While the Japanese were extending their control over Mindanao and the islands of the Visayas they were making final preparations to take Corregidor and bring to an end the long campaign in the Philippines. With the southern tip of Bataan in their possession they could now emplace artillery on the heights of the Mariveles Mountains and along the shore near Cabcaben, only two miles across the channel from Corregidor.
Once the antiaircraft batteries had been knocked out by the artillery, their aircraft would be able to fly low over the island and drop their bombs with greater accuracy than had been possible before, Such an aerial artillery bombardment, the Japanese believed, would result in the destruction of the formidable defenses of the Gibraltar of the East and prepare the way for a landing.
The most optimistic American estimates, once Bataan had fallen, did not give Corregidor much chance of holding out long against a determined Japanese effort to take the island. There was only enough food to last the Americans and Filipinos from six to eight weeks at most. At the end of that time, even if the Japanese did not attack, the garrison would have to surrender. Despite General Wainwright’s brave pledge “to hold my present position with God’s help until a major diversion releases the pressure on us here,” it was clear that Corregidor was doomed. “The life of this fortress,” predicted MacArthur after the fall of Bataan, “is definitely limited and its destruction certain unless sea communication can be restored.” If this could not be accomplished, he told the Chief of Staff, “you must be prepared for the fall of the harbor defenses.”
The Japanese Plan
General MacArthur’s view was fully shared by General Homma. With the surrender of Bataan he was free to begin the final phase of his four-month-Iong campaign to defeat the combined American and Philippine army. That such an offensive would have to be made was evident almost immediately. The Americans and Filipinos on Corregidor showed no disposition to surrender with the Bataan garrison; indeed, they continued to resist with grim tenacity. “Though almost all enemy resistance on Bataan peninsula collapsed by April 9th,” the Japanese reported regretfully, “the enemy in the Corregidor Fortress did not abandon its will to fight. Therefore the Army decided to attack …. “
Preliminary Plans and Preparations
Plans for the assault against Corregidor began to take shape on 9 April, but it was not until the end of the month that these plans assumed final form. Troops, landing boats, and equipment had to be assembled. Provision had to be made for the administration of the area already occupied and for the mop-up of isolated centers of resistance.
The men who had fought on Bataan had to be rested, re-equipped, and trained for amphibious operations. But General Homma did not intend to waste any time. While these necessary measures were being taken, the air and artillery attacks against Corregidor would be intensified, and its defenses knocked out to prepare the way for the landing to come.
The first major question to be decided was the selection of the unit to make the assault Before 9 April it had been generally understood by the 14th Army staff and by some of the senior commanders on Bataan that, if operations against Corregidor proved necessary, the Nagano Detachment would make the attack. “Lieutenant General Homma, though informally, often declared this,” wrote Colonel Motohiko Yoshida, 4th Division chief of staff, “even before the commencement of the attack on Bataan.” It was with considerable surprise, therefore, that the 4th Division staff learned unofficially from Colonel Motoo Nakayama, Homma’s senior operations officer, on 9 April, that their division had been chosen instead. That day 14th Army orders directed the 4th Division to advance toward Mariveles and, after routing the enemy to its front, “make preparations to land on Corregidor Island.” This was the first time, asserted Yoshida, that the division staff “began to deliberate on the matter.”
While the 4th Division staff was deliberating “on the matter,” 14th Army, in a series of orders issued between 9 and 13 April, outlined the basic plan and defined for its major elements their role in the forthcoming campaign. The 4th Division was officially designated as the assault unit and was reinforced with the 7th Tank Regiment and additional artillery taken from the 16th Division. It was ordered to assemble its main force in the area north of Cabcaben and there make preparations for the coming attack while taking all precautions to insure secrecy and provide defense against artillery fire from Corregidor. The division was to send patrols to Cabcaben and along the coast to the south to reconnoiter “the enemy situation and topography,” and to train for landing operations, removal of beach obstacles, and climbing cliffs such as would be found at the target.
