"OPERATIONS OF THE THIRD BATTALION ON CORREGIDOR"
This monograph is an account of the operations of 3d Battalion, 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the landing on CORREGIDOR, PHILIPPINE ISLANDS, 16-February to 2 March 1945.
In order for the reader to be given an appreciation of the situation prior to the airborne assault against CORREGIDOR, it will be necessary to discuss briefly the major events which led up to this operation.
Organized resistance on the islands of LEYTE and MINDORO had ceased by the end of December 1944. On 9 January 1945, forces of United States Sixth Army landed at LINGAYAN GULF, LUZON ISLAND, quickly secured a beachhead and pushed inland. By 3 February 1945, spearheads of these forces had reached the northern and eastern outskirts of MANILA. (See Map A) (1)
United States Eighth Army units in this sector were the 11th Airborne Division and XI Corps. The former, making an amphibious on BATANGAS and advancing upon MANILA from the south; the latter, after landing north of SUBIC BAY, had pushed south and was now driving east across BATAAN PENINSULA with the mission of cutting the troops, located here, off from the rest of LUZON. (See Map A) (2)
As soon as the city of MANILA was liberated, it was imperative to secure promptly the entrance to MANILA BAY, which was guarded by CORREGIDOR ISLAND, if the port of Manila was to be utilized.
XI Corps, Eighth Army, was assigned the mission of capturing this island objective; however, this mission fell to Sixth Army, after zones of action for both Armies were allocated, prior to the operation. The overall plan contemplated an overland attack south to clear the east coast of BATAAN; an amphibious assault on MARIVELES and a combined airborne-amphibious assault on the island of CORREGIDOR. (See Map B) (3)
THE GENERAL SITUATION
With the landing of I and XXV Corps, the enemy combat units were all caught in movement, with the exception of the 23d Infantry Division to the southeast of the beachhead, in the Central plain of LUZON, and the 58th Independent mixed brigade -- twenty five miles north of LINGAYEN GULF. The Japanese 10th and 105th Infantry Divisions were in the MANILA area. (See Map A) (4)
Elements of the U.S. Eighth Army approaching MANILA from the south and U.S. Sixth Army units from the north and northwest, had given early indication toward liberation of the city. In gaining control of and clearing LUZON -- the PHILIPPINE ISLANDS would provide bases for future operations against the Japanese homeland. (5)
On 29 January, troops of General Hall's XI Corps, under strategic direction of Eighth Army, landed on the west coast of LUZON, near SUBIC BAY, meeting little opposition. They drove east across the neck of BATAAN PENINSULA, as it was believed the Japanese troops, in this area, would endeavor to follow the identical course adopted by the hard pressed troops under General Wainwright in 1942. This course had been a general withdrawal of troops from BATAAN and MANILA to the fortress of CORREGIDOR, with a consequent increase in the defensive strength available to the commander on CORREGIDOR. (See Map A) (6) (7)
Preceded by heavy air and naval bombardment, elements of the 38th Division, XI Corps, landed on 15 February at MARIVELES on the tip of BATAAN. (See Map B) Resistance was slight as our soldiers advanced rapidly along the perimeter road west of MANILA BAY.. While battle for the city still raged, General MacArthur moved to open MANILA BAY and begin preparation to use this as a major base of operations for U.S. forces. (8)
On 3 February. 1945,.503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team was alerted for a parachute mission, to capture NICHOLS AIRFIELD in the vicinity of MANILA; however, due to the rapid advance of ground forces on LUZON, this mission was cancelled on 5 February. The following day, the unit was again alerted, this time for the mission of seizing and securing CORREGIDOR ISLAND. (9)
DISPOSITION AND GENERAL PLAN
The 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team was located at SAN JOSE, MINDORO where it had been since the amphibious assault of 15 December 1944. (See Map A) The regiment, at this time, was undergoing unit problems and keeping in shape for a pending mission, which was always in the offing. Field Order Number 48, from Sixth Army headquarters, was delivered 8 February to 503d RCT headquarters.(10}
