WATER TOWER HILL
Many years ago I was
looking through the magazines at Battery Morrison
when I came upon some graffiti which intrigued me:
THE BASTARDS BULLDOZED THE BATTLEFIELD
AT WATERTOWER HILL - 'HISTORY BE DAMNED' - MOTTO
OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM
Since then, I have
looked askance at the officially sanctioned
destruction of a battlefield, particularly by
those purporting to be preserving hisory. Talk
about throwing out the baby with the bathwater! When
this collection of comments and images - initiated
by Chad Hill - appeared on the Corregidor Then
and Now forum, and I had the opportunity of a rainy
day to do it, I compiled them into a permanent page,
partly to recall the men who made the battlefield
significant, and partly to recall Bob McGetchin (now
deceased) and his comment.
This Japanese photo, according to most references
I've found, was taken during the assault on
Corregidor, May 6, 1942. One source claimed the
photo was taken on Bataan.
John Whitman, in "Bataan, Our Last Ditch", briefly
mentions the Japanese used flamethrowers a few times
in that campaign. That was news to me. I don't
recall reading about Japanese flamethrowers in any
other histories or personal accounts about Bataan or
If this photo was taken on
Corregidor, the concrete structure that the Japanese
troops are assaulting looks similar to the "short"
water tank on Denver Hill, which was the scene of
fierce fighting May 5-6.
Here is a Japanese post-battle photo of the water
tank on Denver Hill. In both photos, note the
rectangular part on the top.
What may be a wrecked ladder or stand
leans against the tank.
Here is a 1986 photo I took of the
water tank on Denver Hill. Note the damage to the
top, partially covered by the leaves. The first
photo above also seems to show damage, to the right
of the flame.
Here's a 1926 photo of a similar tank
(BLDG 601 TANK 6. Could it be the same one?).
Note the overflow slot near the top (photo from
Here's an interior view I took of the
Denver Hill tank in 1986. Note the concrete
"ceiling" that is above the overflow slot. The
sergeants must have stood on this during the 1942
battle (see narrative at end).
Here are 2007 photos of the tank.
Note the damage to the top. (courtesy fots photos).
According to Senior Archivist J.
Micheal Miller of the Marine Corps Research Center
at Quantico, Virginia, on the night of 5-6 May USMC
Sergeant Major John Sweeney and Sergeant John Haskin
destroyed a Japanese machine gun nest at the base of
this water tank using grenades. They then climbed to
the top where they hurled more grenades at the
Japanese infantry below. Haskin was killed while
re-climbing the tank with additional grenades, and
Sweeney was killed on the top. I've read that
Sweeney's remains were not found and recovered until
According to the Belote brothers in "Corregidor,
Saga of a Fortress", the colorful Army First
Sergeant Dewey Brady of Battery Denver was also KIA
on top of this tank, on 24 April by schrapnel from a
240mm shell (page 120 and 166). Dewey did not know
that he had earned a battlefield commission and been
promoted to Second Lieutenant that morning.
If anybody has information on the flamethrower
photo, please post. Or any info on Water Tank
That structure in the flame thrower
photo certainly could be one of the water tanks (or
a Maginot Line pillbox, but we can eliminate that
possibility). Seems that I have read (again, I can't
remember where) that a few flame throwers(not used)
were present when the first Japanese troops
cautiously entered Malinta. Have you ever heard that
story?? The trouble with so many of these purported
enemy combat film/photos is that they were
re-enactments. There is just something about this
pic that seems kinda "stilted" or staged. Maybe its
because these troops are so evenly spaced and their
heads seem to be sticking up a bit higher than you
would think with Amer/Fil lead flying about.
Flamthrower personnel, of any Army, always drew
extra fire. Just my humble. This lastest
presentation of yours is, as usual, thought
provoking and up to "snuff". Keep the pipe line
BLDG 601, Tank 6 is the fresh water
tank on Denver Hill. It is the shorter one you think
it is, good photo. (The taller tank that was
slightly west of 601 held Salt water and was
designated as BLDG 642).
Here are two photos of it taken in
August this year. (I was wandering around looking
for “grenade rings” but it started to rain so I
left. I’ll try again in the dry season when the
grasses have died down a bit more).
One of the water tanks (Salt Water)
is now long gone. Thanks to the construction of the
park beside it. I remember the late Bill Delich, a
Corregidor survivor telling me that builders of the
park have no idea of the significance of the water
tower and it was where a real fight was happening
between troops from both sides.
