to show a third structure.

Maybe the irregular top of the small structure in the post-war photo is just the short tank surrounded by tree tops. But what seems to be a structure in the 1942 photo almost looks like it has two square openings, and a top that is not flat.

The other possibility is that I've been looking at these old photos so much that my eyesight has gone bonkers...

 


Water Tank Hill, February 1945

 

Water Tank Hill, 1942


 

Chad Hill

Johneakin and all, I've found a discrepancy in the reported first name of USMC Sergeant Sweeney.

Both Frank Hough's official "History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War 2, Volume 1, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal" and the Belote brothers' "Corregidor, Saga of a Fortress", call him Sergeant Major John H. Sweeney. Otis King, writing in "Alamo of the Pacific", refers to him as John.


However, while searching a list of names today on the American Battle Monuments Commissions website I found him listed as:

Thomas Frank Sweeney
Sergeant Major, U.S. Marine Corps
Service # 208378
Entered the Service from: Illinois
Died 6 May 42
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart


I then checked with the Water Tank Hill account written by Senior Archivist J. Michael Miller of the Marine Corps Research Center at Quantico (EXO has furnished a link above, if you don't have the monograph). Miller refers to him as Sergeant Major Thomas F. Sweeney.

I also learned that NARA has a Navy Department file on a "Sergeant Major Thomas F. Sweeney, USMC. Status: KIA" but I was not able to locate it, if it's even on line.


Finally, I found a brief entry at the WW2 Memorial website:

Thomas Franklin Sweeney
U.S. Marine Corps
Hometown: Rockford, Illinois
Honored by: Ms. Barbara Sakkinen, Niece
Activity During World War Two: Deceased May 6, 1942, Corregidor. Awarded Purple Heart
Age 36

So, I would bet that his niece, the ABMC, and Mr. Miller are correct and that the older accounts mistakenly called him John, possibly due to Hough's error.


I've also found that USMC Quartermaster Sergeant John E. Haskin of Collingdale, Pennsylvania, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in 1946 for "gallantry in action at Corregidor, Philippine Islands, May 5, 1942".
 

   

 

 
                     

 

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