In making the plans for the assault, upon CORREGIDOR, the commander of the 'Rock Force' (officer in charge of all units on the island of Corregidor, otherwise known as "The Rook") had to take into consideration the topography of the island's terrain. The 5th Airforce was called upon, to obtain photos Of CORREGIDOR, and a topographic relief model of the island, made by a GHQ Engineer topographic unit, was set up near Regimental headquarters and constantly remained under guard. (11)
First, the regimental staff, along with the battalion commanders, were briefed on all points known, regarding the mission. Each battalion commander briefed his staff and company commanders; and the latter, briefed company officers. A time schedule was put into effect, whereby, each platoon leader could brief his platoon, on all details pertaining to the operation. In this manner, every officer and man was thoroughly indoctrinated as to the mission. (12)
At this time, it is best to give a description of the island, The island is approximately one square mile in area and is divided into two main sectors "Topside" and "Bottomside". "Topside" -- on the western end of the island, is the highest terrain feature. "Bottomside" -- is that portion of the island lying just west of MALINTA HILL. (See Map C) MALINTA HILL rises to a height of 350 feet and is the dominating terrain feature, on the eastern part of the island. The island is bounded by sheer cliffs and in many places rise to 500 feet from the waters edge. The only open terrain on the island is on "Topside", which comprises the parade ground and the golf course.(13).
Aerial reconnaissance flights were made, in order to make a close study of the island, for possible drop areas. By studying the maps of the island and the results of flights, it was disclosed there were three possible landing areas. Two possibilities were on "Topside", which were the parade ground and the golf course. The former was approximately 250 yards by 150 yards, and the latter a little longer, but of the same width as the parade ground. (l4)
Another feasible drop area, was an unused emergency field, known as KINDLEY, towards the tail of CORREGIDOR on the eastern end and just north of MONKEY POINT. (See Map C) This was eliminated as a possible parachute landing zone, as it would achieve nothing more than could be achieved by an amphibious assault. The explanation of this was, if troops were dropped here, they would be exposed to enemy fire from high ground at MONKEY HILL and MALINTA HILL; also, attack from this area would have to move against heavily prepared positions. (15)
The decision to drop on the parade ground and the golf course was made. The former was designated as "Field A" and the latter designated as "Field B". Neither field was or could be classified as an appropriate jumping field; besides, both were too small to provide adequate space for landing. In addition, these areas were littered with wreckage, bomb-craters and tree stumps. Another hazard which presented itself, were the steep cliffs which bordered the drop zones. (16) The two combined provided the smallest area into which an air drop of combat troops, in any number, has yet been made. (17)
During this preparatory phase, all officers and noncommissioned officers, who were to be jumpmasters, made reconnaissance flights over the island in B-24's, which were on their regular bomb run in this area. In this manner, each jumpmaster was able to acquaint himself to some degree, with the terrain and to obtain a view of his particular "go-point" (a distinguishing terrain feature used by the jumpmaster as a guide). (18)
It was now necessary to coordinate with the air and navy powers, in regards to softening up the island, prior to the airborne assault. The air support phase of CORREGIDOR had started on 23 January and by the day of the airborne assault, 16 February, 3,128 tons of bombs were dropped. (19)
CORREGIDOR was subjected to the heaviest and most extensive aerial pounding, to which any area of comparable size (less than one square mile) had been subjected during the entire war in the Pacific. (20)
