Hardly had the Bataan garrison surrendered than those Japanese batteries that had reached Cabcaben opened fire on Corregidor to begin the final twenty-seven-day siege of the island. The intermittent air attacks of the preceding three months paled into insignificance beside the massed artillery from Bataan. “One day’s shelling,” remarked one officer, “did more damage than all the bombing put together.” Areas that had been heavily wooded were entirely denuded. In some places not “a stick, not a leaf” was left. Trees, “once so dense . . .that they shut out the sun,” were shot away or burned, leaving only charred stumps. Deep craters, empty shell cases, and huge fragments of concrete pockmarked the landscape.
The beach defenses were demolished, the huge seacoast guns silenced, and the antiaircraft batteries reduced to impotence during these twenty-seven days. At the end of the bombardment the island was literally a shambles, a “moving picture version of No Man’s Land in World War I.”
The Preliminary Bombardment
On 9 April the first Japanese artillery, a 75-mm. gun battery, reached Cabcaben. In plain sight of the Americans on Corregidor, the battery opened fire, marking what Colonel Bunker, commander of the Seaward Defenses, called “a crucial point in our operations-a milestone.” This first attack was promptly answered by the 155-mm. guns of Battery Kysor located on the north shore of Corregidor. Thereafter, on orders from General Wainwright who feared American shells would fall on the hospitals, civilian camps, and friendly troops in southern Bataan, the Corregidor batteries were prohibited from firing on the peninsula. This order remained in effect until 12 April when counterbattery fire against located enemy targets was authorized.
Japanese aircraft, lacking targets on Bataan, also turned their attention to Corregidor on the 9th. At about the same time that the 75-mm. guns opened up from Cabcaben, high-flying bombers made their first attack on the island since the end of March. Between 1630 and 2030, the 22nd Air Brigade sent 44 light and 35 heavy bombers plus 20 Navy twin-engine bombers against Corregidor, with results which the Japanese described as “very successful and effective.” Actually this bombardment was no more effective than earlier bombings, but one lucky hit landed among the cables controlling the mine field in the bay. Until the cables were repaired “practically the whole mine field [was] out.” Fortunately the Japanese were not aware of the damage they had wrought.
During the days that followed the Japanese brought up their heavier guns in preparation for the more intense bombardment to follow. General Kitajima, 14th Army artillery officer, took every precaution to insure the most effective use of the eighteen batteries under his command. He divided the target area into three zones, corresponding roughly to the beach defense sectors, and assigned a specific zone to each battery. Careful tests were made to insure the accuracy of each piece and all targets were enclosed by bracket fire. The balloon company moved from Abucay to the heights of Mariveles where it could observe fire on Corregidor. At the first sight of the balloon the Americans christened it Peeping Tom.
The intelligence regiment was also brought south and by the 13th had set up its flash and sound equipment. For the Japanese artillery the conditions were almost ideal. By 12 April many of the Japanese batteries were in position and at 0600 that day the bombardment of Corregidor began in earnest. Most of the fire came from 75-mm. and 105-mm. guns; the 150-mm. guns did not get into action on a large scale until a few days later. On the 12th, also, the batteries on Cavite opened fire on Corregidor, while Japanese aircraft made nine separate attacks against the island. Counterbattery fire, the prohibition against which had been partially lifted that day, only brought down an answering barrage from the enemy. It was, wrote Colonel Bunker, “a rough day all day.”
During the next week, when the 150-mm. howitzers joined the attack, the tempo of the Japanese bombardment increased steadily. For the first time the armament of the island received heavy damage. The first guns to be put out of action were the seacoast guns on the north shore facing Bataan and visible to the Japanese. By the 14th three 155-mm. gun batteries, each with two guns, and one 3-inch battery of four guns had been destroyed. The vulnerable directors and height finders on Topside were badly damaged, too, but the operators were able to keep at least one in operation at all times.
The Japanese did not neglect the searchlights. Whenever one showed its light, they quickly “shot hell out of it.” Apparently they had their guns registered on the fixed seacoast searchlights. To test this theory Colonel Bunker ordered one light to be turned on for fifteen seconds, scarcely enough time for the enemy to register, load, and fire. After that time a man turned off the light and ran. He was scarcely twenty yards away when Japanese shells fell on the searchlight. “Which proved,” noted Colonel Bunker, “that the Japs had their guns loaded, laid, and men at the lanyards with orders to shoot instantly when the light showed.”