To the 16th Division Homma assigned the mission of executing a feint attack against El Fraile and Carabao Islands from the Cavite shore. Before leaving for southern Luzon, General Morioka was to turn over to the 4th Division one attached battalion of mountain artillery; to Army artillery one attached battery of 150-mm. howitzers and the 22nd Field Artillery Regiment, less elements; and to Army one regiment to guard the west coast of Bataan. The 65th Brigade and the Nagano Detachment were ordered to north and central Luzon for garrison duty; they would have no part in the operations against Corregidor.
The air force and the Army artillery were given a major role in the preliminary stages of the projected campaign. The 22nd Air Brigade was to suspend large-scale bombing operations for a two-week period in order to repair its planes and make ready for the intensive bombardment which would precede the landings. Army air operations during these weeks would consist of daily reconnaissance missions over Corregidor and the adjoining islands and harassing raids to “demoralize enemy troop on Corregidor Island and shell warships and ships in the area.” Navy land-based, twin-engine bombers would continue to bomb Corregidor during this period.
General Kitajima’s 14th Army artillery had perhaps the most important task, after the infantry, in the reduction of Corregidor. It was to neutralize the enemy’s guns, destroy the installations on the island, sink vessels in the bay, and “simultaneously cooperate in the landing operations.” The first objectives were to be the antiaircraft guns, short-range batteries, and the “flank defenses” at each end of the island. Kitajima was to bring all his guns to southern Bataan, to the vicinity of Cabcaben and the high ground just north of Mariveles, with the greatest secrecy. There the guns were to be dispersed and placed under the ample concealment provided by the jungle for protection against counterbattery fire. Provision would also be made, 14th Army directed, for diversionary fire to deceive the enemy as to the time and place of landing. To support the 16th Division in its feint attack against EL Fraile and Carabao, one battery of heavy guns located near Ternate was ordered to cooperate with the division and shell these islands to heighten the impression of an attack from the Cavite shore.
Kitajima received strong reinforcements for the operation. Between 9 and 13 April 14th Army assigned to him additional batteries of 150- and 105-mm. howitzers, most of the 22nd Field Artillery Regiment, and, somewhat later, the 4th Division’s artillery regiment. When the full-scale bombardment of Corregidor began, Kitajima had under his command eighteen batteries, a balloon company, an artillery intelligence regiment, and a company of prime movers. The eighteen batteries consisted of 116 field pieces, ranging in size from 75-mm. guns to 240-mm. howitzers. In detail, this armament included: A balloon company consisted of about 150 men, 25 vehicles, and 1 observation balloon. The artillery intelligence regiment was a sound and flash unit, consisting of a headquarters group, a survey unit, a plotting unit with nine plotting stations and a sound detector unit with six listening posts. The regiment was commanded by a lieutenant colonel and had about 675 men. Handbook of Japanese Military Forces.
In drawing up final plans for the assault, General Homma encountered two serious problems, neither of which had apparently been anticipated. The first of these was to bring into Manila Bay the landing craft required to transport the 4th Division to Corregidor and to protect the invasion force during the shore-to-shore movement. The bulk of 14th Army’s craft was located in Lingayen Gulf or at Olongapo on the Subic Bay (west) side of Bataan. “I had to bring down the landing boats from Lingayen,” Homma later explained, “but it could not be done by land, so they must come by sea.” To get them into Manila Bay would require a hazardous journey through the North Channel under the guns of Corregidor and within striking distance of the PT boats. During daylight boats in the channel could be plainly seen from Corregidor; at night, if there were many boats, the noise of their engines would be sure to be heard.
While 14th Army was studying the problem of assembling its landing craft in Manila Bay, the Navy undertook to send two of its small boats through the North Channel between Corregidor and Mariveles in broad daylight. They got as far as Mariveles when the guns on Corregidor opened fire. Badly damaged, they fled to safer waters. The Navy’s effort, which Homma called “very indiscreet,” alerted the Americans to the Japanese plan and forced the Japanese to be very cautious about bringing the Army’s landing boats through the channel.
