THE MALINTA TUNNEL,
FROM CONCEPT TO COMPLETION
Along with the big guns, one thing that continually draws me to
Corregidor Island is the “Malinta Storage System” (commonly referred to
as “Malinta Tunnel”). I have no idea why it fascinates me but I have
spent hours wandering around the complex. No doubt part of the
attraction is the ‘unknowns’ that even after collecting all this
information still remain. The following Trip Report will give you (1)
history of the tunnel, (2) pre/post war photos and (3) a good look at
what you will see there today. Due to the volume of material, I will
split the report into these three sections.
In the past while searching for Malinta Tunnel information I rarely
found more than a couple paragraphs and most of that was incorrect. I
thought it was time to piece the scraps together for anyone else on
these forums who may be interested.
While trying to research this subject, I encountered the usual cases of
disagreeing information so what I present here is a summary based on
what I understand to be correct. I consider the most reliable
information to come from the US Army’s ‘Corps of Engineers’. This
includes correspondence, official blueprints and Records of Completed
Works. These are factual records recorded by Army Engineers as the work
progressed. Various books were a secondary source. There may be errors
and I would appreciate being corrected if anyone can produce differing
By far the biggest (and widely accepted) misconception is the tunnel
construction dates. Numerous internet searches plus books and articles
state that the Malinta Tunnel was built during the ten year period
between 1922 and 1932. These dates are also quoted daily to tourists who
visit the island. I can see where this idea may have come from though.
One of the tunnel entrances has these dates stenciled on it.
1966 Photo of the Malinta Tunnel North entrance
A photo of the same partially repainted entrance taken two years ago.
Inaccurate history has become accepted history. I have learned that
absolutely no construction took place during this period. For this project,
not a single rock was disturbed on Malinta Hill. The correct period starts
later in 1932 and continues in several phases up to and including wartime.
Part 1: The Malinta Tunnel
from Concept to Completion
Post WWI, the Army realized
that Corregidor’s fortifications and defenses were inadequate should a
future war break out. This prompted the creation of elaborate plans to
rectify these concerns. Topping the list was additional storage which was to
be bombproof and protection from potential Japanese gas attacks. The idea
for a large tunnel under Malinta Hill was born. Driven by Fort Mills
commander, Brig. Gen Richmond P. Davis, the Quartermaster Corps drafted a
proposal. Courtesy of batteryboy, here are excerpts from that document:
May 26, 1921
From: Quarter Master Corps Office,
Head Quarters, Philippines.
To: Colonel Eltinge,
Subject: Malinta Hill
Tunnel proposed for Fort Mills.
Paragraph No.1 mentions:
In the Annual Estimate from Fort Mills, recently
submitted, there was included a proposition to tunnel Malinta Hill and
provide bomb proof storeroom leading from this tunnel. The entrance to the
tunnel would be in the neighborhood of the present rock crushing plant and
would extend through under the hill to connect with the tactical road
leading to Kindley Field (the new Air Service project) and to the defenses
on the tail of the island. It is proposed to make the tunnel about 650 feet
long, 16 feet wide and 19 feet high. The roof will be arched. The tunnel
would have concrete walls, roof and floor. The tunnel would be placed on a
grade so that natural ventilation would result.
1) A single trolley line is planned for the original
installation but space is provided so that a double track may be installed
later. Four storerooms are to lead from this tunnel, each storeroom to be 40
feet by 80 feet in the clear with an arched roof and concrete lining.
Lighting, drainage, and ventilation would be provided for these rooms as
well as light for the tunnel.
2) The bomb-proof storerooms would be invaluable in
time of war and the tunnel could be used as an emergency hospital. There is
no bomb-proof storage for supplies available, and Malinta Hill is the
logical place for such a base. This hill is ideal for bomb-proof storerooms
and magazines. It is adjacent to the terminal and in time of war could be
entirely honeycombed with underground storerooms.
3) The present road around Malinta Hill that
furnishes the only good road to Kindley Field and the tail of the island is
so situated as to be easily rendered useless by a shell striking any part of
the South slope of the hill. Further, this road is exposed to the open sea
and is likely to receive shell fire from long-range guns of ships making an
4) The post people state further that the rock taken
from this tunnel would be utilized in the repair and maintenance of Post
Utilities. There would thus be a slight saving in the construction because
it would not be necessary to dispose of the material excavated.
5) The estimated cost of this work is $650,000.00. It
is understood that this estimate was carefully prepared by the post
authorities and no doubt is approximately correct. Some changes may be
necessary in the sizes of the rooms that will result in a slight change of
the estimated cost.
