World War Two: Marines; Bataan and Corregidor

Marine Captain Francis H. “Joe” Williams and a demolition team spent Christmas Day erasing the Olongapo Naval Station on Subic Bay, the Philippines, from the face of the earth. They blew and burnt everything except the Marine Barracks, which stood too close to the civilian town. Then, the last elements of the 4th Marine Regiment left for the naval base at Mariveles on the tip of the Bataan Peninsula, on their way to Corregidor, ” The Rock”

General Douglas MacArthur, commanding the defense of the Philippines, had not asked for the 4th Marines to be assigned to his command until December 20. By then, the Japanese were already advancing on Manila.

The war had come to the Philippines at 0300 December the 8th (local time). Marine Lieutenant Colonel William T. Clement, the duty officer at Navy headquarters on the Manila waterfront, brought the message to Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, at the Manila Hotel. Clement’s radio operator had intercepted the message that told the world of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese bombed the Philippines that first day of the war. They caught American air power on the ground at Clark Field, knocked out one third of the fighters and half the bombers. By December 12, they had won control of the air, destroyed the Navy Yard at Cavite and landed on both ends of Luzon, the main Philippine island. The day after Christmas, MacArthur declared Manila an open city, not to be defended, and brought the U.S. Forces to the Bataan Pensula on the northern side of Manila Bay.

The defense of the Philippines was heroic, but the American’s resistance there did not effect the enemy’s grand strategy. All the Americans and Filipinos had the strenght to do, in the end , was to deny the use of Manila Bay to the Japanese Navy for a time. Holding out beyond any realistic of relief, their courage and suffering on Bataan and Corregidor became important symbols back in those defeat-strewn early days of the war.

The 4th Marines had arrived at Olongapo at the end of November with only 44 officers and 728 enlisted men. Since the regiment had been allowed to dwindle by attrition in China. Colonel Samuel L. Howard had only two battalions, each short one company and each company short one rifle platoon. The 1st Battalion soon after arriving in the Philippines, went to Mariveles on the tip of Bataan.

Across Manila Bay, at Cavite, the 1st Separate Marine Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John P. Adams, provided antiaircraft defense for the naval base there. After the battalion’s 3-inch guns shot down one dive bomber, enemy planes stayed above the gun’s range and bombed the base at will. By December 10, it was in flames.

On Christmas Day, while Captain Williams was wrecking the Olongapo Naval Station, Adams battalion completed the destruction of Cavite. The next night, 411 men from Adam’s command were the first Marines to make the seven-and-a-half mile voyage from Mariveles to Corregidor to man the beach defenses of that island fortress. Most of the 4th Marines joined them during the next two nights; and on New Year’s Day, the Separate Battalion became the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines.

Remaining on Bataan were Batteries A and C and the radar detachment of Adam’s battalion. Battery A, commanded by 1st Lieutenant William F. Hogaboom, and Battery C, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Willard C. Holdredge, were incorporated into a naval battalion organized to protect Mariveles. The 120 Marines in the two antiaircraft batteries were an infinitesimal part of the 80,000 American and Filipinos bottled up on the 30-mile long jungle covered peninsula. In mid-January, 49 Marines were brought back from Corregidor to guard MacArthur’s advance headquarters on Bataan.

On the night of January 22-23, a 900 man Japanese amphibious force landed behind the American-Filipino front across Bataan. This brought the Marines into action. Hogaboom and Holdredge were ordered to take out patrols made up mostly of sailors, with Marines as squad and platoon leaders. They set up blocking positions on a hill above the landing site at Quinauan Point. The next day Hogaboom–a young Annapolis graduate from Vicksburg who was to die a POW–led a patrol down. The Americans got a taste of jungle warfare, fighting an enemy they could not see. The Japanese added firepower and Hogaboom retreated to the high ground. Meanwhile, a patrol led by Holdredge surprised the Japanese on Longoskawayan Point and killed a number of them before they pushed Holdredge’s men back onto the ridges.