On 14 April the Army conducted its own test to determine whether small boats could enter Manila Bay through North Channel. The trial run was made at night with about a half -dozen vessels and was accompanied by air and artillery attacks to drown out the noise of the engines and divert the attention of the Corregidor garrison. The test proved successful and Homma decided to bring the bulk of the small craft at Lingayen, Nasugbu, and Olongapo into Manila Bay and thence to Cavite to be outfitted and trained. The next day he ordered the 21st Independent Engineer Regiment, based at Manila and Olongapo, to supervise the transfer of the landing boats into the bay. The 4th Division, Arm;, artillery, and the 22nd Air Brigade were to cover the movement.
Starting on the night of the 15th, the small boats began to enter Manila Bay. During the next week about forty landing barges came in by sea and twenty more of a smaller type were transported overland from Olongapo to Orani on the Manila Bay side of Bataan. Armored boats, gunboats, and fishing boats also slipped through the channel and made their way to Cavite. But the operation was a slow one since only a small number of boats could get through each night, and it was not until early May that all the craft needed had been assembled.
The second major problem that faced the planners-and for a time placed the entire operation in jeopardy-was the outbreak of malaria in the 4th Division. The shortage of medical supplies and food had plagued General Homma throughout the campaign, and even before the 3 April attack he had had of Bataan, when the troops entered the low, malaria-infested river valleys in the southern part of the peninsula, the sick rate rose sharply. Of the 30,600 patients in Japanese hospitals during the month of April, 28,000 were malaria victims. The 4th Division was hardest hit, and when, about the middle of April, one of its regiments reported for training in amphibious operations it numbered only 250 men. At one time the strength of the division dropped to one third of normal. General Homma importuned his superiors for quinine and additional hospital facilities and finally received 300,000 quinine tablets by air at the end of the month. With this supply the malaria epidemic was brought under control just in time to meet the scheduled date for the assault.
By 17 April the preliminary phase of the planning had been completed, ten days later the plan itself was ready, and on 28 April 14th Army published the field order for the attack. It was not until 2 May that the date for the assault was finally released to the troops.
The delay in releasing the date of the attack was due in part to security. But even if Homma had wished, he could not have fixed the time much earlier. First, there had been difficulty in assembling the landing craft, and then had come the outbreak of malaria in the 4th Division. Despite pressure from Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo and despite his own desire for an early end to the campaign, Homma had been forced to defer the attack several times.
On 9 April he had been optimistic and boasted to Colonel Collier, the only American officer to whom he spoke after the surrender, that he would have Corregidor “within a week.” He soon revised this estimate and set his sights first on 25 and then 27 April. But it was not until the malaria epidemic had been checked and the required number of landing craft assembled in Manila Bay that Homma could fix with confidence the date for the start of operations. That time did not come until the beginning of May and it was then that 14th Army designated 5 May as the X Day of the plans published earlier.
In planning for the assault against Corregidor, the Japanese had the advantage of a precise and detailed knowledge of the target, gained possibly from prisoners of war. They knew the designation and strength of the four artillery regiments in the harbor defense, the position and armament of all but two of the major seacoast batteries, as well as the location of most of the smaller guns and of all important installations. They had considerable information on the island’s water supply, communications system, road and rail nets, power plants, storage areas, and barracks. Their maps were almost as detailed as those used by the Americans.
Information on the infantry defenses of the island was not as detailed and accurate as that on the artillery. In their estimates the Japanese assumed the existence of an infantry defense in depth. In front of the beach obstacles they believed they would encounter the first line, protected on the flanks by light artillery. The main line they placed behind the obstacles, with a third line, heavily protected with artillery and machine guns “to the rear.” This last line, the Japanese noted, would be defended “at all cost.”
Though their intelligence about Corregidor was amazingly full and correct, the Japanese had little information about Malinta Tunnel. They knew of its existence, and during the campaign acquired much vague information about it. The more they heard about it, the more obsessed they became with the entire subject of tunnels.