Casualties during the first days of the bombardment were low. At the first sign of an air attack or artillery bombardment those men whose batteries were not in action would take shelter in one of the numerous tunnels that had been and were still being built But only the thick reinforced concrete shelters could provide protection against a direct hit. On the 15th seventy Filipinos died a terrible death when they took shelter in excavations behind their battery on Morrison Hill. So intense was the enemy fire that the overhanging cliffs collapsed and sealed the entrances to the shelters, burying the Filipinos alive.
There were moments of heroism as well as tragedy. On the 16th, four men of Battery B, 60th Coast Artillery (AA) -Captain Arthur E. Huff and three volunteers-earned Silver Stars when they left shelter during an intense bombardment to raise the American flag. A shell fragment had struck the 100-foot flagpole on the Topside parade ground and severed the halyard. “Slowly, terribly, the flag began to descend,” but before it reached the ground the four men gathered it into their arms. Quickly repairing the broken halyard, they raised the flag and ran back to shelter.
The intensity of the air and artillery attacks increased during the latter part of April. After the 18th the 240-mm. howitzers which had been moved from Cavite added their weight to the bombardment. With high-angle fire and heavy charges they were able to hit targets which the flat trajectory weapons had been unable to reach, and to blast the heavily reinforced concrete protecting the large-caliber coastal guns. On the 24th they put Battery Crockett, with two 12-inch guns, out of commission, demolished the protective barricades, ruined the shot hoists, and started fires which fortunately were brought under control before they reached the powder room.
The next evening, a 240-mm. shell exploded outside the west entrance of Malinta Tunnel where a large group of men had gathered for a breath of fresh air and a smoke before turning in. “There was a panic-stricken rush for the gate, but the concussion had closed it and it could not be opened from the outside.” Then another shell landed. “We worked all that night,” wrote a nurse, “and I wish I could forget those endless, harrowing hours.” At least thirteen were killed outright; more died later, and the number of wounded was estimated as high as fifty.
The shelling never really stopped. With over one hundred pieces ranging in size from 75-mm. guns to the giant 240-mm. howitzers, the Japanese were able to fire almost steadily. They destroyed gun emplacements, shelters, beach defenses, buildings-almost everything on the surface-at a rate that made repair or replacement impossible.
First they concentrated on the north shore batteries and, when most of these were destroyed or neutralized, adjusted fire on the batteries on the opposite shore. They fired at regular periods, starting just before dawn and continuing until about noon. There was a lull during the early afternoon-Colonel Bunker called it a Japanese siesta-after which the fire would begin again about 1500 to continue with varying intensity almost until midnight. Usually by 1000 most telephone communications had been knocked out. Crews repaired the lines during the night but the next morning they would be cut again.
Air attacks usually accompanied the shelling from Bataan and followed the same schedule. Between 9 April and the end of the month there were 108 air alarms, totaling almost eighty hours. Practically all of the attacks were directed against Corregidar.
At first the planes came in at high altitude, over 20,000 feet and beyond the range of all but two of the antiaircraft batteries. But as the days passed and damage to equipment and installations mounted, the Japanese pilots became bolder. They came in at lower altitudes and bombed more accurately. It became more and more difficult for the defenders to keep their guns and height finders serviceable. During some periods there was but one height finder in operation and the altitude of attacking planes had to be sent by telephone to all antiaircraft batteries.
The air and artillery attacks of April reached their height on the 29th of the month, Emperor Hirohito’s birthday. The day began with an air alarm, the 260th of the campaign, at 0730, when two flights of bombers came over Fort Hughes and three dive bombers hit the South Dock on Corregidor and the Malinta Tunnel entrances.
At the same time Peeping Tom, the observation balloon, rose over Cabcaben and the Japanese batteries on Bataan opened up on Bottomside targets. About a half hour later six more planes dropped their loads on Malinta Hill and the artillery loosed concentrated fire against both portals of the tunnel and on the North Dock. While an observation plane hovered overhead, the Japanese artillery shifted fire to Topside at 0820. After a brief lull Japanese aircraft came over the island again, and the artillery registered hits on targets on Middleside. At 1000 Japanese shells reached two ammunition dumps which blew up with a tremendous explosion.
