Battle of Corregidor

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Battle of Corregidor
Part of World War II, Pacific Front
Corregidor gun.jpg
Victorious Japanese troops atop Hearn Battery 6 May 1942.
Date May 5 - May 6, 1942
Location Corregidor island in Manila Bay, Luzon Island, Philippines
Result Japanese victory
Flag of the United States.png Flag of the Philippines.png
United States and Philippines
Flag of Japan (bordered).png
Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV
George F. Moore
Samuel L. Howard
Masaharu Homma
Kureo Tanaguchi
Kizon Mikami
13,000 U.S. and Filipino troops 75,000 Japanese troops
Casualties and losses
800 killed
1,000 wounded
11,000 POWs
900 killed
1,200 wounded

The Battle for Corregidor was the culmination of the Japanese campaign for the conquest of the Philippines. The fall of Bataan in April 9, 1942 ended all organized opposition by the U.S. Army Forces – Far East (USAFFE) to the invading Japanese forces on Luzon in the northern Philippines. The island bastion of Corregidor, with its network of tunnels and formidable array of defensive armament, along with the fortifications across the entrance to Manila Bay, was the remaining obstacle to the 14th Japanese Imperial Army of Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma. The Japanese had to take Corregidor; as long as the island remained in American hands, they would be denied the use of the Manila Bay, the finest natural harbor in the Orient.


The Gibraltar of the East

Corregidor, officially named Fort Mills, was the largest of four islands protecting the mouth of Manila Bay from probable attack, and was fortified prior to World War I with powerful coastal artillery. Only 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles across at its head, the tadpole-shaped island lay two miles from Bataan. Its widest but elevated area, known as Topside, contained most of its fifty-six coastal artillery pieces and installations. Middleside was a small plateau containing more battery positions as well as barracks. Bottomside was the low ground where a dock area and the civilian town of San Jose was located. American servicemen alternately dubbed it as "The Rock" or the "Gibraltar of the East", in comparison to the peninsular fortress that guards the main entrance to the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa.

The tunnel system under Malinta Hill was the most extensive construction on Corregidor. It consisted of a main east-west passage 1,400 feet long and three yards wide and had twenty-five lateral passages, each about 400 feet long, branching out at regular intervals from each side of the main passage. A separate system of tunnels north of this main tunnel housed the underground hospital and had its own twelve laterals. The facility could be reached either through the main tunnel or by a separate outside entrance on the north side of Malinta Hill. The Navy tunnel system, which lay opposite the hospital, under the south side of Malinta was connected to the main tunnel by a partially completed low passageway through the quartermaster storage lateral.

East of this was Malinta Tunnel, location of MacArthur’s headquarters. Reinforced with concrete walls, floors, and overhead arches, blowers to furnish fresh air, and a double-track electric car line along the east-west passage, the Malinta Tunnel furnished bombproof shelter for the hospital, headquarters, and shops, as well as a vast maze of underground storehouses.

The Defense of Corregidor

The defensive arsenal on Corregidor was formidable, with forty-five coastal guns and mortars organized into twenty-three batteries and some seventy-two anti-aircraft weapons assigned to thirteen batteries. The two 12-inch guns of Batteries Smith and Hearn, with a horizontal range of 29,000 yards and all-around traverse were the longest range of all the island's artillery.

Corregidor island

Caballo island (Fort Hughes), just south of Corregidor, was the next largest in size. Only about one quarter of a square mile in area, this island rose abruptly from the bay to a height of 380 feet on its western side. Commander Francis J. Bridget was in charge of its beach defenses with a total of 800 men of whom 93 were marines and 443 belonged to the Navy by the end of April, 1942. Coastal artillery numbered some thirteen assorted pieces, with its antiaircraft defenses tied in with those of Corregidor.

Fort Drum, which lay about four miles south of Fort Hughes, was the most unusual of the harbor defenses. Military engineers had cut away the entire top of El Fraile Island down to the water line and used the island as a foundation to build a reinforced concrete battleship, 350 feet long and 144 feet wide, with exterior walls of concrete and steel 25 to 36 feet thick. The top deck of this concrete battleship was 40 feet above the low-water mark and had 20-foot-thick walls. Equipped with four 14-inch guns in armored turrets facing seaward, a secondary battery of four casemated 6-inch guns, and antiaircraft defense, the fort with its 200-man garrison was considered, even in 1941, impregnable to attack.

The last, Carabao island lay only five hundred yards from the shores of Cavite Province. Except at one point along its eastern shore, the island rises precipitously from the sea in cliffs more than 100 feet high. The Americans had placed Fort Frank on this island, which late in 1941 had a military garrison of about 400 men, mostly Philippine Scouts. Its armament consisted of two 14-inch guns, eight 12-inch mortars, four 155-mm. GPFs, as well as antiaircraft and beach defense weapons.

Allied AA crew at Corregidor.