Before the Bataan campaign was over, many Japanese seem to have become convinced that the Americans had constructed a tunnel from Corregidor to Bataan. They questioned officers captured on Bataan in an effort to find the secret entrance on the Bataan side and refused to believe their captives, who insistently denied the existence of such a tunnel. It was with reluctance that they abandoned the notion of a secret tunnel.
The plan finally evolved for the landings called for a closely coordinated artillery-air preparation, followed by “a sudden blow” consisting of two separate amphibious infantry-tank assaults made on successive nights at opposite ends of the island by the 4th Division. Both forces would drive inland until they joined at a point just west of the narrow neck of the tadpole. If all went well, Corregidor would be in Japanese hands on the second day of the attack, after which the 4th Division would occupy Caballo. El Fraile and Carabao Islands would be seized next, if necessary by elements of the 16th Division from Cavite.
The tactical scheme had not been settled without debate. The 14th Army planners had first contemplated only one landing on Corregidor, on the head of the tadpole, and had relayed this decision to the 4th Division staff. Reconnaissance by the division soon disclosed that the area selected faced the precipitous cliffs which dropped from Topside to the water’s edge. A landing here would be difficult and dangerous, and the division staff argued that the initial landing should be made by a small force along the tail of the island where the ground was low and flat. Once a foothold was secured, then the main force could land on the head. Though two landings would create difficulties, the division staff felt that these would be offset by the early seizure of a beachhead and the support the main force would have from the initial landing party. The army planners finally agreed to this solution, and it became a part of the final plan. For the operation 14th Army attached to Kitano’s 4th Division two sea operation units, each consisting of an independent engineer regiment with attached elements.
The 1st Sea Operation Unit (23rd Independent Engineer Regiment) was to transport the assault force and to assist in the landing. It numbered about 110 small boats of various types, equipped with heavy machine guns. The 2nd Sea Operation Unit, whose mission was to protect the amphibious force during the shore-to-shore movement and during the landing, was composed of most of the 21st Independent Engineer Regiment, elements of the 3rd Sea Operation Unit, almost two battalions of light artillery, an antitank company and an antiaircraft artillery section. It was organized into eleven gunboat units, each consisting of two to four gunboats or fishing boats equipped with machine guns, automatic guns, and light artillery.
While the 4th Division and its attached elements were preparing for the assault, the artillery would continue the bombardment begun on 10 April. Except for counterbattery fire and “inevitable operations,” artillery action during the month of April was to be kept at a minimum in order to conserve ammunition. Thereafter, until the landings, all the guns in 14th Army artillery would be brought to bear against Corregidor. The seacoast batteries still in operation on Corregidor would be “annihilated,” antiaircraft guns and searchlights knocked out, and defensive installations, short-range cannons, and beach obstacles in the landing areas demolished.
Throughout the entire period of preparation the fire of the artillery was to be coordinated with air operations. During April only one squadron of Army bombers and some Navy land-based bombers would attack Corregidor, concentrating on key objectives such as antiaircraft and artillery positions. Other aircraft would fly reconnaissance missions over Manila Bay and the fortified islands during this period to secure information about the enemy and to gather target data for the artillery. After 29 April the rest of the 22nd Air Brigade would join in the attack against the island and enemy shipping, giving special attention to targets on the north shore, from Cavalry to Morrison Points.
In the belief that the Corregidor garrison might surrender during the course of the operation, 14th Army issued detailed instructions “for the reception of truce-flag bearers.” No unit was to receive the bearer of a flag of truce unless he represented the commander of the American and Filipino forces. If that officer “has already escaped,” then the bearer must represent the senior commander on Corregidor. The appearance of an emissary carrying a white flag was to be reported immediately to 14th Army, which would conduct the negotiation for surrender. All units were cautioned that the arrival of an emissary from the American commander with a flag of truce would not in itself mean the termination of hostilities. “Until a definite order is issued,” 14th Army declared, “the attack will be continued.”