The attacks continued without letup through the afternoon, and by evening large sections of Corregidor lay shrouded under a dense cloud of smoke or dust. Grass fires were burning everywhere and ammunition from the two dumps was still exploding. Installations on Malinta Hill were a shambles. Observation stations had been destroyed; the power plant for the large seacoast searchlight was burned out; and three of the 75-mm. beach defense guns, as well as a 1.1-inch quadruple mount, were demolished.
That night two Navy PBY’s brought in some medicine and 740 mechanical fuzes from Australia, an empty gesture for a garrison which was reeling under the effects of the heaviest bombardment of the war. Brave efforts were made to deliver counterbattery and antiaircraft fire. About 18 April the 155-mm. gun batteries were taken out of their exposed positions, organized into one-gun mobile units, and placed in defiladed positions. Called “roving guns,” each was equipped with a prime mover.
After firing from one location until the enemy discovered their presence and had time to mass his own fire, the roving guns would move out. They were, in General Moore’s opinion, “our main dependence for counterbattery fire . . .,” and were supplemented after 20 April by “roving lights“-two searchlights which moved from one position to another.
Forts Frank and Drum also fired counterbattery. Both had 14-inch guns which could be used against Bataan but the two at Fort Frank were of the open, disappearing-carriage type, easily blanketed by fire from Cavite, and could fire only sporadically. The 14-inch guns at Fort Drum were of the turret type and fired steadily. They were still firing at 5-minute intervals at the time of the surrender, when every other gun on the fortified islands had been silenced.
The most effective counterbattery fire was delivered by Corregidor’s Batteries Geary and Way, both with 12-inch mortars. The former consisted of two pits, each with four pieces. Battery Way, with only one pit of three mortars, had been out of service for several years, and it was not until Battery E of the 60th Coast Artillery (AA) from Bataan became available that these mortars were reconditioned for use. On 28 April the weapons were test-fired and reported ready for action.
Both 12-inch mortar batteries had an ample supply of the standard armor-piercing shells with the .05-second delay fuze. But these shells could do little damage to the Japanese artillery. For that, the instantaneous fuze 670-pound personnel shell was required, and there were only 400 rounds on Corregidor. Ordnance could modify the delay fuze of the armor-piercing shell so that it would explode on impact, but the process was a slow one. All the men that could be spared were put on the job, but the output for a single day never exceeded twenty-five shells.
With their excellent observation posts and air reconnaissance, the Japanese soon had all the fixed installations pinpointed and could loose accurate and adjusted concentrations of fire on them at the first sign of activity. Most of their attention, however, was given to Batteries Geary and Way which, with their high-angle fire and 670-pound personnel shells, represented the greatest threat.
Battery Way was soon reduced to two guns, and on 2 May Japanese 240-mm. shells penetrated Geary’s magazine, which blew up with an explosion that rocked the island and hurled the 10-ton barrels of the 12-inch mortars about like match sticks. One was found 150 yards from its mount, on the island’s cratered golf course. Another was blown through three feet of reinforced concrete into an adjoining powder magazine.
A re reinforced concrete slabs weighing about six tons flew a thousand yards, cut through a tree trunk about four feet in diameter, and came to rest in a ravine. Estimates of the casualties varied from eight to twenty-seven men killed, with many more injured. Four men were buried under the debris. There was no difference of opinion on the damage. The eight guns were ruined, the shells destroyed, and the entire battery reduced to rubble.
Health and Food
No one on Corregidor was free from the constant bombardment except those in the tunnels under Malinta Hill, and the garrison could not, as General Wainwright observed, fight back from there. By now life in Malinta Tunnel had become almost intolerable. Dust, dirt, great black flies, and vermin were everywhere, and over everything hung the odor of the hospital and men’s bodies. During an air attack, when the large blowers were shut off, the air, offensive at best, became foul and the heat almost unbearable. Sometimes the lights failed and the gloom of the tunnel flickered into darkness. Under such conditions, “sun snatching” became a necessity. Between raids men would crowd the entrances to breathe deeply the gasoline fumes and dust which passed for fresh air.
Crowded into enforced intimacy, on short rations, and under constant strain, men grew tense and irritable. Many lost their temper over minor incidents; conflicts long hidden rose to the surface. Values changed and men’s virtues and defects were magnified. The mood of life in the tunnel impressed itself indelibly on Mrs. Maude R. Williams, a hospital assistant who had come over from Bataan. With eloquence and deep feeling she recorded these impressions in her diary.
