* CHAPTER 1

 

Talking It Over

 

February 4, 1945. This morning Major C was strolling past my tent when I looked up. "Hello, Doc.," he said in reply to my greeting. "Come over here. I've got some good news to tell you." We needed it, for morale had sunk pretty low in the regiment. Only the week before, we had stood dejectedly in our camp watching a junior parachute unit winging overhead for what we thought should be our mission: the jump on Manila;  It seemed again that we would be in reserve, while the big operations in Luzon were carried out by other units. Today, however, there was no mistaking the note of happy anticipation in the Major's voice. Perhaps something had really come up.

"If you had your choice of the best combat jump our regiment could make, what objective would you pick?" he asked. "Tokyo," I replied with a laugh.

"No, seriously, here in the Philippines. "

"Why, Manila, I suppose."

"Manila is burning--almost every section is in flames. And anyway, the 511 paratroopers are there."

"Well, there aren't any others that I know of. What is it?"

The Major was a soldier through and through. He had worked his way up from a buck private in the regular army to the command of a battalion here. When he spoke of the best possible mission, I knew that he meant exactly what the whole regiment had been hoping for - something spectacular, something daring, something decisive. "What is it?" I asked. The reply startled me though C chuckled as he uttered it.

"Corregidor."

What little I had heard about "the Rock" would certainly contraindicate jumping there; and this prospect sounded anything but inviting. "That's the beauty of it," the Major explained with schoolboy enthusiasm. "The Japs will never expect it because it looks impossible. No army in this war has pulled anything like it. But our intelligence has got it all figured out, and they say it'll be as easy as opening a kit-bag." Easy? I questioned that statement, and the more I learned from him, the more dubious it sounded. He had not heard the plans in detail as yet, but C was aware of some of the obstacles, and as we discussed them, they came to light even more vividly. In the first place, it takes at least 800 to 900 yards of clear ground for a company of paratroopers to make a good jump-- and even that calls for close timing. The planes fly in at a speed of 50 yards a second, and each jumper takes half a second to make his exit. Time must be added to push out a parachute equipment bundle, and leeway should be allowed for wind-drift and for momentary delays or misjudgments. But the longest space Corregidor could offer us would be 350 yards for a drop zone. This meant that the troopers could jump only eight or ten at a time, while the planes would have to circle and return for a second and third run over the field. "Instead of a sudden shower, we'll just drizzle our jumpers down on the Japs," the Major commented. "What's a drizzle," I thought to myself.

Other points made the prospect seem still less attractive. Photographs which C showed me revealed that the tiny drop-zones were surrounded by ruined buildings which had been blasted to pieces. The ground itself was strewn with rubble and pock-marked with bomb craters. After looking at these air-views, I asked, "What do you figure our casualty rate will be under such landing conditions as these? We never tried anything like this before."

"No one else did, either," the Major replied, "So we can't make any predictions. The Colonel is estimating that 20% of the jumpers may be injured."  To make it worse, the area was perched on a small plateau, edged by precipices which dropped vertically three hundred or four hundred feet down to the sea. Reports showed that there would be fairly strong, prevailing winds blowing over the island, but the Major continued his optimism. "If we jump early enough in the morning." he said, "the winds won't be going strong. We may lose a few jumpers over the cliffs, but not if they are careful." Then, eyeing the photo a little more closely, he added, "But we'll have to be damn careful. "

"How many Japs will be waiting for us?" I asked with keen interest. Under the restricted conditions, I knew it would be difficult or impossible for our commanders to assemble more than a thousand men on the drop zone during the initial phase. "We don't have any idea of the Jap strength," the Major answered. "Some say that the island has been taken over for a last stand by the Imperial Marines. If that's so, there could be eight or nine thousand of them. Others claim that they are keeping only a token force there. We'll see."

"Instead of dropping us on this rock pile," I enquired, "why not send in amphibious craft?

"Well," the Major explained, "our Marines lost a thousand killed in their beach landing at Tarawa, and 3,500 killed or missing at Saipan, and neither of those posts had half the fortifications Corregidor has got. When Wainwright held out against the Japs, he was subjected for a month to the heaviest kind of artillery barrages; but even after that, his men were still able to kill 8,000 Japs when they made their final amphibious assault." It is clear from these figures that a frontal assault on Corregidor's sea defenses would be fearfully costly. Despite my questions, C continued to express delight that our regiment had received this assignment.

In summing it all up, he said, "Here's the secret of it. If we get down on Corregidor's topside, we'll hold the center of the Jap position. Their unity will be destroyed. They may be all around us, but they'll have to climb up to get at us, and all the while, we'll be sitting pretty, waiting for 'ern." It still didn't look easy to me; but I had to agree with him that for adventure, for spectacular dash, and for what seemed like reckless daring, this mission would beat anything that had yet been planned for paratroops.

 
 

 

Combat Over Corregidor appears as a joint project of The 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team Association of World War II Inc., and the Heritage Bn.  We are privately supported by The Corregidor Historic Society and a group of like-minded individuals. Join us and make sure that we'll be here the next time you are.

Combat Over Corregidor 2002 The Charles H. Bradford Estate;

 

[1] This is Major LBC, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion.  p