6) The arguments for this storehouse are essentially
tactical. The reasons become apparent when a study of the storage facilities
of the entire island is made. There is no question that additional storage
must be provided generally, and it appears that it would be more logical to
make bomb-proof space at somewhat additional costs than to place storehouses
in the open that are likely to be destroyed during hostilities at the time
supplies will be needed.
W. A. Danielson
Unknown to General Davis, an event on the other side
of the world would soon derail his tunnel plans. Due to fears of a naval
arms race in the lean post WWI years, a conference would soon be held in
Washington. The five primary naval powers (USA, Great Britain, Japan, France
and Italy) attended along with observers from several other countries. The
conference started in November of 1921 and concluded with the signing of a
treaty in February of 1922.
You may be wondering, what does a naval ship
limitation treaty have to do with an Army fort called Corregidor? Well, it
appears that the Japanese were reluctant to sign the treaty in Washington so
the US offered them an incentive. The result was Article XIX which was in
effect, a Non-Fortification Clause. It stated that there would be no
strengthening of American seacoast installations beyond the 180th parallel
of latitude. (i.e. west of Midway Island). Any new armament or defensive
improvements to Corregidor were “on hold” until the treaty expired on
December 31st, 1937. The Malinta Tunnel project was halted.
A positive turn of events occurred when Brig. Gen.
Charles E. Kilbourne assumed command of Harbour Defense in 1929. With very
limited funds he began a series of work projects to improve Corregidor.
Roads were widened, trees planted, barracks upgraded plus Topside got a new
swimming pool beside the Officer’s Club. One tunnel near Battery Wheeler was
also completed but this work was kept quiet.
In December of 1931, Kilbourne revived the idea of a
tunnel under Malinta Hill. Although he had much wider ranging plans, he only
told his superiors he would build a tunnel through the hill to extend the
streetcar line towards Kindley Field. Since the North and South Shore roads
around Malinta Hill were dangerous due to rock fall then this would save
lives. He would not require funds from Washington and tunnel rock would be
crushed and used elsewhere on the island lowering future maintenance costs.
If anyone in the US knew the details of what Kilbourne was doing then it was
kept secret. Washington approved the tunnel project and final plans were
initialed by Kilbourne on January 14th, 1932.
The initial 1921 requirement of four underground
storerooms was abandoned and a much more elaborate complex had been
designed. It would allow for bomb-proof storage of ammunition and supplies
in addition to being a gas-proof shelter. In wartime it could also function
as a hospital and HQ. (Note that this gas-proofing was never completed). The
allocation of central system storage laterals would be 1 for Chemical
Warfare, 3 for Gasoline and 18 for Ordnance.
Along with the central system laterals, north and
south systems would also be constructed. The North System would have 12
storage laterals and the South System for the QMC would have 32 laterals.
Both systems would have their own exit to the outside.
Malinta Tunnel System map dated 1934 showing the overall design and
construction to date.
Three things were needed to get the ball rolling, tools, manpower and
explosives. Baguio gold miners provided some advice and old equipment.
General Kilbourne negotiated with the Philippine Government for the use of
prison labor and hundreds of them were shipped to Corregidor. As long as he
fed them, these ‘Bilibids” were his. The barracks area up the hill just west
of Bottomside was converted into a secure location for their quarters. The
Corregidor 1932 map labels this area as a “Military Stockade”. (Earlier 1921
and 1929 maps do not show a stockade here). Finally, the problem of
obtaining explosives turned out to be any easy one to solve. Condemned TNT
was located in the US which was gladly shipped to the Philippines.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could speak to the man in charge of
constructing Malinta tunnel to get the real story? What could be better
than that? Well, we don’t need to, he wrote an account of his Corregidor
experience and it is available on Corregidor.org. This officer, Lt.
Paschal N. Strong of the US Army Corps of Engineers, arrived in the
Philippines in 1932 and was promptly put to work.
For the 831.6 ft. long main shaft, work commenced simultaneously from
both the east and west entrances. This dome shaped shaft had a minimum
size of 18 ft. high and 24 ft. wide. Initially the tunnel was unlined.
It would also accommodate dual trolley lines. When the two work crews
met, the shaft sections lined up within inches of each other. The year
was 1932 which was recorded above both tunnel entrances.
The Malinta Tunnel (West entrance) during
A trolley car at the west entrance.
The Malinta Tunnel east entrance in 1945
The blasting of 24 north and south side laterals was already underway.