Under the deepening shadow of death life on Corregidor took on a faster, more intense tempo. The smallest and most simple pleasures became sought after and treasured as they became increasingly rare and dangerous-an uninterrupted cigarette, a cold shower, a stolen biscuit, a good night’s sleep in the open air.
There was a heightened feeling that life was to be lived from day to day, without illusions of an ultimate victory. Many sought forgetfulness in gambling. There was no other way to spend the accumulated pay that bulged in their pockets and they rattled the dice or played endless bridge, rummy and poker. Jam sessions attracted great crowds which gathered in the dark and hummed softly or tapped feet to the nostalgic swing of the organ, a haunting guitar, or a low moaning trombone. Sometimes a nurse and her boy friend of the evening would melt into a dance’. . . . The eyes of the onlookers would grow soft and thoughtful, while other couples would steal out into the perilous night. . . .Still others sought the consolations of religion and the symbols of another world, a better world of sweet and eternal peace. The Catholics gathered at dawn in the officers mess of Malinta Tunnel where one of the tables was converted into a simple altar, and kneeling on the bare cement under the high white washed vault they listened devoutly and a little desperately to the same hushed phrases that had been whispered in the Catacombs. Life outside the tunnel was less uncomfortable but more precarious. Those on beach defense or in gun positions could, if they wished, sleep in the fresh air and escape the dust occasionally. They were less crowded and had more freedom of movement.
But the strain on them was great, too. When the shells came over or the bombs dropped they took cover and hoped for the best. All movement on the island became hazardous and uncertain. The roads, which at one time had been effectively camouflaged by trees, “were now bare and clearly visible shelves along the steep side of the island.” At any moment artillery fire might fall on men and vehicles. Captain Gulick, commander of Battery C, 91st Coast Artillery, was caught in such a barrage with his Filipino driver. To my terror he wrote it began to move toward us. There was a high rocky hill to my right and another to my left. Neither afforded any shelter whatsoever. We began to run hoping to get around the side of the hill. The barrage walked after us at about a pace equal to our own. We rounded the hill and saw in front of us the ruins of the Ordnance warehouses blown up by bombs in December. The ground was heap after heap of concrete chunks and exploded 75 shells and casings.
Suddenly the barrage behind us lifted and came down about 400 yds. in front of us slightly to our left. We ran to the right. The curtain of fire lifted again and came down on our right moving towards us. Terror and desperation seized us. We were panting, sweating, and scared. It seemed as if the Jap artillery was playing cat and mouse with us ….We ran down the old trolley tracks with barrages or concentrations ‘behind and on both sides of us. Suddenly again up ahead shells began to land …. We reached a drainage ditch and threw ourselves in it. Dead leaves had cloaked its depth so that we sank down about 3 feet. It was hot, dirty, and almost smothering. But we were so exhausted by terror and by running that we could only lie there panting and perspiring.
As the days passed, life on Corregidor became more uncomfortable. Kitchens were hit and meals had to be cooked and distributed in the dark. The concentration of a group of men was sure to bring down artillery fire from Bataan. Meals became haphazard; men ate when and where they could. By the beginning of May the enemy attacks had become so frequent that the proper preparation of meals was impossible; feeding the troops, “a catch-as-catch can proposition.” “It became martyrdom,” wrote a naval officer, “to expose one’s self for messing.”
At the start of the bombardment, on 14 April, Colonel Constant Irwin, General Wainwright’s operations officer, had urged an increase in the ration. The shelling and bombing, he had pointed out, would probably become more severe during the next few weeks, and men on half rations could not be expected to stand the strain without a marked decrease in their combat efficiency. By the time the Japanese were ready to take the island by assault, Irwin believed, the defenders would be too weak to fend off an attack. He recommended, therefore, that the food reserves set aside at the start of the campaign be used to supplement the half ration and keep the men strong, “physically and mentally.”
Before making a decision on Irwin’s recommendation, General Wainwright ordered his chief of staff to make a study of the total amount of food on hand, including the stock of the Navy and the Marine unit. The result showed that there was only enough food to carry the garrison through the month of June on half rations. If the issue was doubled, the supply would be exhausted within a month. Wainwright could not gamble on a landing before that time. Even if he did and if he successfully fought off an enemy attempt to take the island, he would have to surrender ultimately for lack of food. For these reasons he vetoed Colonel Irwin’s proposal and ordered the half ration continued “until more food is in sight.”