On the day of the assault, continuous air pounding was set up to precede and cover the parachute drop -- scheduled for 0830. An indication of air support, given the morning of the drops was as follows: from 0745 to 0800, a group of heavy bombers dropped 260 pound fragmentation bombs -- each plane carrying 40 bombs. After 0830, the support was confined to areas outside the drop zones and east of the established 'bomb-line'; from 0830 to 0930, two groups of A-20's covered the unrestricted areas. By this time, the 3d Battalion was to be on the ground, and the air support was then limited to three squadrons of A-20's on the air alert; one prepared to fly smoke missions on call, and the other two -- to support the second parachute drop. (21)
The troop carrying phase of the CORREGIDOR operation was accomplished by the 317th Troop Carrier Group. (22) This same group, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Lackey, had carried the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment on previous missions, and the parachute personnel were all glad that this group, again, was going to put us out over the target. (23)
There were not enough Carrier planes to fly the entire regiment over the target on one flight -- therefore, the Rock Force Commander adopted a plan employing three lifts. Each lift to include a Battalion Combat Team. This was necessary to ensure the troops, on the ground, would have the support to continue operations, while the remainder of the airborne forces were being dropped. In planning an airborne operation, three major factors must be considered: (1) number of planes available, (2) number of troops to be transported, (3) the distance from the "take-off" point to the landing area. (24)
Within the 317th Troop Carrier Group were a total of 56 C-47's, .which were available. (25) The first and second lifts were to be composed of 51 C-47's and the third lift was to have 43 C-47's. Each lift was capable of dropping approximately 1,000 troops plus necessary bundles containing supplies and equipment, which could not be carried by the individual soldiers. (26) In addition to the three lifts, 12 C-47's were allocated for daily resupply and as the situation came under control, supplies were to come in by boat from MARIVELES. (27)
The first lift was to take off at 0715 16 February from MINDORO and was to contain the 3d Battalion, 503d Parachute Infantry, reinforced. The units to make up the reinforcements were: Battery A and one platoon Battery D, the latter armed with .50 Cal. HMG, were from the 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; 3d Platoon, Company C, 161st Airborne Engineer Company; Detachment Headquarters, 503d RCT and Detachment Headquarters, 462d Parachute Field Artillery. The second lift was to take off at 1100 16 February, composed of 2d Battalion, reinforced. The third lift was to take off at 0715 17 February, composed of the 1st Battalion, reinforced. (28)
BATTALION PLAN FOR THE DROP
To utilize the two small drop zones, it would be necessary for the planes to fly in column. The decision to use column formation was caused by several factors, of which one has already been mentioned -- the direction of wind and the velocity of same. In formulation of the flight plan, it was decided to divide the planes into two columns -- one column over each field. (See Map C) They were to come in from the southwest, with the left column flying over Field A and the right column flying over Field B. Eight men were to be dropped on each pass of the plane and when this phase was completed, the planes would circle to the left (left column) and right (right column) and swing around and join the tail of the columns and continue as before until all twenty-four men (total in each plane) had jumped. (29)
By flying and jumping in column, to drop the entire Battalion would take approximately one hour for the jump to be completed. When the pilot of each plane had reached the "go-point", a green light would be turned on, indicating to the jumpmaster in the rear of the plane, that they were over the "go-point" and he could jump at anytime. Prevailing winds had made instructions necessary to every Jumpmaster, to count three after passing his "go-point" and then jump his men. This "go-point" had been decided upon in a conference between the troop carrier and parachute staffs.
