"OPERATIONS OF THE SECOND BATTALION 503d PRCT ON CORREGIDOR"
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Edward T. Flash

Refer Editors' Caution

 

 

 

 

 

Staff Department
THE INFANTRY SCHOOL
Fort Benning, Georgia

 

 

 

 

ADVANCED INFANTRY OFFICERS COURSE
1949-1950

 

 

 

 

OPERATIONS OF THE 2D BATTALION, 503D PARACHUTE
INFANTRY REGIMENT IN THE RECAPTURE OF CORREGIDOR ISLAND,
16 FEBRUARY - 23 FEBRUARY 1945

(LUZON CAMPAIGN)

(Personal Observation of a Parachute Rifle Platoon Leader)

 

 

 

 

Type of operation described: ASSAULT OF A FORTIFIED ISLAND

 

 

 

1st Lieutenant Edward T. Flash, Infantry
ADVANCED INFANTRY OFFICERS CLASS NO II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ORIENTATION

INTRODUCTION

 This monograph covers the operations of the 2d Battalion 5O3d Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team in an unusual airborne assault on enemy held CORREGIDOR ISLAND, PHILIPPINES, 16 February - 23 February 1945, and the part it played in reopening the PORT of MANILA to Allied shipping.

In order to orient the reader it will be necessary to discuss briefly the major events which led up to this action.

Early in January 1945, the forces of the US Sixth Army were organized and ready to make an invasion of the LUZON ISLAND, PHILIPPINES, in the third and most important phase in the overall plan for the liberation of the PHILIPPINE ISLAND. By the end of 1944, organized resistance had ceased in the LEYTE and MINDORO Operations. Thus the first two phases of the overall liberation of the PHILIPPINE ISLAND were completed. (See Map A) (1)

On 9 January 1945 troops of the US Sixth Army, consisting of I and XIV Corps, hit the beaches in the LINGAYEN GULF Area after a naval, air, and surface bombardment previously unequaled in the Southwest Pacific warfare. The Sixth Army immediately launched a swift and aggressive offensive toward MANILA and finally arrived at the northeastern outskirts of the city on 3 February 1945. (See Map A) (2)   On 29 January 1945, troops of the US XI Corps under the strategic direction of the US Eighth Army landed on the west coast of LUZON near SUBIC BAY, with the mission of driving eastward and isolating BATAAN PENINSULA. (See Map A) (3) By 14 February these forces had reached halfway down the east coast of BATAAN with little or no organized resistance. (4)

Meanwhile the final closing of the perimeter encircling MANILA was made with the landing of US Forces on BATANGAS PROVINCE, Southern LUZON, and by the 10 February 1945 these troops were approaching the southern outskirts of the city. (See Map A) (5)

 

THE GENERAL SITUATION

While the Battle of MANILA raged at its height, the immediate availability of the port facilities for further operations against the Japanese was therefore imperative.(6)  One single position presented an opportunity for a brilliant stroke that would insure the possessor complete control of MANILA HARBOR and surrounding islands. Sitting astride the entrance to MANILA BAY and guarding its approaches from the CHINA Seas, stood CORREGIDOR ISLAND, a mass of rock that rises abruptly from the sea. (See Map B) (7)

The Sixth Army plan for this coming attack divided the operation into three separate invasions. For the first invasion, U$ XI Corps would land in the MARIVELES BAY Area on D-Day; secure a beachhead and establish control over the southern tip of BATAAN. One reinforced infantry battalion would accompany the MARIVELES force to be used in conjunction with the second and third invasions by combined airborne and amphibious landings on CORREGIDOR ISLAND. In the airborne and amphibious phase, D plus 1, the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team, mounted by troops from the US Eighth Army, on MINDORO ISLAND, PHILIPPINES, would drop on CORREGIDOR ISLAND. Control of the 5O3d would pass to the XI Corps upon completion of the drop. The third and final assault, of this plan called for the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, reinforced, to make an amphibious assault on SAN JOSE BEACH, CORREGIDOR, two hours after the parachute landing. This battalion was to be mounted for its shore-to-shore operation from MARIVELES BAY. (See Map B) (8)

Tactical planning for the assault on CORREGIDOR involved the highest degree of coordination of operations by ground, sea, and air forces.