14th Army also took every precaution to conceal its intentions from the Americans on Corregidor. All units were enjoined time and again to observe the greatest secrecy, and the 4th Division and Army artillery were ordered to “strictly avoid the main road” on Bataan during the hours of daylight. To prevent leaks through the Filipino population, 14th Army forbade communication between civilians and military personnel and in those areas where the assault troops were most active moved the inhabitants out altogether.
For a time 14th Army attempted to create the impression that the attack on Corregidor had been abandoned. The 16th Division was ordered to suspend its open preparations for the feint landing, but “to continue secretly to prepare for the attack.” Artillery operations were limited to occasional shelling, and propaganda issued by the Army headquarters avoided mention of an attack and stressed the point that the problem of Corregidor would be solved in time by “nothing more than blockade.”
Meanwhile, the Japanese “pretended to devote” themselves to military administration and mopping-up operations. To strengthen this impression, Homma made a grand entry into Manila to celebrate the emperor’s birthday on 29 April “as gayly and grandly as possible.” After the ceremonies he left the capital announcing that he was going to Mindanao to assume command of operations there. In reality he and his staff returned to 14th Army headquarters at Balanga where final preparations for the invasion of Corregidor were being made.
The American Defenses
When Bataan fell the men on Corregidor knew that their days were numbered. With the Japanese artillery literally aiming down their throats, they could have no illusions about the future. But there was no noticeable decline of morale once it was made clear that the island would not be surrendered without a fight. One battery commander called his men together and talked with them realistically about their situation and their prospects. “The men all swore,” wrote a staff sergeant, “that the enemy would have to come and take Morrison Hill [the battery location] if they wanted it.” This feeling seems to have been general throughout the command and was expressed by Wainwright when he wrote to President Roosevelt, “Our flag still flies on this beleaguered island fortress.” “I meant to see,” he added later, “that it kept flying.” All that he or anyone else could do was to prepare for the inevitable attack with the determination to make it as costly as possible to the enemy.
Until the evacuation of Manila at the end of December, local defense of the island had been provided by a small number of artillerymen, who performed this task in addition to their other duties. Such an arrangement had not permitted an effective defense or left time for the construction of strongly fortified positions. This deficiency had been recognized but it was not until Admiral Hart made the 4th Marine Regiment available on 24 December that steps were taken to correct the weaknesses of Corregidor’s defenses.
By chance, Colonel Samuel L. Howard, commander of the 4th Marines, was in Manila when Hart turned the regiment over to the Army “for tactical employment.” He reported immediately to General MacArthur and then to General Sutherland who gave him his orders. They were brief and to the point: “Proceed to Corregidor and take over the beach defenses of that island.” Howard thereupon returned to his regiment at Olongapo to prepare for the move. Within a week the entire regiment had reached Corregidor and on 29 December Colonel Howard was designated commanding officer of the beach defenses.
The 4th Marine Regiment, which had arrived from Shanghai only a month earlier, had been considerably reinforced since the start of the war. The 766 marines who had escaped from China had been organized into a two-battalion regiment in which each battalion consisted of only one machine gun company and two rifle companies. The companies, moreover, had only two of their platoons. When war came, the regiment had absorbed the Marine detachment of the Olongapo naval station and had organized a third platoon in the rifle companies as well as two additional companies from other Marine detachments in the Islands. On reaching Corregidor the regiment gained enough men to form a 3rd Battalion by absorbing the marines who had formerly been stationed at Cavite. The strength of the regiment (less detachments) now totaled 66 officers and 1,365 enlisted men, substantially the same strength it had at the end of the campaign. It carried with it when it moved to Corregidor a 6-month supply of rations for 2,000 men, more than ten units of fire for all weapons, a two-year supply of clothing, and sufficient medicine and equipment for a 100-bed hospital.