The distinction of the two tanks is the top cover.
Salt water tanks usually look like reversed "tall
hats" (concrete lip extended) while the fresh water
tank was more cylindrical (like the photo above).
Here is the photo of the salt water tank in 1921
(bldg. 642 -- as mentioned by fots)
The Japanese flamethrower photo is a
staged shot for the propaganda. It was taken after
the island has surrendered.
Batteryboy, those are great photos.
Is that the eastern slope of Malinta Hill in the
background of the 1922 picture of the "tall" tank?
I'm not surprised that the flamethrower photo would
have been staged, like others were. As Okla pointed
out, those Japanese troops are posed very
conveniently for a photo shot.
That is too bad the tall water tank was destroyed.
I'm very surprised it was allowed to happen. Here is
a 1986 photo of it. I apologize for the quality, but
there was so much growth it was the best I could do.
Only because the tank is gone would I post it:
Here's a 1986 view inside the tall tank:
A February 1945 view of Water Tank Hill:
From the pictures you and Fots posted on top of the
short tank, it looks like the "roof" has gone since
I was there in 1986. Some of the roof was still
there then, as was the metal ladder seen in the 1926
You mentioned looking for grenade rings, and I have
a story about that. At that time (1986), I
mistakenly thought that Sergeants Sweeney and Haskin
had thrown grenades from the top of the "tall" water
tank. I tried to climb it, but it became dangerous
and I was unable to get to the top. So I climbed up
on the "short" tank instead. While I was on top of
the short tank I saw several small roundish pieces
of wire that were mixed in with some rubbish. I
remember wondering if they could possibly be
pull-rings from Sweeney and Haskin's grenades but
decided that could not be, because I was on top of
the "wrong" tank. Years later I learned that the
sergeants had been on the short water tank instead,
and ever since then I have wondered if those pieces
of wire were the pull-rings from their grenades. I
left them there, so even if the roof has totally
caved in they may still be inside the bottom of the
Great shot of the salt
water tank. You are very lucky to have explored it
and to be honest, it is the only modern day photo
that I have seen of it.
The Japanese also did a propadanda movie about it
but this time it was them on top of the water tower
and they threw the grenades against the defenders.
I dont have a clear account of the last fights
between the troops from both sides just before the
surrender. There were conflicting stories that I
have come across about the battle of water tank
hill. Nevertheless, Haskins and Sweeney deserve to
be in the hall of heroes if you ask me.
That is very interesting, Batteryboy.
If the Japanese made a propaganda movie using the
salt water (tall) tank with their troops throwing
grenades, then that makes me wonder if the tall tank
was actually the one the USMC sergeants threw
grenades from, notwithstanding my find of possible
pull rings on top of the short tank. Wouldn't the
Japanese have known which one it happened on? But
then maybe the taller tank was more impressive for
the camera, or the top of the short tank was damaged
too much for stage acting.
I wonder if the body recovery reports stated which
tower Sweeny's remains were found on. Miller, in a
photo caption for his 1997 USMC monograph "From
Shanghai to Corregidor: Marines in the Defense of
the Philippines", said that the short tank was where
Sweeney and Haskin were killed. That photo (the
second one at the top, which, BTW, I have also seen
elsewhere) was supplied by the Japanese 61st
Infantry Association, and I suspect that his
conclusion may have been based on information they
might have provided. His monograph has by far the
best US account I have read of the Water Tank Hill
fight. Unfortunately, I have not seen any Japanese
or Filipino accounts.
A close look at the post war photo of Water Tank
Hill reveals a shell hole in the top right of the
tall tank, which is shown on the 1986 photo taken
I am not certain what water tower did
they use in the propaganda film but they were
inspired by the actions of Haskins and Sweeney.
When Lt Lawrence and his men surrendered, they were
treated fairly well as the Japanese respected them
for their fighting abilities and for inflicting so
much casualties during their landing.
Some of the oddities of war...
Fots, thank you for verifying that
the B&W photo I posted of the fresh water ("short")
tank was indeed the one on Denver Hill. I'm sorry I
overlooked that the last two color posts were yours-
one of my "senior moments", I guess (alright Okla,
nothing meant there).
Is it possible you might know approximately how far
the fresh water tank was from the salt water tank?
