"BLOODY CORREGIDOR BATTLE REMEMBERED "
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David Brown
Tulsa World,
Staff Reporter,
Friday, Feb 17, 1978

 

 

In the bottom of old Army footlockers, and in scrapbooks all over America can be found yellowing newspaper articles recalling the glorious battles of long ago. But they are not glorious battles, and no one who was ever there thought so at the time. 

E.G. Anderson, 10540 E. 11th St., took a boat trip during this week in February many years ago to the scene of a famous early battle of World War II.

 In that February, Anderson and a group of Americans disembarked near the shores of a small, tadpole-shaped island at the mouth of Manila Bay in the Philippines.

A band of courageous allied troops and Filipino citizens6 had fought back a ferocious Japanese attack on the island before surrendering on May 6, 1942. That defeat, bitter as it was, became a symbol of perseverance and bravery.

To this day, however, Anderson finds it hard to think of the tiny, outjutting rock as the scene of an heroic defeat.

When he landed on Corregidor Island, 33 years ago, there were more than 4500 Japanese soldiers defending the rugged harbor fortress. When he left, there were none. 6

Anderson's story, the retaking of Corregidor;

At 8:30 a.m. on Feb 16, 1945, a special task force from the 34th Infantry Regiment's 3rd battalion swarmed ashore in an amphibious assault. They captured a short stretch of beach two hundred feet wide. 6

THE ATTACK was preceded by a parachute drop over an impossibly restricted plateau covered with trees, wire and twisted metal, near the centre of the island. "Most of the first 300 were killed, then they had to stop dropping them because the rockets had split the trees to where they were just prongs sticking up," Anderson recalled.6

The paratroopers who survived the jump regrouped where they could. The infantry force dug in near an entrance to the Mantila tunnel, a 925 feet long underground stronghold.6 Anderson, first gunner with the battalion's 81 mortar unit, waded ashore through a minefield with "about everything blowing up around us."

"We set up in a bomb crater in front of the tunnel door, as they called it, and we stayed there until the battle was over," he said.

THE INVASION was planned as a 15 minute operation. In a matter of hours, on the morning 33 years ago, word was flashed back to the United States from the Pacific Theater: Corregidor had been captured. 

But on less than two square miles of jungle-covered rocky island, in the south China sea, where 4,000 Americans squared off in face-to-face combat with 4,500 Japanese, the second battle of Corregidor had just begun.

"I've always said we fought for nine straight days and nights. We lost worlds of men, and it didn't let up at all. We melted the tubes of six 81 mortars, firing them one after the other," Anderson said

American pilots flew low over the island to drop bombs on Japanese defenders in concrete pillboxes and other fortified positions, and in the tunnel.

"This one little nineteen year old pilot would come in and drop napalm bombs in front of the tunnel door. He'd come in so low, doing a couple of victory rolls on the way out, that he hit the flight tower and killed himself," Anderson said.6

THE JAPANESE force remained almost invulnerable inside the tunnel, creeping out for surprise attacks only at night. Hand to hand combat continued 24 hours a day through the nine-day battle.

"You had to tie a wire around your wrist and run it over to the next foxhole, then pull on it to make sure someone was awake there before you took a rest," Anderson said.

In a week's time, thousands had died in direct combat. The Army strategy, to "bomb 'em out of their buried position," worked poorly against the forces in the virtually impregnable Mantila tunnel. Anderson, and everyone else who took part in the assault on Corregidor Island, received an individual unit citation. It was a posthumous award for at least half of the original landing party.

Anderson was discharged from the Army on August 11. He planned to leave the Pacific Theatre for the United States immediately.

The plan did not succeed.

Japan surrendered on August 14, freezing all military movements in the Pacific. Anderson left for home 8 days later.

There was no lengthy mop up operation during the 2nd  Battle of Corregidor. Unlike many battles on Pacific islands, there was no problem in fixing a precise moment of victory.

"They blew the tunnel up. From there on, we were coasting," Anderson said.

At 11:05 a.m. on Feb 26, Corregidor Island was rocked by a powerful underground explosion. The Japanese, dying of thirst in the tunnel and unable to escape, had set off several tons of munitions.

"Fire rolled out to within a few yards of our position, and dirt and rocks rolled out for the better part of an hour. We were lucky. They thought it would bury every one of us," Anderson said. 6

A brief attack against the few Japanese survivors followed. The Army estimated the enemy dead at 4509. No wounded.

"They put in there that we took 19 prisoners, but I don't think we took anyone alive, to tell you the truth about it," Anderson said.6

The battle to recapture Corregidor started on February 16, ended in smoke and fire on February 26 after "nine straight days and nine nights" of combat. The second battle of Corregidor Island the battle that was heroic but no defeat was over.

          FOOTNOTES         

1.  Filipino Citizens did not participate in the battle, but members of their armed forced did, serving with valor and sacrifice. The Japanese invasion beaches brought them directly against sectors of the island defended by the Philippine Scouts. 5

2. More recent estimates put the number of Japanese defenders closer to 6,500. There were survivors - 19 prisoners, and 20 who surrendered on 1 January, 1946. 5

3. The LSM's got underway from Mariveles at 0800, and hit the beach at 1028 hrs, two minutes before schedule. The 0830 time was for the first parachute landing. 5

4. Of the 2065 men of both lifts, about 280, or approximately 13.5%, were killed or severely injured. Three men suffered chute malfunctions, and two men who collided with buildings were killed. Eight men were killed either in the air or before they were able to get free of their chutes, and a further 50 were wounded in the air or on grounding.   Several men were MIA on the drop. The total drop injuries (not by wounding) on the drop were 210.  5

5. Malinta (not Mantila) Tunnel , the most extensive construction on Corregidor, was the name given to the tunnel system under Malinta Hill. Consisting of a main east-west passage 1,400 feet long and 30 feet side, the tunnel had 25 laterals, each about 400 feet long, branching out at regular intervals from each side of the main passage. 5

6. This is unlikely as there were no flight tower remaining on the island.  The main texts on Corregidor  (Belote, Devlin, Flanagan) do not mention such an incident. 5

7. Whilst the time and date of the explosion are correct, it is not likely there were any men of the 3/34th in the immediate area of Monkey Point when the tunnel there was detonated. Anderson's description may well be referring to the night of 23-24 February, when the Japanese made their most serious attempts to blow up Malinta Hill. In the early hours of the 24th, seven explosions, all in quick succession, belched flames from every hole and vent in the central and northern portions of the hill. On top of Malinta, US foxholes crumbled as the entire island shook. Corpses were blown from the entrances, followed by groups of concussed Japanese, suggesting that they had planned a major Banzai attack and had miscalculated the effect of the explosions. 5

8.  On 1 January 1946, a party of 20 "exceptionally soldierly" Japanese, in full uniforms and marching in formation, surrendered to a  Quartermaster Graves Registration team.  See also footnote 2. 5