The arrival of the marines filled a serious gap in Corregidor’s defenses. There had never been enough men on the island to man the large seacoast guns, the antiaircraft defenses, and the beaches as well. Before the war barbed wire had stretched along those beaches which offered possible landing sites, and pillboxes had been erected deep in the ravines leading to Topside and Middleside. But, as Colonel Howard observed in his initial reconnaissance, much remained to be done to guard against an enemy landing.
When Howard assumed command of Corregidor’s beach defense the island was already organized into three sectors, and he deployed his regiment accordingly. In the East Sector, which stretched from the tip of the tail to the narrow neck and included Malinta Tunnel, he placed his 1st Battalion.
The 3rd Battalion took over responsibility for the area to the west, the Middle Sector, which included most of the barracks and installations on Topside and Middleside. The western end of the island was designated the West Sector and its defense assigned to the 2nd Battalion. In reserve Howard kept the headquarters and service company.
As soon as the marines reached their assigned positions at the end of December they began to improve existing defenses and to prepare new ones. Some work had already been done in the West and Middle Sectors, but, except for a final defense line on the east side of Malinta Hill, there were no defenses east of Malinta Tunnel. The marines turned to with vigor and in the next three months laid miles of barbed wire-twenty-one miles of wire were laid in the East Sector alone-planted land mines, dug tank traps, trenches, and tunnels, cleared fields of fire, built gun emplacements, set up interior and switch positions, and established final defense lines in each sector.
As more men reached the island they were assigned to Colonel Howard’s beach defenses and by the middle of April, after the influx from Bataan, he had under his command about 4,000 men of whom only 1,352 were marines. The rest came from the Navy which contributed 895 men, the Philippine Army (929) men, and the U.S. Army. This group constituted a heterogeneous force of doubtful strength. It included Filipino messboys, ground crews of the Philippine Army Air Force, survivors of the submarine tender Canopus, and Scout artillerymen. Few of these men had had any infantry training. Those who had come from Bataan had to be completely outfitted and equipped and were in such “deplorable” physical condition as to be “unfit for combat duty.”
With the ragged and weakened refugees from Bataan Colonel Howard fleshed out the Marine force in each sector. The East Sector, which had consisted of less than 400 men from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, was brought up to a strength of 1,115.
Strength of the Middle Sector where the 500 men of the 3rd Battalion were stationed, was brought up to the same total by the addition of Army and Navy personnel. The 2nd Battalion in the West Sector was reinforced with almost 600 men, for a total of 915. No provision was made to shift any of the troops to a threatened area, so that if a landing came at one point it would have to be met by the troops in that sector.
The reserve, which had formerly consisted of the Headquarters and Service Company (300 men), was considerably strengthened by the addition of a provisional 4th Battalion in the Marine regiment. This battalion, organized on 10 April with lettered companies Q, R, S, and T, was composed largely of Navy enlisted men with a sprinkling of soldiers from Bataan. The commander was a Marine Major and the officers were drawn from both services.
Most of the 500 sailors in the battalion had special skills, years of service and high ratings, but none knew even the fundamentals of infantry fighting. They were mature and serious, however, and learned quickly. Training facilities were limited and equipment meager but the incentive was great. The men spent their days training; their nights attending lectures. “The chips were down,” wrote one of their officers, “and there was no horseplay.”
In addition to the 4,000 men assigned to beach defense, Colonel Howard could count on the use of practically all troops on the island in the event of an emergency. A plan was prepared and approved which provided for the fonnation of two reduced battalions manned by personnel from the seacoast defenses, and for the utilization of quartennaster, engineer, military police, and “all other available personnel” when the “beach defense situation” became serious. Even civilians were assigned to defense sectors.
Artillery support for the men on beach defense was provided by one 155-mm., twenty-three 75-mm., and two naval guns of 3-inch caliber. For use against night landings Howard had eleven searchlights, six of which were placed in the East Sector, guarding Malinta Tunnel and the approaches from Bataan. To that sector he also assigned ten of the 75-mm. guns, some of them old British models. The men in the Middle Sector, which included the docks and the installations on Topside and Middleside, had the support of the single 155-mm. gun, seven of the 75’s, one 3-incher, and three searchlights. The West Sector was less heavily defended than the others and had only four 75’s and one naval gun.