Would they be, say, a grenade's throw distance
Here's why I ask. I've just finished reading the
late USMC Sergeant Otis King's account of the Water
Tank Hill battle in his privately published 1999
book, "Alamo of the Pacific". Generous with text and
maps, it rivals Miller's account in detail. Although
King manned a machine gun at Battery Point with the
3rd Batallion, 4th Marines and apparently did not
participate directly in the WTH fight, he of course
had many personal contacts and references at his
According to King, at about 0345 on May 6 Sweeney
and Haskin began their grenade assault on the
Japanese machine gun, which was inside the dried out
water TANK firing through a hole in the concrete
wall, "below the water TOWER". (Capitaization is
The two men climbed to the top of the tower "and
lobbed hand grenades down into the water tank below,
silencing the machine gun". He then recounts their
deaths in the same way as others, except that they
perished on the "tower".
So, that makes me wonder about how far apart the
fresh and salt water tanks were. It seems they were
a fair distance from each other, if I remember
Most accounts, including Miller's, seem to loosely
exchange the words "tank" and "tower", creating some
confusion. Miller, for example, says that the
"Japanese machine gun was placed in a hole in the
base of one of the water tanks", says S & H climbed
up the "water tower", and captions his photo with
"these two water tanks" while identifying the short
one as the tank they died on. Maybe the darkness
caused confusion in the minds of the few survivors
historians relied on, men who certainly had many
other serious things happening around them, and to
So, another question comes to mind, Fots. Did you
happen to notice a hole in the wall near the bottom
of the fresh water tank that a machine gun could
have fired through?
From the 1936 map, the distance
between the two water tanks is 260 feet.
There is at least one hole in the tank wall.
Honestly I was not looking for holes, there may be
more. If I remember correctly it is in the south
side and about 3ft above the ground. The Japanese
could have supported the machine gun on something to
fire out of there. Here is a photo of the hole.
Hey Guys....This is, as usual, good
provacative stuff. These "little" Corregidor
"riddles" and mysteries are never ending. I, for
one, am tickled to death about that. Cheers.
Fots, that kind of looks like this
hole, which I found in the tank in 1986. Looking at
the very bottom right of the hole, a trace of light
can be seen through the other side of the tank.
Maybe it is blocked out by that large concrete (?)
block in your photo.
Thank you for taking the time to check the distance
between the water tanks. 260 feet...nearly 87 yards.
That sounds like a long grenade throw, but then,
they may have been on top of the tall tank, which
would help. Still, to throw accurately that far at
night, and to the inside of the short tank, which
still had some of its roof left to block a grenade,
makes me wonder. But stranger things have happened.
Okla, yes it could be another one of those little
Corregidor mysteries. Even stranger, I have come
across a couple of accounts that seem to say there
were two short tanks on Denver Hill, in addition to
the tall tower. Looking above at the B&W post war
Water Tank Hill photo, I see a dark object behind
and to the left of the tower. Can't say for sure if
it's a water tank, but it doesn't strike me as
looking like the stubby short tank I saw in '86.
That couldn't possibly be, Fots, could it? I better
call it a night-
That large block in my photo is a
metal tank inside the old destroyed concrete tank.
I see no other tanks on the 1936 map but they had
more than five years (until 1942) for new
construction that is not recorded. I don’t know of
any other tanks in the area today.
Fots, I wonder when the metal tank
was installed. I'm not sure I remember it from the
1980s, but I sort of remember that pipe inside the
water tank in one of your photos...must be the
"over-fifty" syndrome, I guess.
I kind of bite my lip posting this 1986 photo,
because it's such poor quality. This is the other
side of the tall tank (salt water). The growth was
so dense it was impossible to hack it all down with
my bolo if I wanted to have time to see anything
else that day.
Only because the famous tank is gone forever and
there seems to be almost no recent time pictures of
it would I post this.
I've watched a couple of 1942 Japanese newsreels
that had brief glimpses of Water Tank Hill. What
struck me was that the Japanese took pictures of
only the tall (salt water) tank. The short (fresh
water) tank was not shown at all.
There was no hand-grenade reenacting in these
particular newsreels, just short, panning views as
the narrator spoke Japanese in the background. It
was evident that the footage was taken shortly after
the battle, because other segments showed U.S. POWs
walking around Malinta Tunnel and finally ending up
in the 92nd Garage Area.