The garrison, therefore, continued to subsist on half rations or less while the meals, because of the bombardment and the destruction of kitchens, became less appetizing and nourishing than ever. “For supper,” one Marine wrote, “we had a sort of stew which consisted mainly of rice and a couple of pieces of bread, and maybe a little jam.” Colonel Carlos Romulo, newscaster for Corregidor’s “Voice of Freedom,” noted that “sometimes we had a soggy slice [of bread] with our breakfast and sometimes we did not.” He could tell in this way whether the bakery had been hit during the last raid. A piece of cheese he had acquired as a gift before Quezon’s departure “moved between my fingers,” when he decided to eat it almost two months later. “So unfastidious can hunger make one,” he observed, “I ate the cheese after removing its small inhabitants.”
By now the private caches of food and whiskey were gone. Only those few who had hoarded their supplies still had any left. What they had, they saved for special occasions. When Captain Gulick reached Corregidor after the fall of Bataan, he visited an old friend and was received “with open arms” and a bottle of “President Quezon’s champagne.” “We swilled the warm champagne in the sunlight,” he reminisced, “ate peanut butter sandwiches, and swapped stories …. Truly war has its moments greater than those of peace.” Some of those who had no whiskey used the methods of manufacture adopted later in the war by troops stationed on dry Pacific Islands. Cleaning up a battery position, Captain Gulick was surprised to find that one of the swabbing tubs “was being illegally employed to hold a mash of dried raisins and prunes.” The result, his men could have told him, was a satisfying and intoxicating beverage variously called raisinjack and jungle juice.
By the end of April the first signs of malnutrition had made their appearance. Beriberi and scurvy were observed at about this time and the symptoms of avitaminosis were noted by unit commanders whose men showed a decrease in combat efficiency. In one antiaircraft battery Vitamin A deficiency had already affected the vision of the gun crews. “The BC [battery commander] got cod liver oil and boric acid solution from the hospital,” wrote one of the men, “to try to combat this.”
With the increased intensity of the Japanese bombardment at the end of April came a sharp increase in the number of casualties. “Every day it seemed that the line of stretchers grew longer. The narrow hospital corridors were crammed with the wounded, the sick, and the dying; the convalescents were hurried out to make room for fresh casualties.” The hospital staff, overworked and under an intolerable strain, became short-tempered. Nurses snapped at one another, at the male attendants, and at the patients. “And every day when the red light in front of the Harbor Defense headquarters went out and the air raid was over’, the grimy unwashed bodies would come in on their stained stretchers, carried on a wave of silence and spreading fear.”
With the influx of patients the hospital expanded into three more laterals until by 25 April it had a capacity of 1,000 beds. Double and triple deck bunks were used for patients and hospital attendants alike. Linen was scarce and its use avoided, since “to go outside to hang out the laundry is a needless risk of life.” Space, as everywhere in the tunnel, was at a premium; water was scarce and the power system uncertain. During a bombardment the concussion could be felt even in the hospital laterals deep in the tunnel. Bottles, dishes, and loose objects rattled on the shelves and tables; the lights flickered and sometimes failed. “My hands tremble,” wrote an aide on duty in the operating room. “when I’m giving anesthetics.”
Some units had their own medical facilities, and some, like the 4th Marines, had a comparatively well-equipped hospital with a complete medical staff. One unit recently arrived from Bataan soon acquired a dispensary, a medical officer, and a hospital of sorts. Such facilities were acquired by various means and, when requisitions failed to bring the needed supplies, sometimes “an old friend and drinking companion” could be found in the tunnel hospital.
None of these units was able to treat serious injuries or ailments; only the Malinta Hospital could provide treatment for such cases. And it was, in the view of some, reluctant to do so unless the patient was brought in-not an easy task during the bombardment. “Our malaria cases had increased,” wrote Captain Gulick, whose battery had come from Bataan, “. . . yet the hospital refused to send an ambulance.” When informed that the men had a temperature of 104 degrees, Gulick wrote wrathfully, the hospital authorities suggested that “the men walk to the tunnel.”
The task of bringing the sick and wounded to the Malinta Hospital had always been a difficult one. Now it became hazardous as well. There had been onIy two ambulances at the start of the campaign, and one of these had been quickly destroyed. The other, “in some mysterious way,” had escaped destruction and was still in operation. Its services had to be supplemented by the vehicles of those units whose men required hospitalization, a fact which the men did not always appreciate.