All four forts in Manila Bay, as well as Fort Wint in Subic Bay, had been formed before the war into an organization called the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays which by August 1941, became a part of the Philippine Coast Artillery Command. Both were under Maj. Gen. George F. Moore who also commanded the Corregidor garrison. The 5,700 men assigned to the Harbor Defenses were organized into three seacoast and one antiaircraft artillery regiments, headquarters, and service troops. The three seacoast units included the U.S. 59th and the Philippine Scout 91st and 92nd. The 60th Coast Artillery, the anti-aircraft regiment, was composed of Americans. About 500 Philippine Army soldiers in training were organized into the 1st and 2nd Coast Artillery Regiments (PA), but operated under the control of the two Scout regiments. Gen. Moore, in turn, organized his force into four major commands to exercise tactical control, namely: seaward defense, North and South Channels, under Col. Paul D. Bunker, all anti-aircraft and air warning defenses of the 60th Coastal Artillery under Col. Theodore M. Chase, and Capt. Kenneth M. Hoeffel, USN of the inshore patrol.

After their evacuation from Olongapo in Zambales, close to Subic Naval Base on 26 December, the 4th Marine Regiment under the command of Col. Samuel L. Howard became the primary fighting unit on the island. Corregidor's garrison received the largest group of reinforcements right after the fall of Bataan, with some 72 officers and 1,173 enlisted men from more than fifty different units were integrated and assigned to the 4th Marine Regiment. Unfortunately, very few of the reinforcements were trained or equipped for ground combat. By April 30 , 1942, the 4th Marines actually numbered 229 officers and 3,770 men, of whom only 1,500 were Marines.

The Siege

On December 29 , 1941, the defenders got their first taste of aerial bombardment on Corregidor. The attack lasted for two hours as the Japanese destroyed or damaged the hospital, Topside and Bottomside barracks, the Navy fuel depot and the officers club. Three days later, the island garrison was bombed for more than three hours. Periodic bombing continued over the next four days and with only two more raids for the rest of January, the defenders had a chance to improve their positions considerably. To the amusement of the beach defenders on Corregidor, the Japanese dropped only propaganda leaflets on January 29. On March 12, 1942 under cover of darkness, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was evacuated from Corregidor on four PT boats for Mindanao, where he was eventually flown to Australia.

Allied command center inside Malinta Tunnel

Henceforth from December 29 , 1941 to the end of April, 1942, despite incessant Japanese aerial, naval and artillery bombardment, the garrison on Corregidor, consisting mainly of the 4th Marine Regiment and combined units from U.S. Navy , United States Army|Army units and Filipino soldiers, resisted valiantly, inflicting heavy enemy losses in men and planes.

On top of the bombardment was the increasingly dwindling food supply. The defenders were living on about thirty ounces of food per day. Drinking water was distributed only twice a day but the constant bombing and shelling often interrupted the ration. When the bombardment killed the mules in the Cavalry, they would drag the carcasses down to the mess hall and cook them up. The continued lack of proper diet created major problems for the Corregidor garrison, as men grew weakened and lacked reliable night vision. From Cebu, seven private maritime ships under orders from the army, loaded with food supply sailed towards Corregidor. Of the seven ships only one was able to reach Corregidor.It was the MV Princessa commanded by 3rd Lt. Zosimo Cruz (USAFFE).

Japanese bombing and shelling continued with unrelenting ferocity. Japanese aircraft flew 614 missions dropping 1,701 bombs totaling some three hundred sixty-five tons of explosive. Joining the aerial bombardment were nine 240 mm howitzers, thirty-four 149 mm howitzers, and thirty-two other artillery pieces, which pounded Corregidor day and night. It was estimated that on May 4 alone, more than 16,000 shells hit Corregidor.

From April 28, a concentrated aerial bombardment by the 22nd Air Brigade of Maj. Gen. Kizon Mikami, supported by ground artillery on Bataan from May 1 to May 5 1942, preceded landing operations.

The Fall

On May 5, Japanese forces led by Maj. Gen. Kureo Tanaguchi boarded landing craft and barges and headed for the final assault on Corregidor. Shortly before midnight, intense shelling pounded the beaches between North Point and Cavalry Point. The initial landing of 790 Japanese soldiers quickly bogged down from surprisingly fierce resistance from the American and Filipino defenders whose 37 mm artillery tolled heavily on the landing fleet.

Japanese artillery in action against Corregidor

The Japanese struggled due to the strong sea currents between Bataan and Corregidor and from the layers of oil that covered the beaches from ships sunk earlier in the siege and experienced great difficulty in landing personnel and equipment. However the overwhelming number of Japanese infantry equipped with 50 mm heavy grenade dischargers and "Type 89 leg mortar|knee mortars" forced the defenders to pull back from the beach.