One narrated scene that showed the tall tank lasted
about 20 seconds. Although I don't speak Japanese, I
couldn't help but wonder why the narrator would
focus on one tank only, and not the other. Maybe he
figured the height would be more impressive to a
Japanese audience. But the thought struck me that
surviving Japanese soldiers may have led him to
believe that more of the fighting occurred at the
tall tank. The tank that was bulldozed in recent
Salt water tank, Water Tank Hill. Post-battle, 1942
I'm not sure this is the same water
tower, but last night I was transcribing some
abstracts of death records and found this:
63. Sobert Richard Nuest, Ens.,
USNR, Swore on May 22, 1943, that George L.
Cook, SF2c, USN, while a prisoner of war at the
92d Garage, Corregidor Island, PI, was sent out
of the prison area on a wood gathering detail
and that this occurred on May 17, 1942; that
while in the vicinity of the water tower in the
eastern sectar of Corregidor Island Cook picked
up a hand grenade which exploded, killing him
instantly; that his body was brought to the 92d
Garage and identified by Richard Enoch Tirk,
Ens., USNR, that the foregoing facts were
related to me by Ens. Kirk and that I believe
them to be true.
Even if it is not the same water
tower, it is consistent with there having been a
grenade battle in the area and may be indicative of
the amount of duds. Sad, though that someone would
survive such fighting only to die from XO.
Johneakin, by chance have you seen
any death records on USMC Sergeants John H. Sweeny
or John E. Haskin, the two marines who were killed
throwing grenades from one of the water tanks?
Sweeney died on top of a tank, and Haskin died while
climbing the tank to resupply his friend with
grenades. According to one account Sweeney's body
was not found and recovered until 1946. I've
wondered if any surviving records would say which
tank his remains were found on.
Also, I see again that the words "water tower",
rather than "water tank", were used. On a hill where
there are two tanks, one tall and one short, it
strikes me that "tower" would apply to the taller
structure. The short tank has never seemed like a
"tower" to me. It's easier to see how Sergeant
Sweeney's remains may have gone undetected until
after the war if they were on top of the tall tank.
It's occurred to me that Sweeney and Haskin may have
climbed and thrown grenades frombothwater tanks that
night. In all the frantic confusion it appears that
some territory on the hill changed hands back and
forth several times.
That would explain some things.
Not yet, but we still have a long way
to go. Most of what I'm working on now are from the
Death March or Corregidor. Most just say I saw the
bodies of blank. But every now and then there's some
narrative. Here's one:
During the engagement with the enemy in the vicinity
of Kindley Field following the hostile landing on Ft
Mills, and at about 0200 6 May 1942 I observed Capt
Noel D. Castle, C.O., Co D, 1st Bn, 4th Rgr, walking
the Malinta Point trail at _ towards the north side
of the road. PFC Edward G. Free, USMC and I were
manning a machine gun about 20 yards away. Upon
recognizing Capt. Castle I called out, “Go back,
there is a sniper shooting this way”. Without
stopping Capt. Castle continued on. About a yard
from the enbankment on the north side of the road he
was hit by what I believe to be rifle or machine gun
bullets. I saw him fall forward and disappear from
sight over the edge of the road. Shortly after this
the enemy opened up with an artillery concentration
from Bataan and Free and I were forced to take
cover. I jumped into a nearby hole and Free ran
across the road into the draw where Capt Castle lay.
The concentration lasted maybe ten or fifteen
minutes after which each of us returned to our gun.
Free then told me that Capt. Castle was hit in the
chest and abdomen and was in a bad way. He told me
that the Captain could not move and that he had
loosened his pistol belt and other equipment. We
then moved our gun to a new position and continued
in the fight. I did not see Capt. Castle after he
fell over the edge of the road.
That's very interesting, Johneakin. I
had not read such a detailed account of his demise
before. Captain Castle was also involved in much of
the fighting at the Denver gun pits and water tanks.
Thank you for providing that account, the records of
what happened in the area that night are so sparse.
Please keep us posted on your fascinating research.
1937 USMC photo of Captain Noel Castle
Sparse yes, but not
CAPT NOEL O. CASTLE, EXPERT TEAM
SHOT WITH BOTH RIFLE AND PISTOL,
WAS KILLED LEADING THE FIRST COUNTERATTACK ON DENVER
HE IS SHOWN HERE AT THE CAMP PERRY MATCHES IN MARCH
WHEN HE WAS A MEMBER OF THE MARINE CORPS RIFLE TEAM.
Yes, EXO, thank you for including
that link. Miller's account of the Water Tank Hill
fight is probably the best that I've seen. We're
fortunate that you made it available here. Another
good reference is "Alamo of the Pacific", by the
late Otis King (Sgt., USMC).