The patrols were reinforced by a machine-gun platoon and 81mm mortar platoon from the 4th Marines on Corregidor. Holdredege ran into a superior force and was among the many wounded before the Americans could fall back to the ridges. On the twenty-seventh, a skirmish line of some 200 men including 60 to 75 Marines, attacked. The fighting was fierce, but they could not dislodge the Japanese. Two-days later, a battalion of Philippine Scouts, supported by the Marines’ mortar and machine guns, smashed the enemy and wiped out the landing force. That threat to Mariveles was finally eliminated. Most of the naval battalion joined the 4th Marines on Corregidor in mid-February. On March 12, MacArthur left the Philippines; and on April 3, the Japanese now greatly strengthened, reopened their offensive on Bataan. The defenders, dazed by the incessant bombardment, suffering from disease and short rations, were driven back. In a week, it was all over. Munitions and fuel dumps at Mariveles were blown up. Small craft took all possible men over to The Rock. And on April 9, 75,000 Americans and Filipinos, including 105 Marines, went on the infamous Death March and into captivity.

The very next day, the siege of Corregidor began. The 4th Marines, armed with Springfields and wearing their World War I-style helmets, dug into their beach-defense positions, strung barbed wire, laid mines fields and placed their guns and communications to meet the inevitable attack. Overall, Corregidor was three and a half miles long. The western end was abroad area a mile and a half wide, and to the east ran along narrow trail. In the middle was the extensively tunneled Malinta Hill, which contained the headquarters for the defenders. The Marines 1st Battalion guarded Malinta Hill and the islands eastern tail. West of the 1st Battalion was Lieutenant Colonel Adam’s 3rd Battalion, and the 2nd Battalion covered the rest of the shoreline. About 100 Matines were sent over to bolster the defenses on nearby Caballo Island and tiny El Frail Island.

The men on the exposed beaches took a beating. The Japanese pounded them from the air and with 105mm guns on Cavite Province. The enemy could spot any movement in daylight. The beach defenders received after dark and before dawn, mostly rice and a little canned salmon. Water was scarce. The 11,000 men isolated on Corregidor held out for 27 brutal days.

The 4th Marines were joined by personnel from the naval battalion and the sunken ships and by more than 700 Philippine Air Cadets. The regiment , which had started with less than 800 Marines , had, in the end nearly 4,000 men from all services, including 72 officers and 1,368 Marines. Most of the newcomers were in terrible shape, gaunt, emaciated. The 275-man naval battalion of sailors from Mariveles and the scuttled submarine tender Canopus bevame the 4th Battalion, 4th Marines. It had only six marines: (promoted) Major Williams their commanding officer, and five non-coms. William’s battalion joined the regiment reserve commanded by Major Max W. Schaeffer.

Williams has gone down in Marine Corps history as a special hero. During the bombardment he was “ a giant among men at a time when courage was commonplace.” Wherever the bombardment was the heaviest, he showed up to see how his men weathered the storm…he led rescue parties from 4/4 into…holocaust of flames, choking smoke and exploding ammunition to rescue the wounded.‘ (Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal-p.189)

The 4th Marines were determined to get back at the enemy they had been unable to hit. Their moral was high; almost until the end , they hoped for rescue. As Morison described the scene: ” …the toll of casualties, and the nervous strain was almost unbearable. A certain number of officers and men gave in under the tension. Some saw hallucinations, others became completely ineffectual and could not perform their duties. But the tough and strongminded held the team together and inspired the rest. Colonel Howard’s 4th Marine Regiment…lived up to the great traditions of the Corps in the last bitter days. The backbone of Corregidor’s beach defense, it set an example of courage for those began to give under the strain.

The Japanese set their D-Day for the night of May 5. On April 29, the Emperor’s birthday, they celebrated by beginning a bombardmrnt that never let up day ot night. The water supply in the East Sector was knocked out; wire communications were ruined; casualties mounted. The defensive installations of the 1st Battalion, defending the island’s eastern tail, were virtually destroyed. On the night of May 3 the submarine Spearfish made the last evacuation from the Rock., taking a few officers and 14 nurses who had been ordered out.

Starting at 2245 on May 5, the Japanese poured in the most intensive bombardment yet on the strip of beach between Cavalry and Infantry Points, east of Malinta Hill, where they planned to land. But their barges, carried by a strong incoming tide, actually headed for the North Point, almost at the islands tail.