Japanese experience in 1942 had demonstrated that an amphibious assault on this island could be extremely costly. The means to avoid a costly amphibious assault were available. Also, points of our own choosing to land would make it possible by surprise to seize the key terrain features of the island before the enemy could react to thwart our action. (9)

 

DISPOSITIONS AND PLANS OF THE 503D PARACHUTE REGIMENTAL COMBAT TEAM

On 4 February 1945 the 503d was in the process of integrating, training, and orienting replacements that had recently arrived on MINDORO ISLAND, PHILIPPINES. (10) Early on the 6 February 1945, the Headquarters of the 503d received an alert order for the assault on CORREGIDOR. (11)

Available forces and composition of the 503d at this time were as follows: three infantry battalions; a Headquarters and Headquarters Company; and a Service Company. Each infantry battalion consisted of three rifle Companies and Battalion Headquarters Company. Each rifle Company consisted of three rifle platoons and a mortar platoon. The Battalion Headquarters Company contained a light machine gun platoon, 81-mm mortar platoon, communications platoon, and a medical detachment. The Field Artillery Battalion consisted of: three gun batteries armed with the 75-mm pack howitzer, one battery of .50 caliber machine guns, and a Headquarters and Service Company. The Engineer Company consisted of a Company Headquarters Platoon and three engineer support platoons. (12)

On 8 February 1945, a copy of the Sixth Army Field Order Number 48 was received by the 503d RCT, and a thorough staff study of the airborne aspects of the operations immediately followed. Maps and charts were procured, sand tables erected and all battalion and separate company commanders were alerted. (13)

A map study brought out the important features of CORREGIDOR before a decision was made as to the selection of possible drop zones. CORREGIDOR is a tadpole-shaped island only 7,000 yards long. Its bulbous head, commonly called Topside is 2,300 yards in diameter and surrounded by precipitous cliffs that rise well over 500 feet out of the water. It gradually tapers down to the North and South Docks and is commonly called Bottomside. The distance between the North and South Docks is 500 feet and does not exceed 25 feet above the water's edge. Arising almost straight up from Bottomside to a towering 4OO feet is MALINTA HILL, the second most important piece of key terrain on the island. This key terrain feature dominates all the remainder of the island that extends to East Point on the eastern tip of the island. (See Map C) (11)

From this terrain study, three possible drop zones were selected. Of the three, one was a pre-war emergency air strip (KINDLEY FIELD) just north of MONKEY POINT, immediately discarded since landing there would be tactically unsound. The main Jap positions were located in and around MALINTA HILL which completely dominated the air strip. (See Map C) (15)

The other two were on Topside and were respectively designated "A" and "B" drop zones. (16) "A" was the pre-war parade ground and approximated 250 yards by 150-yards. (See Map C) "B" area was a small area that formerly passed as a golf course. It was barely 300 by 150 yards and located on the slope of a hill. (See Map C) Aerial photographs of areas further revealed these drop zones to be covered with bomb craters, sharp cement boulders, tin, glass, steel bloom from the nearby buildings, and sharp tree limbs sticking skyward. (17)

The natural defensive installation had been further elaborated on by the United States at the time it occupied the island, with at least eight 12-inch disappearing guns, concrete barracks, and a series of underground shops, and tunnels, all reinforced by five feet of concrete and steel. The road network was of the standard military construction, leading to the guns, magazines, quarters, and shops. (18) The pounding that the island had taken from the Jap artillery in 1942, changed the very topography of the island. Hills and hummocks were depressions. Paved roads in many cases were covered with landslides or dotted by craters. (19)