I spend a fair amount of
time ensuring that introductory articles such as by
J. Michael Miller are readily available to access
via a subject menu system. Sure, these things are
available elsewhere on the internet, in different
forms, but people don't always know what keywords to
look for beyond the bleedingly obvious ones. Nor
will they bother to spend the time looking for
anything requiring esoteric keywords. (Hence the
need for introductory articles pitched to junior
high-school levels.) Similarly, they may be able to
find one or two images, but not a concentrated
source of them.
COL SATO CONFERS WITH HIS STAFF
DURING THE FIGHTING FOR DENVER BATTERY HILL.
THE ABSENCE OF AN AMMUNITION RESUPPLY THREATENED THE
SUCCESS OF HIS LANDING.
I suspect that there are vast tracts of the
Corregidor website that see little action, and hence
few know what's available, even the cognizenti.
The site is now so big, I regularly find pages which
I had forgotten entirely about.
I do dream that people who see a spot on a page
where an image or story should go would submit that
image / story for inclusion. Silly me!
Yes, EXO, it is a vast website. Every
week or so I search it and find things I've not seen
before. I tip my hat to you, it's at the very top of
the WW2 websites.
Hey Chad...I certainly echo you
statement. There would be a huge void in my day (and
most evenings) if this site disappeared. EXO does
one heck of a job here and is to be commended. Fots
and I joke about being "hooked", I, being stateside
with no hope of ever visiting the PI, am hopelessly
dependent on EXO and his splendid efforts. Wife is
of the opinion that I spend too much time "prowling
the Philippines" via this forum/website. She is
probably right on target, but I told her that this
is one little enjoyment this old goat ain't gonna
give up. So there old woman. Stuff it!!!! Cheers.
Looking at these photos of the salt
water (tall) tank, I noticed what could be a smaller
structure nearby that does not seem to resemble the
fresh water (short) tank. As far as I know there was
not a third structure near the two tanks on Water
Tank Hill. The tanks were 260 feet apart, as noted
in an earlier post. I do not have the digital 1936
or 1932 maps yet, only a small and very faded 18"x
8" copy of the '36 map which I got from a SeaBee in
1987, and it does not appear to show a third
Maybe the irregular top of the small structure in
the post-war photo is just the short tank surrounded
by tree tops. But what seems to be a structure in
the 1942 photo almost looks like it has two square
openings, and a top that is not flat.
The other possibility is that I've been looking at
these old photos so much that my eyesight has gone
Water Tank Hill, February 1945
Water Tank Hill, 1942
Johneakin and all, I've found a
discrepancy in the reported first name of USMC
Both Frank Hough's official "History of U.S. Marine
Corps Operations in World War 2, Volume 1, Pearl
Harbor to Guadalcanal" and the Belote brothers'
"Corregidor, Saga of a Fortress", call him Sergeant
Major John H. Sweeney. Otis King, writing in "Alamo
of the Pacific", refers to him as John.
However, while searching a list of names today on
the American Battle Monuments Commissions website I
found him listed as:
Thomas Frank Sweeney
Sergeant Major, U.S. Marine Corps
Service # 208378
Entered the Service from: Illinois
Died 6 May 42
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Awards: Purple Heart
I then checked with the Water Tank Hill account
written by Senior Archivist J. Michael Miller of the
Marine Corps Research Center at Quantico (EXO has
furnished a link above, if you don't have the
monograph). Miller refers to him as Sergeant Major
Thomas F. Sweeney.
I also learned that NARA has a Navy Department file
on a "Sergeant Major Thomas F. Sweeney, USMC.
Status: KIA" but I was not able to locate it, if
it's even on line.
Finally, I found a brief entry at the WW2 Memorial
Thomas Franklin Sweeney
U.S. Marine Corps
Hometown: Rockford, Illinois
Honored by: Ms. Barbara Sakkinen, Niece
Activity During World War Two: Deceased May 6, 1942,
Corregidor. Awarded Purple Heart
So, I would bet that his niece, the ABMC, and Mr.
Miller are correct and that the older accounts
mistakenly called him John, possibly due to Hough's
I've also found that USMC Quartermaster Sergeant
John E. Haskin of Collingdale, Pennsylvania, was
posthumously awarded the Silver Star in 1946 for
"gallantry in action at Corregidor, Philippine
Islands, May 5, 1942".