(22 were for storage facilities as mentioned above and two were
passageways to the North and South Systems). Connecting the rear of all
laterals was a 4 ft. x 6 ft. ventilation shaft. One air vent from the
south side ventilation shaft up to the surface was also constructed.
Soon large chunks of flaky rock began falling from the ceiling
throughout this unlined tunnel. The new Harbour Commander, Brig. Gen. S
D Embick, decided in April of 1933 to line the main shaft and laterals
with concrete. He was able to acquire sufficient funds so his staff went
shopping. The source that quoted the lowest price including shipping to
the Philippines was Japan. On June 30, 1934, the Corps of Engineers
issued a Report of Completed Works (RCW) reporting that the central
system including the main shaft and adjacent laterals were complete.
RCW for the Malinta Central System.
Meanwhile work was also progressing on the North and South Systems. As
of June 30, 1934, the status of the North System was as follows: the
main 531 ft. long north-south shaft had been excavated from the Malinta
central tunnel to the North Shore Road. Roughly half its length was
still a pilot tunnel but the rest was full size. Of the 12 laterals, 10
were partially dug pilot tunnels and the final 2 had yet to be started.
Additional work to be completed involved 2 ventilation shafts at the
rear of all laterals and 2 exterior ventilation shafts out to the
hillside. Everything except the 2 rear 4 ft. x 6 ft. ventilation shafts
would be concrete lined. It would be another three years before the
North System was reported as complete on May 26, 1937.
RCW for the Malinta North System
Blueprint for the Malinta North System.
The South System was to be a much larger complex with a central shaft in
excess of 600 feet in length. Storage would be provided by 32 laterals
(each 112 ft. long) and there would be an exit out to the SW corner of
Malinta Hill. This system was for Quartermaster Corps materials. The
status of this system on June 30, 1934 was as follows: a pilot tunnel
from the south entrance to 410 ft. along the central shaft had been
blasted. Of the 32 laterals, 4 at the south end of the complex were
partially completed pilot tunnels; the rest had not yet been started. At
the north end of this complex where it joined to the Malinta Central
System (at the 3rd lateral from the SW corner), only a few feet of
tunnel had been blasted.
I cannot determine the exact date but shortly after June of 1934, there
was a massive cave-in along the central shaft of this system starting
just before Lateral #1 and ending at Lateral #16. The part of Malinta
Hill where this system was being constructed had been found to have
softer rock than other areas. A decision was made to abandon all work to
date (except the south entrance) in favor of relocating the South System
further east into more solid rock. The connecting point between the
South System and the Malinta Central System would now be at Lateral #8
of the main complex.
Slight design changes were implemented in that there would now be 33
laterals. The requirement for a tunnel entrance would still be met by
utilizing the existing south entrance already built at the previous
South System location. To accomplish this, a new tunnel to connect the
SW entrance to the relocated South System was added.
Work must have progressed quickly as by June 30, 1935, a pilot tunnel
over 500 feet long existed from the Malinta Central System (Lateral #8)
down to the southern end of the QMC tunnels. From there another pilot
tunnel continued west for another 279.4 feet where it intersected the SW
tunnel entrance. Also, work on the 4 most northern laterals had been
The next area of the Malinta Tunnel complex to be mentioned is known as
the Gasoline Tunnel. Located at the NW corner of the Malinta Central
System, it consisted of 6 laterals containing large metal storage tanks
for gasoline. A central shaft from the laterals ran east-west out to the
west side of Malinta Hill. There was one ventilation shaft out to the
hillside and the tunnel system was fully concrete lined. The 1934 map
shows the Gasoline Tunnel to exist at that time but it must have been
incomplete. The tunnel entrance had a date of 1934 but the RCW released
by the Corps of Engineers was not issued until August 4, 1936.
RCW for the Malinta Gasoline Tunnel
Enlargement of the RCW Malinta Gasoline Tunnel blueprint
The RCWs indicate when construction of all sections of Malinta Tunnel
was completed with the exception of the South System. I have no RCW for
it. Is this simply because (1) I do not have that document, (2) it is
lost in some archive or (3) it never got issued by the Corps of
Engineers. Additional construction was obviously completed and there may
have been periods of inactivity but I know that work continued in the
South System even up until wartime. Reason #3 may be correct in that
work never really ceased here. The last detailed map that I am aware of
is dated July 2, 1940. As of that date, eleven South System laterals
were partially complete.
This detailed map dated
July 2, 1940 is interesting as it overlays the old and new location of
the South System and gives an overall view of the whole complex. (map
courtesy of armyjunk).
