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The author  was  one of the codebreakers evacuated
by submarine from Corregidor in March 1942  

 

 

 

"...We have discussed it between us and have decided we will not let a single one of you fall into their hands. When the time comes, we are going to shoot everyone of you, then shoot ourselves." 

 

STATION C - CORREGIDOR AS I REMEMBER IT

by

Capt. Duane L. Whitlock,
U.S. Navy (Ret'd)

 

Corregidor commands the entrance to Manila Bay somewhat closer to Bataan on the west than to Batangas on the mainland to the east. Between Corregidor and  Batangas  at  the  start  of  WWII  were  two  other  island forts  that were scarcely  ever  mentioned  in  MacArthur's  communiques,  although  they  perhaps should have been because they were pounded almost incessantly during the early months of the war by Japanese batteries that had moved into Batangas quite unopposed. One of these islands, known as Fort Hughes, was shaped like a chocolate chip,  and the Japanese used to start shelling it at the very top where a dust cloud would form, then like a big doughnut the cloud would gradually roll down to the water line, helped along by the descending barrage.

The other island was Fort Drum, a concrete battleship constructed on a big rock, and while it lay closer to Batangas than did Fort Hughes,  the Japanese didn’t  seem to derive too much pleasure from shelling it because their field guns were too light to do any real damage. For many weeks, their artillery fire,  which  also landed in our area of operations quite regularly, went unanswered because the big guns on Corregidor and the other two forts were in fixed positions facing the open sea, and they could not be trained on targets in either Batangas or Bataan. The Army finally did succeed in getting a mortar jockeyed around on Corregidor to where they could bring Batangas until fire, and while those twelve-inch mortar shells tore up one grand piece of real estate wherever they  landed,  they were not  too effective for want of accurate spotting  -  spotting that was done from an unarmed and very vulnerable Piper Cub.

Corregidor itself is shaped like a comma, - the head faces toward Bataan, and the tail, known as Monkey Point for good reason, swings back into the bay on the Batangas side. The tunnel that housed Station  “C” was about halfway out on the tail,  and the island at that point was something less than half a mile wide.  The main entrance to the tunnel faced generally southeast, and within fifty paces or so in front of it there was a sheer drop into a cove perhaps one hundred and fifty feet below.

The tunnel went back under a hillside with a maximum of about sixty  feet of earth above it. The first fifty or sixty feet of the tunnel was used for emergency stores  and for sleeping space after the war started. At the inner end of this space were the diesels for the auxiliary power supply,  and they were closed off from the main operating tunnel by a doorway partition.  Just inside that doorway and to the  left was a  lateral tunnel  about forty feet long that housed the Officer in Charge, his yeoman, four traffic analysts, and four or five  language officers.  At the far end of this  lateral  and to the right was another short lateral that served as the crypto center. To the left of the entrance to that center, was a door and a steep flight of steps leading upward to an emergency exit.

The operations tunnel itself was perhaps seventy feet long,  and at the far end was  a door and another steep flight of steps leading to the second emergency exit.  This  areaway served also as the antenna trunk for the whole tunnel, an engineering nightmare in which some brilliant designer had specified the use of lead shielded cable. The operations space was separated into two sections by a simple parted curtain draped so that the bottom hung a foot or two off the deck.  The area on the front or office side of the curtain, which took up about a third of the operations area, was occupied by general service communicators (NPO) who had been bombed out of the Navy Yard at Cavite.

One of those communicators, a radioman by the name of McWilliams, had a particularly trying problem,  as I recall.  It seems that WWII caught him the day after he had all his teeth extracted, and his new dentures were destroyed before he ever had a chance to try them out. A dental technician on Corregidor did manage to fashion him a set of choppers out of stainless steel, and many times as I passed behind his operating position on my way into the intercept area I would look over his shoulder to find him busily filing his teeth down for a better fit. He really didn't suffer all that long, I guess, because we rather quickly got down to a diet highly susceptible to gumming - namely, rice and beans.

In the intercept area, there was a position or two for automatic Morse and about a dozen manual Morse positions. There was no provision for voice intercept because that was a problem that the Japanese Navy never really gave us. While the cryptanalysts were  beginning to make significant progress, they were still far from producing anything useful in the way of operational intelligence. The burden of producing a current running estimate of Japanese Naval dispositions  in the area fell upon the four traffic analysts headed by C. J. Johns. I was one of those analysts, and about three months before Pearl Harbor we compiled an order of battle from Japanese Navy communications and submitted it to the Commander in Chief Asiatic Fleet, who decided to forward it to Washington. The Commander in Chief's endorsement, written by LCDR (Later Rear Admiral) Rosey Mason construed the Japanese organization as thus presented to constitute a definite wartime disposition.

Whether this document ever reached the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) I do not know, but I do know that about a month later we informed Washington by message that some 250 merchant  ships had been impressed into the Japanese Navy,  and that most of them were located just north of the Philippines in ports along the straits of Taiwan. After a few days, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) requested we verify the number of ships we had reported, and during the time it took OPNAV to ask the question the count had gone up some fifty more ships. We duly reported that fact to Washington, and nothing further was heard of that subject again.

Shortly after the start of hostilities it was decided to start burning old files  and back traffic.  This process went on day and night for several weeks.  In February, Charlie Johns and one other of the traffic analysts, Ted Hoover,  left Corregidor with a small group of men headed by Lt. Fabian to set up a  “fall back” site in the Dutch East Indies. That left me mainly responsible with Al Geiken for producing whatever information could be gleaned from traffic analysis. Al's desk was on my right, one of the officers collaterally responsible for beach defense was on my left, and another had his desk immediately behind me.  All  of our desks were perpetually littered with traffic, files,  reports,  and various papers,  so Al  and  I were rather surprised one night when we returned from our midnight breath of fresh air to discover that both  officers  had  cleared  their  desks completely and were carefully field stripping their Colt 45's.

I was standing at my desk next to one of them when I jokingly asked him if he was expecting an invasion before morning. He turned to me and looked me squarely in the eye and said, "No, these are for you and the others. We have discussed it between us and have decided we will not let a single one of you fall into their hands. When the time comes, we are going to shoot everyone of you,  then shoot ourselves."  He turned back to his desk;  I looked at Al, he looked at me, and we both sat down rather abruptly in our chairs. We knew both of the officers well enough to know they weren't simply joking.

Fortunately, the time never came, and we all finally left the Rock in small increments to regroup again as FRUMEL in Australia - all, that is, except a poor lad named Grisham who was crushed by a tractor he was driving when it went over a cliff on Malinta Hill. Amazingly, he was the only casualty sustained by Station "C".

 

Capt. Duane L. Whitlock,
U.S. Navy (Ret'd)

 
1995 by Duane L. Whitlock
 

 

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