As the first enemy battalion came ashore, the whole area erupted with gun fire, Japanese casualties were high. On the beach, Platoon Sergeant William “Tex” Haynes emptied two pistols at the advancing enemy, then fired a .30 caliber machine gun cradled in his arms until a grenade wounded him severely. A Company’s 2nd Platoon, commander Master Gunnery Sergeant John Mercurio, defended the beach between Cavalry Point and North Point and was overwhelmed.

By midnight a second battalion landed in the light of the newly risen moon. Enough Japanese made it ashore to drive onto the hogback that ran down the middle of the island’s tail. They seized Denver Battery on high ground behind Cavalry Point and force a hole in the center of the defender’s line. Marine Gunner Harlod M Ferrell organized a new line on the hogback to protect the read of the defenders on the beach. Lieutenant ColonelCurtis T. Beecher sent squads one at a time to build up the line Ferrell had begun. These men took sever casualties; the 1,000 yards to th Denver Battery was adeath trap.

By 0139 the surviving defenders on the eastern end of the island were isolated. Colonel Howard ordered up Major Schaeffer’s two reserve companies. Two platoons of Lieutenant Hogaboom’s company got in position; but the third platoon was chopped to pieces. Captain Robert Chambers Jr.’s, company was shelled by the guns on Bataan, and only the equivalent of one platoon ran the gauntlet.

Major Schaeffer ordered three counterattack against the dug-ib Japanese, who had set up machine guns at the base of the stone water tower. Schaeffer’s reserves drove up the slope and were repeatedly shoved back. Sergeant Major Thomas F. Sweeney and Quartermaster Sergeant John E Haskin, two oldtimers and close friends, personally attacked the machine gunners. Haskins was killed bring more grenades up to Sweeney on top of the water tower. Sweeney destroyed one of the guns before he too died.

At 0430, Colonel Howard ordered up his last reserves, Major William’s 4th Battalion, which had been waiting in the hot confusion of the Malinta Tunnel. When Willaims’ men reached the “line”, Scheaffers’ command had almost been wiped out. Williams took charge. Opposing units slugged it out 30 yards apart. “It was a baroom brawl.

At dawn, Williams moved along the line, telling his Army and Navy officers to be ready to attack at 0615. Every man was in the line. There were no reserves. The companies on the left pushed the enemy back some 200 yards; but on the right, the men could make no progress. The fighting was at grenade range.

At 0930, Japanese tanks were unloaded off barges at Cavalry Point; by 1000hrs. They were in position, and enemy artillery pounded the area in front of the Japanese line. The Americans began falling back in disorder. At 1030hrs, Williams ordered the units on the left back to the ruins of a concrete trench in front of the Malinta Tunnel. Casualties were severe. “It was each man for himself.” Only Williams, now wounded, and about 150 men made it to the trench. The Japanese were less that 300 yards away, and their tanks were moving to outflank them. At 1130 Williams was told the decision had been made to surrender at noon.

The order went out to destroy all weapons larger than.45 caliber. The Marines of the 2nd and 3rd battalions, who had never been brought to battle, smashed their rifles on the rocks. Some veterans were crying openly. Colonel Howard ordered regimental colors burned. He wept, “My God, and I had to the first Marine officer ever to surrender a regiment.

Two Marines Captian Golland L. Clark Jr. ( who later died aboard a prison ship at Formosa) and 1st Lieutenant Alan S. Manning, took Lieutenant General Jonathan M. wainwright’s truce flag to the enemy. At midnight, Wainwright broadcast a surrender message to all forces in the Philippines. The total losses of the 4th Marines in the Philippines were 330 killed and 357 wounded. Most of them fell on Corregidor, where 1,283 Marines were taken prisoner. For thousands of Americans and Filipinos, the next three years brought death and brutal mistreatment in Japanese prison camps. Of the 4th Marines, 239 officers and men died in Japanese hands.

SOURCE: Story of the United States Marine Corps; BY J. Robert Moskin

World War Two: Fall of Philippines; Fall of Corregidor (5-31)

World War Two: Marines; Midway


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