Fears of an upcoming war would soon bring the US
Navy into the picture adding some confusion as to who controlled what SW
tunnel space. The Navy expected to lose Cavite’s base facilities when
war came so in 1939 it released funds to the Army Engineers. They were
to drive 4 tunnels into the south-west side of Malinta Hill and be
connected by a shaft to the Army’s South Tunnel Complex. (info from
Corregidor, ‘Saga of a Fortress’ by the Belote Brothers). These tunnels
would become HQ of the 16th Naval District.
The Navy tunnels initiative had little effect on
the Army’s Malinta Tunnel system with one possible exception; did the
QMC South System lose its southern entrance to the Navy? What we believe
to be tunnel Queen does connect to the shaft heading to the south
entrance. Whether due to secrecy or inter-service rivalry, can you
imagine Army personnel wandering through secure Navy tunnel areas to get
to the south entrance? I doubt it. Unfortunately, details of the secret
Navy tunnels are scarce. Even today I know of no Navy or Army Corps of
Engineer blueprints for them.
A discussion of the Malinta Navy tunnels is
For further reading, see Corregidor.org
forum: DISCUSSION ABOUT
THE NAVY TUNNELS
The possible loss of the SW Malinta entrance to
the Navy may be one reason for the construction of a new entrance from
the QMC South System out to the South Shore Road. This road passes along
the south side of Malinta Hill between Bottomside and Tailside. Another
reason could have been the QMC’s need for a relatively straight tunnel
which would allow for easy transport of materials to and from the
storage laterals. The entrance is angled towards Bottomside which would
have helped in the moving of longer items such as torpedoes in and out
of the QMC tunnels. When this work was undertaken seems to be unknown
but would have been started after July of 1940.
A project that seems to have not been recorded
was the transformation of the North System from the purpose of storage
to a Hospital. This would also have taken place after July of 1940. A
major task would have been the addition of water and sewage facilities.
I expect that this is the reason the two rear ventilation shafts were
enlarged considerably beyond their original 4 ft. x 6 ft. size. In the
floor of both shafts you can see a drain pipe that runs the full length
of them. At the north end of both shafts, horizontal mini tunnels were
dug extending the drains to outside the tunnel. Today the eastern one is
collapsed but the western one still exists. A drain pipe can still be
seen embedded in the floor of that small shaft.
Two curious features are present in the
Hospital. First, both the east and west end ventilation shafts have what
appears to be the start of two new laterals that are not shown on maps.
One facing west goes into the rock about fifteen feet or so then stops.
The second one facing east ends after only a few feet in a complete
collapse so it is impossible to determine how far it went. We see no
indication of it at the expected location on Malinta Hill outside the
Second, these tunnel systems were constructed
with a slight grade to aid in ventilation and drainage. For example, the
Malinta Central System has a grade of 4.08% sloping down towards the
west. One Hospital lateral near the NW corner has a false floor that is
especially noticeable at its western end. This appears to give that
lateral the unique feature of having a level floor. Dismissing rumors of
hidden treasure, my guess would be that this was the operating theatre
where the pooling of blood due to a slanted floor would not be a good
thing. No one really knows the answer.
In 1941 with war approaching, Washington’s purse
strings were starting to get loosened and long delayed projects found
approval. One such project was for the gas-proofing of Malinta Tunnel.
Over a half million dollars was allocated for this but it never happened
as very little material arrived before the start of the war.
If you omit the missing ‘new’ south entrance and
the Hospital mini tunnels (and a few other minor details) then the 1940
blueprint is an accurate depiction of the Malinta Tunnel we know today.
This map is a good overview of the Malinta Tunnel System. There are
minor errors but it is generally correct. (Modified map from ‘The Hard
Way Home’ by Col. William C. Braly)
In the spring of 1941, Maj. Gen. George F. Moore became the Harbour
Defense Commander. It was under his watch that Malinta Tunnel would be
put to the use that it was intended for twenty years earlier. Probably
the most fitting tribute to this tunnel complex came from him when he
said “Without the shelter afforded by the Malinta Tunnel…organized
defense of the Philippines would have collapsed in its early stages”.
For me, Malinta Tunnel will always be one of the most interesting places
to visit on Corregidor Island. Stories of hidden gold and ghosts have
nothing to do with it. The information written above speaks only of
cavities carved into the rock; there is no mention of the few thousand
people who either temporarily lived here or who died within these
passageways. History is the real attraction and it lurks everywhere you
GO TO PART TWO...
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