The effects of the continuous bombardment could be seen not only in the mounting toll of wounded but in the haggard faces of the men. Shelling robbed men of sleep; short rations, of needed vitamins and energy. “The strain,” wrote an officer, “is beginning to tell. The men looked and acted weary.” S2 For the first time cases of battle fatigue were reported to the hospital. Some men, such as the one whose friend’s “shelltorn head flew past his face,” went out of their minds. But the number of mental cases reported was surprisingly small. The Corregidor surgeon noted only “six to eight” throughout the campaign. He could not account for the low rate of psychotic and neurotic disorders but offered the theory that it was due to the fact that there was no rear area to send the men for rest, no letup in the bombardment. “Here the war was always with us,” he explained, “and once the adjustment was made, there were no new adjustments to be made.”
Perhaps the most alarming consequence of the Japanese bombardment was the damage to the power plant which operated the water pumps and searchlights, raised and lowered the big guns, and supplied Malinta Tunnel with fresh air and light. The main power plant at Bottomside had been damaged repeatedly but never so seriously that it could not be repaired. The large seacoast batteries had their own emergency generators but their use required fuel “and the Staff,” as Colonel Bunker observed, “won’t give us enough gas for that.” There was a reserve dynamo in the tunnel and another smaller engine for emergency use in the hospital, but even these sometimes would fail and more than once surgery was performed by flashlight. By the end of April the main power plant was operating at only a fraction of its capacity and General Moore estimated that Corregidor would be without power in another month.
The suppiy of water, already critical, became the most important single problem for the men on Corregidor. It was the dry season and there had been no rain for months. The level of the reservoirs on the islands dropped rapidly and there was no way to replenish the supply. Enemy shells were constantly striking the pumps, puncturing the water pipes, or damaging the power plant. So frequently did this occur that it was possible to pump water into the reservoirs only one day during the month of April. The rest of the time either the pumps or the power plant were out of commission.
So serious had the shortage of water become by the end of the month that the daily allowance for personal use had been reduced to one canteen. For men who had to do heavy physical work in the open on a sunbaked tropical island where the temperature soared up to 100 degrees during midday and where the dust from explosions lay heavy, the lack of water was not only a major inconvenience but a serious threat to health.
Men used their slim ration of water with the greatest care, took “handerchief baths” and devised ingenious methods to make a canteen last through the day. “Many a night,” wrote Captain Gulick, “I washed myself with a cup of water and by standing in a basin saved the water to use over again on, first, my underwear, and then my socks. Order of laundering was very important. The dirtiest item always came last. . . !’ Showers became a rare luxury and men spoke of them with as much longing as they did of steaks smothered in mushrooms, French fried potatoes, crisp salads, and ice cream.
The Pre-assault Bombardment
At the beginning of May, Japanese artillery and aircraft opened the final phase of the bombardment, the phase in which, Homma’s orders read, they would “overwhelmingly crush” the island’s defenses and “exterminate” its defenders, “especially the ones concealed in wooded areas.” By that time all forces were ready and began to move into position for the assault As soon as the remaining guns, searchlights, and pillboxes had been destroyed and the beach obstacles blasted out of the way, the troops of the 4th Division would embark for Corregidor.
The Americans received their first hint of the Japanese landing plan on 1 May when artillery fire from Bataan was concentrated on the narrow tail of the island and on the area around James Ravine, which provided a pathway from the beach to Topside. The intensity of the attack was hardly justified by the installations remaining in either area. Observers could only conclude that the enemy was concentrating his fire in preparation for the landing.
The attack on 1 May was discouraging to those who believed that the bombardment of 29 April represented the enemy’s maximum effort. The first shells began dropping before dawn and continued until midnight. At 1515 the 274th air alarm of the war was sounded and eight bombers dropped their loads before the entrances to Malinta Tunnel. “Much mess equipment, motor transportation and communications destroyed,” General Moore noted in his report. A half hour later, then twice more before dark, air alarms sounded and bombs dropped on the island. That night, when Lieutenant Colonel Earl L. Barr, executive officer of the 60th Coast Artillery (AA), returned to Malinta Tunnel from a visit to the antiaircraft battery at Kindley Field, he encountered a “morgue like gloom.'”
The next day was even worse. The artillery from Bataan opened up at 0730, then the planes came in. It was not until three hours later that the all clear sounded. The respite lasted only thirty minutes, after which the Japanese guns opened fire again. Until 1945, except for two lulls of one and two hours’ duration, the attacks were continuous.
