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CORREGIDOR - THE FINAL DAYS

Vince Chamberlin, NCVA

 

 

 

A  program  of  destruction  was  implemented.  Our  Diplomatic  "Red"  and "Purple" machines were disassembled and thrown into deep water and every sheet of classified paper or used carbon paper was burned. ENS Ralph Cook,  later RADM and Commander Naval Security Group (COMNAVSECGRU) had come to us from the IBM office in Manila. He spent his time disassembling our IBM equipment, crating  it  in  boxes  (boxes made from boards ripped from our houses and small enough to pass through the conning tower of a submarine) and piled  these near the tunnel entrance. Unfortunately, in the end all were left behind.

In early 1942 the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) directed that the Fleet Radio Unit (FRU) be evacuated but, as then CAPT  John M. Lietwiler, USN (RET), said in a letter to me in 1966, "There was little action on that score until we got a Commandant  (16th Naval  District) who was willing to carry out his orders." However, there was some action. During this period some of our people would disappear each time a submarine put into Corregidor.  I do not know how the "departees" were selected; I do know all departures occurred at night. Our first knowledge would be when, in the subsequent morning, some would be missing.  It would become our task to clean out desks, put abandoned clothing in an improvised "Lucky Bag" maintained in the code room, and turn over all cigarettes to Pappy Lowery who was in charge of rationing.

My two ammunition clips (circa WWI) for my .45 had metal fatigue. I could carry four rounds  in one and three in the other.  In a conversation with my boss, Swede Carlson, I mentioned this and a few days later he asked me to give them to him. He handed me his two new ones. That night he and another party disappeared.

By late March our strength had diminished to three officers and eighteen enlisted. Our workload had increased and we were working a minimum of sixteen to eighteen hours per day. Honest John detailed me to enciphering dummy messages on our enciphering machine, putting our indicator on each.  I must have typed well over a month's supply. These were turned over to CDR Callahan (DIC, NPO), who was to send out a certain number each day once we had departed.

The  only  enemy  traffic  being  translated was that for which we had a cipher key. One day, as a result of Rufe Taylor's translating, it was possible for Honest John to send a message to the Army advising that a Japanese convoy was at anchor in Subic Bay. At the time the only combat planes available were some P-40 fighters, based at Cabcaben, so General Wainwright, our overall commander, requested a few more from the Del Monte plantation on Mindanao. When they arrived their belly tanks were removed and 500 pound bombs put in their place.  They  took  off  and made a surprise attack on the convoy.  One pilot dropped a 500 pounder down the stack of, what he claimed was, a 15,000 ton ship.  On  his  return  he was  so  excited he forgot to lower his wheels and scrubbed his P-40.

One day a long series of messages were intercepted for which much of the key had not been recovered. What was readable seemed to indicate that a large invasion convoy was being readied by the Japanese.  It appeared to be of such importance that Honest John sent off a "priority" to Washington requesting assistance. The response was negative, so Lietwiler became a "cryptanalyst" for about thirty-six consecutive hours and as a result, Rufe Taylor could translate the entire series which turned out to be the Japanese Invasion Plan for India.  This was  immediately transmitted to British General  Wavell.  General Wavell  borrowed planes and pilots from the Middle East to augment his own forces and hit the convoy off the Nicobar Islands with such force that the elements which remained limped back to Singapore and India was never invaded. Later, in Melbourne, we learned General Wavell had said in a message to Washington that "under no circumstances must the Corregidor Unit cease to function.

The evening of 8 April 1942 seemed unusually quiet and peaceful, primarily  because we could not hear the constant roar of artillery from Bataan. There was little to do in the Tunnel. We stood around talking. About 1930 the telephone in the code room rang and one of NPO's coding officers called to Lietwiler. Ed Gaghen, who had made Chief so recently he didn't yet have a hat, and I edged close enough to hear Lietwiler's conversation. Apparently he had been directed to repeat back everything said so we could hear the entire conversation.  When we heard "only the clothes on the men's bodies, be ready to leave in five minutes, a truck is coming" we started preparing. I changed to a clean suit of khaki, stuck a second suit under my shirt, filled my pockets with tooth brushes and tooth paste and put on the best two caps. Saying to Gaghen, "I can only wear one, ' I tossed him the other. We were ready to leave the Tunnel and others were now busily preparing.