Seacoast and antiaircraft defenses on Corregidor were still intact. Though the enemy air attacks during the past three months had destroyed most of the wooden buildings and left deep scars everywhere on the island, they had not wrought serious damage to the coastal batteries or to the 3-inch antiaircraft guns. Ordnance magazines with four feet of reinforced concrete had withstood even direct hits; lighter concrete structures had been damaged but rarely demolished. “After the fall of Bataan,” wrote one officer, “we had more artillery in operation than we had had at the start of the war.” Forts Drum and Frank, which had been subjected to frequent artillery bombardment by the Japanese along the Cavite shore, had not fared as well. Corregidor, too, would soon feel the destructive effects of massed artillery fire which in one day could inflict more damage than three months of air attacks.
The Condition of the Troops
The condition of the troops was not yet desperate. Morale was still high and most men thought they could give a good account of themselves if the Japanese should attempt to take the island by assault Some even believed they had an excellent chance to beat off an attack. “The marines can’t see how the Japs can take Corregidor,” wrote an artilleryman. “I hardly can either!” The men talked about the possibility of reinforcement, about food, liquor, and women” the things that soldiers have always talked about-but never,” wrote a marine, “about the hopelessness of our position. Never once did I hear anybody despair.”
The health of the command was generally good. The casualties from the bombings had not been severe and the effects of a limited diet were not yet apparent. Mild respiratory diseases caused by confinement in the damp, dust-laden tunnel were the most frequent reasons for hospitalization. Diarrhea and food poisoning were fairly common, but dysentery and malaria, the twin scourges of Bataan, were rare on Corregidor. Hospital facilities in the tunnel, though not ideal, were far superior to those on Bataan and there was an ample supply of drugs for the small number of patients.
Malinta Tunnel was still the focus of all activity on Corregidor and became after 9 April even more crowded and hectic than before. A newcomer from Bataan, Captain John McM. Gulick, described it as “a gigantic beehive” over which neon lights “cast their bluish glow.” Along its sides the crates were piled higher than ever and the double and triple deck bunks were more numerous; overhead was a maze of wires, pipes, and ducts. The number of men in the tunnel had increased and a steady stream, which Captain Gulick described as “dense crowds,” moved up and down the main axis and into the many laterals on various errands. The dust was thicker than ever, the odors more pronounced and disagreeable, the vermin more numerous, and the hum of the auxiliary diesel power plants and ventilators more penetrating. Everywhere were “cryptic initial signs” describing the activity of each cluster of desks. The ambulance siren sounded more often now but a hush still fell over the tunnel when a jeep carrying a wounded man drove through.
Life In Malinta Tunnel
The power plant on the island had been hit occasionally during the aerial bombardment but the Japanese had not made any systematic effort to destroy the plant itself or the power lines that led to the cold-storage plant and the water pumps that kept the reservoir filled. There had been some damage, and the danger of a complete breakdown in the power system as a source of constant concern. But there was still enough fuel for the portable diesel engines in the tunnel to last at least until the end of June.
Corregidor’s water supply, because it was dependent upon the power plant, was perhaps the most vulnerable point of Corregidor’s defense. Even before the surrender of Bataan there had been frequent periods when water was not available because of power failures or damage to the pumps. When the water lines were damaged, water was distributed at various points on the island and each unit sent its own trucks for the day’s supply. The water was carried in 12-inch powder cans, two by five and a half feet, ideal for storage but heavy when full and difficult to handle. The water crews normally made the trip at night over the crater-filled roads to the distribution points. There they might have to wait for hours to draw their supply. “It was a ticklish job.”