During a five-hour period of the day, 3,600 shells of 240-mm. caliber, in addition to shells of other sizes, fell in the vicinity of Batteries Geary and Crockett on Topside. The rate of fire of the 240-mm. howitzers alone was twelve shells per minute. “Moore and I,” wrote General Wainwright, “delving further into the mathematics of the fury, estimated . . . that the Japs had hit the rock with 1,800,000 pounds of shells,” in addition to the bombs dropped by Japanese aircraft during thirteen air raids. It was the heaviest concentration of fire yet experienced on Corregidor.
As on the day before, the attacks of the 2nd were directed at the north shore in those areas where the landing would be made. It was on this day that the Battery Geary magazine was hit and the entire battery destroyed with a “shock like that of an earthquake.” The entire shore line facing Bataan was heavily worked over and Bottomside, “except for the Power Plant and Cold Storage Plant which had an almost charmed life,” was thoroughly saturated with shells of all calibers. “It was a nasty place to cross … ,” wrote one man. “One felt positively in the spotlight for artillery batteries on Bataan as he walked from the Power Plant to the tunnel.”
Malinta Hill and the area to the east received a heavy shellacking also on the 2nd. At the end of the day the whole tail of the island was covered by a cloud of dust and small fires were burning everywhere, “in the shell-scarred tree trunks and stumps,” and in the woods. Fanned by a brisk west wind, the fires spread rapidly and were brought under control only after all the men in the area had turned fire fighters.
Sunday, 3 May, was a repetition of the day before. There were five air-raid alarms during the day, with the planes again concentrating on James Ravine and Kindley Field. The enemy aircraft over the field met no fire from the antiaircraft batteries, whose guns and height finders had already been damaged or destroyed. Artillery fire during the day was so heavy that the dust blinded the spotters observing counterbattery fire. “Situation here is fast becoming desperate,” Wainwright reported to General MacArthur at the end of the day’s action. “With artillery that outranges anything we have except two guns, he [the-enemy] keeps up a terrific bombardment as well as aerial bombing.”
That night an American submarine on patrol in the South China Sea stopped outside the mine channel for an hour before returning to Australia for torpedoes. It took out 25 passengers, all that could be crowded into its tight interior. Among the passengers ‘were Colonel Constant Irwin, who carried a complete roster of all Army, Navy, and Marine personnel still alive; Colonel Royal G. Jenks, a finance officer, with financial accounts; Colonel Milton A. Hill, the inspector general, other Army and 6 Navy officers, and about 13 nurses. Included in the cargo sent from Corregidor were several bags of mail, the last to go out of the Philippines, and “many USAFFE and USFIP records and orders.”
The intensity of the air and artillery bombardment reached a new peak on 4 May, despite Wainwright’s belief that “the tempo of the Jap shelling” could not “possibly be increased.” Japanese fire from Bataan that day was the heaviest of the campaign and totaled 16,000 shells of all calibers in a period of 24 hours. So intense was the bombardment, so continuous the “drum-fire of bursting shells,” that it resembled machine gun fire in its staccato regularity. As before, the chief targets were the beach defenses along the north shore at James Ravine and between North and Cavalry Points. Observation planes overhead adjusted artillery fire while bombers, in six separate attacks, concentrated on the east end of the island and on the few remaining vessels of the inshore patrol.
During the day observers on Topside had sighted fifteen landing barges off the southeast coast of Bataan, moving north. The observers thought the enemy vessels were trying to get out of range of American counterbattery fire; more probably they were headed toward Lamao to pick up the assault troops. There was little doubt by now that a Japanese landing would soon come. The ability of the Corregidor garrison to withstand a Japanese assault after the continuous shelling of the past three weeks was doubtful. There had been six hundred casualties since 9 April and those who had escaped injury were in poor physical condition.
Most of the coastal guns and searchlights had been destroyed and the beach defenses had suffered extensive damage. The sandbagged machine gun positions had been so battered that they presented “a topsy-turvy appearance.” “Considering the present level of morale,” Wainwright informed General Marshall on the 4th in response to a request for his frank opinion, “I estimate that we have something less than an even chance to beat off an assault”
But the Japanese were not yet ready for the assault They needed one more day to complete the destruction of Corregidor’s defenses and on the morning of the 5th opened up with everything they had. While the batteries on Cavite laid down a barrage on the southern shore of the island, the Bataan batteries gave the north shore the most terrific pounding of the war. “There was a steady roar from Bataan,” wrote Captain Gulick, “and a mightier volume on Corregidor. A continuous pall of dust and debris hung over everything. There was a feeling of doom mingled with wonder. . . .