This operation represented one of the most difficult ever carried out by paratroops. (20) The high degree of coordination required by the ground, sea, and air forces had already begun at Sixth Army Headquarters, on 7 February, and on the flagship of the Commander, Amphibious Group Nine on 8 February. The conference aboard the flagship was attended by: the Commanding General, XI Corps; the Commanding General, 8th Troop Carrier Wing; the Commander, Seventh Amphibious Forces; the Commander, Cruisers Seventh Fleet; the Commander, Amphibious Group Nine;   G-3, XI Corps; A-3 Fifth Air Force; the Commanding Officer, 503d ROT; and various staff officers assigned to the headquarters and commands named. (21) Frequent and personal visits between the Commanding Officer, 503d and Commanding Officer, 317th Troop Carrier Group, afforded extremely close liaison on matters concerning the drop. (22)

To summarize the final plan for the CORREGIDOR Operations, the 151st Regimental Combat Teams would by amphibious assault land in MARIVELES BAY on 15 February 1945. The 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry reinforced by the 3d Platoon, Antitank Company and 3d Platoon Cannon Company of the 34th Infantry would accompany the 151st to MARIVELES and prepare for its shore-to-shore assault on CORREGIDOR. On 16 February 1945, the 503d Regimental Combat Teams would drop on CORREGIDOR, secure a perimeter for the following airborne drops, and support by fire the amphibious landing. (23)

On 12 February 1945 all planning had been completed and all units received the Regimental Command Teams Field Order Number 9. (24) Using terrain models, aerial photos and sand tables all troops were briefed on the mission. Detailed instructions on each phase of the operation was clearly defined. Reconnaissance flights by all jumpmasters were flown over CORREGIDOR. Major General Marquat, Artillery Officer on CORREGIDOR prior to its capture, personally addressed the officer and men of the 503d Regimental Combat Team and further elaborated on exacting details of the terrain and important locations. (25)

The regiment planned to have the 3d Battalion, reinforced by Battery C, 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, Company C, 161st Airborne Engineers, one platoon of Battery D (.50 Caliber Machine Guns), 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, and elements of the Regimental Headquarters Company make the initial drop on CORREGIDOR at 0830 hours on 16 February 1945, and secure both ďA" and "B" drop zones for the second and third airborne lifts. They would also support by fire the amphibious landing which would follow shortly after the first drop. (See Map C) The 2d Battalion, reinforced by Battery B, 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, Service Company, Platoon Battery D (.50 Caliber Machine Guns); 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, and elements of Regimental Headquarters Company constituted the second lift, would drop on "A" and "B" fields at 1240 hours on 16 February 1945, and upon landing would relieve the 3d Battalion of perimeter responsibility to enable it to make contact with the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry. (See Map C) The third lift consisting of the 1st Battalion, Battery A, 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and the remainder of Regimental Headquarters Company were to leave MINDORO ISLAND at 0700 hours 17 February 1945 and drop on "A" and "B" fields upon arrival. (26)

Each parachutist was to carry one unit of ammunition for his individual weapon, two canteens of water, and four meals of K ration on his person for the drop. (27)

All resupply would be by aircraft until replaced by amphibious resupply as soon as contact was completed between airborne and amphibious forces. Our major supply problem was water, as no information was available as to water supply condition existing on the island. (28)

The regiment adopted a flight pattern of two columns of single C-47 type aircraft in trail, one column over each field, each plane to make a minimum of two or three passes, dropping a stick of 6 to 8 men on each pass. The drop point for each field was a distinct ground feature, and on the green light "Go" signal from the pilot, each jumpmaster was to count three seconds and jump. (29)

To further eliminate the vulnerability that is always present immediately after the jump, mortars, Browning automatic rifles, and light machine guns were jumped on the individual person. (30)