A control plane was to be on station about the drop zones. This plane employed voice radio, in the clear with the troop carriers, and was charged with the missions of correcting the line of flight, or altering the count of the jumpmasters. These factors based upon observation of parachutists already dropped. (30) Jumping altitude was set at 1150 foot above sea level. The two drop zones were 550 feet above sea level -- therefore, the actual jumping altitude was 600 feet. (31)
THE ENEMY SITUATION
Information from higher intelligence estimated the enemy strength approximately 850; however, no information was available as to his scheme of defense. Had the enemy been prepared for a parachute assault, our troops would have met stiffer resistance upon landing. (32) Later information received from a Japanese diary and one of the few prisoner's of war, definitely stated that the Japanese commander of all the forces upon the island, had been warned of the possibility of an airborne assault. This intelligence information had been received from higher headquarters, therefore, the commander made an estimate of the situation and came to the conclusion that such an attack was not possible -- mainly, due to the terrain. (33)
As later confirmed, the enemy's strength was approximately 6,000. Of this number, half were disposed on the defense perimeter of "The Rock" awaiting an amphibious assault. The other half were located in and around the MALINTA HILL area. With this situation in mind, it could be correctly assumed that the enemy was adequately prepared for an amphibious assault, but, in all probability, would be caught flat-footed by an airborne assault. (34)
Another example as to what little our intelligence forces had, regarding the enemy on CORREGIDOR, was the close comparison of installations on the island in recent photos with photos of pre-war appearance -- clearly shows that little attempt had been made to fortify during the Japanese occupation: The Japanese were masters at camouflaging and this was another point in their favor relative to concealment, as they had been clever in concealing the development of their defensive organization. (35)
THE BATTALION PLAN OF ASSAULT
The line of departure would be from ELMORE and HILL air-strips at SAN JOSE, MINDORO, 0715 hours 16 February 1940. (See Map A)
The flight required about one hour and fifteen minutes for a distance of 140 miles from MINDORO to CORREGIDOR: 3d Battalion was to commence dropping on the target at Field A and Field B at 0830 hours, D plus 1. Both drop areas would be properly secured, in order to give protection to the 2d Battalion coming in at 1215. A perimeter was to be set up generally along the 500 foot contour line-of "Topside". (See Map C) On D-Day, the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment reinforced by 3d Platoon, AT Company and 3d Platoon, Cannon Company of the 34th infantry Regiment would accompany 161st RCT when it entered the MARIVELES area; however, the 3d would remain aboard landing craft in the MARIVELES area and make the amphibious landing on CORREGIDOR, D plus 1, after the airborne assault had started. (36) A bomb and strafing line was established and not to be crossed before 1030 hours by 3d Battalion troops. (See Map C) The 3d Battalion was to support by fire the amphibious landing of the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry at 1030 hours and upon relief of the defensive perimeter by 2d Battalion, 503d RCT, to drive eastward toward MALINTA HILL to effect contact with amphibious troops. (37) Also, to advance and seize the high ground approximately 700 yards northeast of the old hospital site (See Map C); and the commanding ground about 1000 yards east of the hospital site. (See Map C) (38)
Battalion headquarters, Headquarters Company and H Company were to drop on Field A. Company G and Company I were to drop on Field B. (See Map C) As already stated, each field would be secured to protect parachutists coming in the second lift at 1215. The Battalion Command Post was to be the old lighthouse, which was situated east of the parade grounds. (See Map C) Immediately, upon landing and when the lighthouse was reached, battalion communication personnel would start stringing wire to the "Topside" barracks, north of Field A, where headquarters of the Rock Force was to be located. (See Map C) (39)
Each man dropping on the target was to carry one unit of. ammunition on his person, according to the type weapon he was armed with, four "K" rations plus two canteens of water. Ammunition for the crew served weapons were to be dropped in bundles. Medical aid men were to drop with their platoons and the Battalion Aid Station was to be set up near the Battalion OP. A Portable Surgical Hospital Unit was to come in amphibiously, after "Topside" was secured. This unit to be under the supervision of regimental surgeon. (40)
Until the road from the SAN JOSE landing beach to "Topside" was opened, supply plane called for aerial drops. (See Map C) As mentioned in general situation, 12 C-47 planes were allotted for the supply missions.
MOVEMENT TO THE LINE OF DEPARTURE AND FINAL PREPARATIONS FOR THE ASSAULT
The battalion had reveille at 0500 16 February. A good hot breakfast was served by each of the companies kitchens. Last minute check-up of ammunition, and fitting of the parachute was done by every parachutist. Trucks pulled into the battalion area and moved out with loaded personnel for the airstrips, ELMORE and HILL at 0630. Take off time was 0715 and the personnel loaded aboard the planes at 0700. Each plane's para-racks (equipment holders under the fuselage) were loaded with artillery containers or ammunition containers. The lead plane started down the runway at 0715 with the other planes following suit. They rendezvoused above MINDORO and then started northward following the coast line towards their objective. Approximately six-miles out from the objective, the planes began to fall into their respective flight columns - one for Field A and one for Field B. (See Map C) (41)