From Corregidor there was little answering fire. Only three 155-mm. guns remained in operation; practically all the other seacoast artillery, the famous batteries of Corregidor-the I2-inch mortars and rifles, the 6-8-and 10-inch disappearing gunswere silent. The 14-inch guns of Forts Drum and Frank were still able to fire, but targets on Bataan were at extreme range and, except for the guns on Fort Drum, their fire was sporadic.
The bombardment of the 5th destroyed the little that was left to stop a Japanese assault Those beach defense guns along the north shore which had given away their positions were knocked out, searchlights were put out of action, land mines detonated, barbed wire entanglements torn up, and machine gun emplacements caved in. By the end of the day, wrote General Moore, the beach defenses on the north side of the island “were practically non-existent.”
All wire communication was gone by late afternoon. Telephone lines were torn up by the exploding shells and all efforts to repair them were unavailing. One battery commander repaired the line to his battalion headquarters, but “three minutes after the job was done the line was out again.” “This time,” he wrote despairingly, “we couldn’t even locate the broken ends.” “Command,” observed General Moore, “could be exercised and intelligence obtained only by use of foot messengers,” a means of communication, he added, which was “uncertain under the heavy and continuous artillery and air action.”
When the bombardment let up momentarily late in the afternoon the dust lay so heavy over the island that the men on Topside could hardly make out the features of Bottomside below them. Beyond that they could not see. Even the topography of the island had changed. Where there had been thick woods and dense vegetation only charred stumps remained. The rocky ground had been pulverized into a fine dust and the road along the shore had been literally blown into the bay. Portions of the cliff had fallen in and debris covered the entire island. The Corregidor of peacetime, with its broad lawns and luxuriant vegetation, impressive parade ground, spacious barracks, pleasant shaded clubs and bungalows, its large warehouses and concrete repair shops, Warf, gone. The island lay “scorched, gaunt, and leafless, covered with the chocolate dust of countless explosions and pitted with shellholes.”
Men were living on nerve alone, and morale was dropping rapidly. All hope of reinforcement had long since disappeared. There was only enough water to last four more days at most and no prospect that the pipes and pumps could be repaired. In any event the power plant would not last more than a few weeks. There was a limit to human endurance and that limit, General Wainwright told the President, “has long since been passed.”
So intense a bombardment in so concentrated an area could only mean that the Japanese had completed their preparations for the assault “It took no mental giant,” wrote Wainwright, “to figure out, by May 5, 1942, that the enemy was ready to come against Corregidor.” He already knew from agents in Manila that the Japanese 4th Division had completed landing maneuvers and that thousands of bamboo ladders, to be used presumably to scale the cliffs of Corregidor, had been built The moon would be full that night.
At 2100, just after a particularly intense concentration on the eastern end of the island the sound locators of the antiaircraft command picked up the noise of the motors of a large number of landing barges in the vicinity of Limay. The information was relayed to H Station, General Moore’s command post in Malinta Tunnel, which alerted all units and ordered beach defense troops to their stations. About an hour later barges were observed approaching the tail of the island and at 2230 the order went out to “prepare for probable landing attack.”
The full moon, “veiled by streaks of heavy black clouds,” was just rising when, shortly before midnight, the Japanese artillery fire suddenly ceased and “its bass roar was replaced by the treble chattering of many small arms.” A few minutes later a runner from the beach defense command post arrived at H Station with the news that the Japanese had landed at North Point.
[The Siege of Corregidor, Mil Rpts on UN, No. 12, 15 Nov 43, p. 50, MID WD. In a message to General MacArthur on the 3d, Wainwright summarized his losses to date. He had left at that time four 12-inch guns; one 12-inch mortar; sixteen 155-mm. guns, only nine of which bore on Bataan; and seven 3-inch guns, of which four bore on Bataan. “Serious losses in AA fire control equipment and searchlights,” he went on, “renders AA ineffective, except one battery. Great toll has been taken of machine guns both ground and AA, as well as automatic weapons of all types.” Rad, Wainwright to MacArthur, No. 392, 3 May 42, AG 384.1, GHQ SWPA.]
SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)