The second battalion of 785 Japanese soldiers were not as successful. The invasion force did not prepare for the strong current in the channel between Bataan and Corregidor. This battalion landed east of North Point where the defensive positions of the 4th Marines were stronger. Most of the Japanese officers were killed early in the landing, and the huddled survivors were hit with hand grenades, machine guns, and rifle fire. Some of the landing craft did however make it to the location of the first invasion force and found themselves moving inland enough to capture Denver Battery by 1:30 a.m. on May 6.

Map of Japanese landings at Corregidor

A counterattack was initiated to move the Japanese off of Denver Battery. This was the location of the heaviest fighting between the opposing forces, practically face to face. A few reinforcements did make their way to the frontline 4th Marines but the battle became a duel of obsolete World War I grenades versus the deadly accurate Japanese knee mortars. Without additional reinforcements, the battle would quickly go against the defenders.

By 4:30 a.m. Colonel Howard committed his last reserves, some 500 Marines, sailors and soldiers of the 4th Battalion. These reserves tried to get to the battle as quickly as possible but several Japanese snipers had slipped behind the front lines to make movement very costly. An additional 880 reinforcements for the Japanese arrived at 5:30 a.m.. The 4th Marines were holding their positions at the same time losing ground in other areas. The Japanese were facing problems of their own, several ammunition crates never made the landing. Several attacks and counterattacks were fought now with only bayonets.

Japanese troops landing on Corregidor

The final blow to the defenders came about 9:30 a.m. when three Japanese tanks landed and went into action. The men around Denver Battery withdrew to the ruins of a concrete trench a few yards away from the entrance to Malinta tunnel, just as Japanese artillery delivered a heavy barrage. Particularly fearful of the dire consequences should the Japanese capture the tunnel, where lay 1,000 helpless wounded men, and realizing that the defenses outside Malinta tunnel could not hold out much longer, and expecting further Japanese landings that night, General Wainwright decided to sacrifice one more day of freedom in exchange for several thousand lives. In a radio message to President Franklin Roosevelt, Wainwright says, "There is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long been passed." Colonel Howard burned the 4th Regiment's and national colors to prevent their capture by the enemy. Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright finally surrendered the Corregidor garrison at about 1:30 p.m. of May 6, 1942 with two officers sent forward with a white flag to carry his surrender message to the Japanese.


American and Filipino prisoners of war outside Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor

The Japanese losses sustained from January 1 to April 30 and from the initial assault landings from May 5 to May 6, resulted in losses of about 900 dead and 1,200 wounded, while the defenders suffered 800 dead and 1,000 wounded,

Corregidor's defeat marked the fall of the Philippines and Asia , but Imperial Japan's timetable for the conquest of Australia and the rest of the Pacific, was severely upset and her advance was ultimately checked at the battles for New Guinea, to the turning point in the Pacific War at Battle of Guadalcanal|Guadalcanal.

About 4,000 of the 11,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war from Corregidor were marched through the streets of Manila to incarceration at Fort Santiago and Bilibid Prison, criminal detention centers turned POW camps. The rest were sent off in trains to various Japanese prison camps. General Wainwright was incarcerated in Manchuria. Over the course of the war, thousands were shipped to the Japanese mainland as slave labor. Some were eventually freed at Cabanatuan and during the battle for Manila's liberation.

General Douglas MacArthur was an acknowledged hero to his countrymen, except perhaps for the starved and disease-ridden men of Bataan and Corregidor, while General Masaharu Homma, who conquered the Philippines in five months instead of the projected two months, ended up being relieved of his command.

Historical Commemoration

An unnamed Marine from the 4th Marine Division wrote the following lyrics to the tune of the ' Marines' Hymn,' just before going into battle in Corregidor. The author of "The Corregidor Hymn" was captured by the Japanese in the battle, which ended 6 May 1942, and was never seen again.

Japanese soldiers take down the Stars and Stripes at Corregidor

"First to jump for holes and tunnels And to keep our skivvies clean, We are proud to claim the title of Corregidor's Marines.

"Our drawers unfurled to every breeze From dawn to setting sun. We have jumped into every hole and ditch And for us the fightin' was fun.

"We have plenty of guns and ammunition But not cigars and cigarettes, At the last we may smoking leaves Wrapped in Nipponese propaganda leaflets.

"When the Army and the Navy Looked out Corregidor's Tunnel Queen, They saw the beaches guarded by more than one Marine!

From 16 February to 26 , 1945 , American liberation forces spearheaded by the 503d Infantry Regiment|503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team, swept into Corregidor and took it back during the Battle for the Recapture of Corregidor.


  • The bridge in Chicago, Illinois where State Street crosses the Chicago River is named the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Bridge.

See also


  • American Defenses of Corregidor and Manila Bay (1898-1945) by Mark A. Berhow, Terrance McGovern and Chris Taylor (2002) Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-427-2
  • World War II in the Pacific: An Encyclopedia (Military History of the United States) by S. Sandler (2000) Routledge ISBN 0-8153-1883-9
  • I Am Alive! By Charles Jackson and Major Bruce H. Norton (2003) Presidio Press ISBN 0-345-44911-8

External links

Original Source

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