By the beginning of April the supply of water had become a real problem. On the 2nd of the month Colonel Bunker noted in his diary that “our water situation is getting critical,” and on the 3rd, in anticipation of the fall of Bataan, all units were directed to lay in a reserve supply. At that time there was in the reservoirs a total of 3,000,000 gallons, but that would not last long if the pumps or power plant failed.
The men on Corregidor ate two meals a day. The morning meal, prepared the night before and served before daylight, usually consisted of toast and coffee, when there was coffee, and occasionally a piece of bacon or sausage. Supper was served after dark, about 2000, and consisted of salmon, canned vegetables, and rice pudding. Sometimes there was fresh beef or stew. Most units were able to serve half a sandwich and a cup of hot beverage or soup during the noon hour, but many men kept pieces of bread in their pocket to gnaw on during the long interval between meals.
The ration, though adequate to maintain health, did not provide sufficient bulk to satisfy the appetite. Men no longer had the “comfortably full” feeling provided by the peacetime ration, and missed certain foods such as sugar, canned milk, coffee, and canned or dried fruits, which were by now extremely scarce. Rice had become an increasingly important part of the ration and, though it was not favored by the Americans, it did provide bulk in the diet. Fortunately there were always enough other foods on hand to add flavor and variety to the rice dishes. But the American soldiers never became fond of rice and complained frequently. “This rice diet fills you up temporarily,” wrote Colonel Bunker, “but it doesn’t stick to your ribs.”
The air attacks during the preceding three months had disrupted the normal distribution of rations from time to time and occasionally a bomb had hit a kitchen, with tragic loss for the men who had to miss a
meal or lose a particularly prized item on the menu. One battery lost its fruit jello in this way. “The fruit in the dessert,” mourned the battery commander, “represented the saving of canned fruit for a couple of weeks and it was the pride of the mess sergeant.” The cold-storage plant was damaged during the air attack of 28 March and the next day all units received unexpectedly large issues of fresh meat and then none at all until the refrigerators were repaired. Finally, about 3 April, in expectation of heavier air and artillery attacks, all units received additional allowances of food, to be stored in their kitchens. But even during the heaviest bombardments there was no loss of food, which was safely stored under guard in Malinta Tunnel and in the cold-storage plant.
As on Bataan, there was a strong feeling among the troops on beach defense and at gun positions that those close to the source of supply in the tunnel enjoyed better meals than they. This belief was probably unfounded but it was true that until the end of March naval personnel received foods which were not available to Army troops.
The Navy, though it had cut the ration and limited its men to two meals a day, maintained its own separate food stores and issued a larger and more varied ration than that provided by the Army. Long after coffee, sugar, jam, and canned fruit had disappeared from the Army menu they were still available in the Navy messes. When General Wainwright arrived on Corregidor to assume command on 21 March he ordered the Navy to place its stores in the common pool, and thereafter the sailors received the same ration as the soldiers.
Despite the shortages there was never any real danger of starvation on Corregidor. The quantity of food on hand when Bataan fell was sufficient to last about ten weeks more. This food had been forehandedly laid aside early in the campaign in the expectation that if and when Bataan was lost the Philippine Division would make its final stand on Corregidor. To provide for this contingency MacArthur, on 24 January, had ordered General Moore, the Harbor Defenses commander, to maintain a reserve large enough to feed 20,000 men-twice the number then on the island-on half rations until 30 June. Before he left for Australia, he cautioned Moore not to permit “any encroachments” against this reserve.
When Wainwright came to Corregidor on 21 March to assume command of USFIP he found that food was more plentiful and the men better fed than on Bataan. With the plight of the emaciated troops there still fresh in his mind, he requested permission from MacArthur to reduce the carefully hoarded reserves by an amount equal to a month’s half rations for the planned garrison of 20,000 men. Approval was granted at the beginning of April and Wainwright was able to send additional food to Bataan during the last days of the battle. It was “little more than a crumb,” he wrote later, but it reduced Corregidor reserves “to a point where I figured . . . that our 11,000 defenders would consume it all by June 20, 1942, on less than half rations.” It was to be more than enough.
SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)