THE BATTALION SITUATION

After the battalion had been alerted for the CORREGIDOR mission, each jumpmaster was required to make a practice spot jump from an altitude of 500 feet, followed with unit assembly problems on the ground. (31)

Since the regimental plan of attack did not call for the 2d Battalion to make the initial parachute drop, and in order to expedite the relief of the 3d Battalion after dropping, Major Lawson B. Caskey, Battalion Commander, made arrangements to have his S-3 and Company Executive Officers drop with the initial wave in order to expedite the relief of the 3d Battalion upon arrival. (32)

Morale was extremely high throughout the battalion. On the night before the battle, captured Japanese movies showing the fall of CORREGIDOR in 1942 and the insulting treatment of the American prisoners of war and American flag were shown the troops. Aside from the sentimental aspects of the retaking of "The Rock", the urge for revenge surged in every man.

THE BATTALION PLAN OF ATTACK. (33)(See Map C)

Since little was known of the actual enemy's strength or dispositions other than the general estimation of 850 troops, the battalion commander was well aware and ready for the changing situation that could confront the Regimental Combat Team Commander after the parachute drops had been made. All unit commanders were warned to allow for great flexibility in their plans and be ready to change on a moments notice. (34) Immediately after dropping on "B" field, Company D, reinforced, would assume responsibility for the northeast and eastern sector of the regimental perimeter, and continue to "mop up" in and around the immediate area. (See Map C) E Company would drop on "A" field, and assume responsibility for the northern and northwestern portion of the perimeter on Topside, and be prepared to attack JAMES RAVINE on order. (See Map C) (35) Company F would drop on "B" field and cover that portion of the perimeter on Topside between E and D Company's flanks. Upon attachment of supporting fires, they would attack and secure Wheeler Battery. (See Map C) (36) Battalion Headquarters Company would establish the Command Post and Aid Station in the long barracks on Topside. (See Map C) (37) The Battalion Communication Platoon, upon landing, would enter into the regimental net and at the same time establish the battalion net. With the uncertainty of the situation, no attempt would be made to wire the companies with battalion. The only means of communication available at that time would be the radio and messenger. The aerial resupply of water being the only known assurance of water, all personnel were warned against the danger of consuming the majority of the water contained in their two canteens.

 

THE AIR MOVEMENT TO CORREGIDOR AND FINAL PREPARATIONS FOR THE ATTACK

Preparations for the assault on CORREGIDOR had begun as early as 23 January 1945, when twenty 13th Air Force B-24s dropped one hundred and eighty 250-pound general purpose bombs on the island and sixteen 5th Air Force A-20s bombed and strafed the island. From 23 January on, the tempo of the bombing increased steadily up to the day of the actual drop. By the day of the airborne assault, 16 February 1945, a total of 1,012 sorties had dropped 3,128 tons of bombs. (38)

On 13 February elements of a US Navy Task Force, consisting of five cruisers, six destroyers, motor torpedo boats, and other vessels began shelling MARIVELES HARBOR and CORREGIDOR ISLAND. The shelling of CORREGIDOR was directed against pillboxes, water line caves, tunnels, and visible gun installations. The shelling continued through the landings made at MARIVELES on 15 February and CORREGIDOR on 16 February 1945. (39)

Early on 16 February 1945, twenty-four 5th Air Force B-2Ls hit gun positions on CORREGIDOR with nine hundred and sixty 260-pound fragmentation bombs. One minute after that had lifted, eleven B-25s bombed and strafed, dispersing eighty 100-pound bombs, and 1,592 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition. Simultaneously, twenty A-20s bombed and strafed both "A" and "B" fields. At 0830, just one minute after the last bombing and strafing was lifted, the first aircraft from MINDORO ISLAND started to discharge the paratroopers of the first lift. As the C-47s circled over the island and continued to drop their passengers, A-20s bombed and strafed the eastern half of the island. (40)

At 1030 hours, the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, reinforced, began storming the beaches at Bottomside under heavy enemy fire. (See Map C)

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