A telephone call was made to Sid Burnett who was manning the DIF site. As Sid recounted later, when he hurriedly left the D/F he was wearing a WWI tin hat, carrying an Enfield rifle and wearing an ammunition belt with bayonet and scabbard attached. As he ran to the Tunnel he threw it all away. He arrived in time, but out of breath. CDR Callahan was given last minute instructions by Lietwiler who then joined us in the stake-bodied truck and we headed for North Bottomside.

At the North Dock we climbed into a Navy motorboat. The governor on the motor of this boat had been removed and it flew through the water. We had scarcely gotten underway when Cabcaben Bay was lit up by a massive explosion. It must have been the detonation of aviation gas, bombs and other ammunition stored there, but strangely we did not hear the sound. As we started to pass a minesweeper it's gunner sewed a seam of .45 slugs from a "tommy" gun across our bow.  I didn't know a boat could stop so suddenly. The skipper of our boat called out the first name of the captain of the minesweeper, identified himself and explained what he was doing. He was given a "go-ahead" as the Minesweeper Skipper shouted,  "I  am stopping everything going through tonight.  I guess you know why!" Heading for Mariveles we cruised the Bataan shoreline, but could find no submarine.  Coming back to mid-channel we stopped  near a Minesweeper and were told that yet another Minesweeper was out in the minefield tied up to a submarine and was taking on stores.

We headed into the minefield and passed under an unbelievable bower of fireworks.  It  seemed  that  every gun and mortar on the Rock was firing at Bataan and firing as fast as loading would permit. Flames from these weapons leaped 100 or more feet in the air. We found the "sweeper" we sought and went alongside.  We boarded and crossed the deck to the USS SEADRAGON. No sooner than we had cleared the conning tower did we hear the Acting Commandant give us our sailing orders:  "Get the Hell out of here." He was so afraid a combat ship might be lost that he had stopped the unloading of tons of food stores still in the SEADRAGON and badly needed on Corregidor. At 2120 the SEADRAGON went out through the minefield. At 2200 we learned Bataan had surrendered. Years later I was to learn that, after our departure, hundreds of men and the Army nurses from Bataan, using boats, planks or anything to provide buoyancy, escaped across the Channel to Corregidor.

Twenty-one members of the Monkey Point Militia fled from Corregidor that day. A ragtag bunch in worn, torn dungarees or khakis, underweight from malnutrition, some suffering from night blindness as a result of vitamin deficiency; all with a spectral look we came to call "The Corregidor Stare". But we were a 4.0 working team heading for a haven called Australia.

Twenty-one names of the officers and men follow: LT John M. (Honest John) Lietwiler, LT Rufus L. Taylor, ENS Ralph Cook, S.A. Burnett, G.O. Carnes, J.E. (Vince)  Chamberlin,  E.  Gaghen,  A.K.  Geiken, J.H. Gelineau, H.R. Gould, A.R. Irving, C.H. Jackson, D.L. King, J.F. Kephart, W.S. Knowles, J.W. Lowery, J.L. McConnell, A. (Tony) Novak, H.F. Price, W.A.Rickman and H.G. Sweet.      

 

By Vince Chamberlin, NCVA

 
 
 

ACKNOWLEDGMENT:

 

This  article is from the booklet "INTERCEPT STATION  “C” from Olongapo through the evacuation of Corregidor, 1929-1942" and is copyright by  the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association. It was later reprinted in a special issue of CRYPTOLOG, the quarterly newspaper of the NCVA and is used here by permission of the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association.

 

 

 
 
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