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.
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
"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
"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.
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Combat Over Corregidor © 2002 The Charles H.
 This is Major LBC, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion. p