- Historic Sites
The Fall Of Corregidor
“The Rock” was a proud island fortress, impregnable to attack from the sea. Unfortunately, the Japanese didn’t come that way. Its capture climaxed the bitterest defeat in our history
August 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 5
In 1941, Manila Bay was the focus of United States power in the Orient: all of our war plans emphasized its importance. The Orange—or War with Japan—plan envisaged a naval campaign: if United States and Filipino forces could hold the Bataan peninsula and the fortified islands at the entrance to Manila Bay, thus denying their use to an enemy for a period of three to six months, the Pacific Fleet would fight its way westward from Pearl Harbor and relieve and reinforce the defenses.
But long before Pearl Harbor, this concept had been challenged by some of our military planners. The network of Japanese sea and air bases throughout the western Pacific, and the tremendous strength of Japan, which for years was grossly underestimated, made the hope of relief for the Philippines a chimera. By late 1940 and early 1941 there was at least a tacit understanding in Washington that if Japan struck, the Philippines were doomed to early capture.
Therefore, in January, February, and March, 1941, a new plan, Rainbow 5, grew out of staff talks between the United States and Great Britain. It was a global plan, anticipating war by the United States against both Germany and Japan. Rainbow 5 clearly called for a defensive strategy in the Pacific until Germany should be defeated and, implicitly at least, accepted the loss of the Philippines, Guam, and Wake to the Japanese.
In the summer and fall of 1941, however, the infectious and misplaced optimism and dynamism of General Douglas MacArthur, who at the end of July was appointed Commander, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, was largely responsible for a new plan. MacArthur set forth his belief that the United States should—and in time could—hold the entire Philippine archipelago. The War Department caught his enthusiasm and allowed him to implement this plan, despite its discordancy with Orange and Rainbow 5.
Throughout his career Douglas MacArthur was cast—in his own mind and in history—as a man of destiny; he never doubted the validity of his own views and felt that whatever area he served in should be the focus of American efforts. He had an ability, too, to dramatize, to communicate, and to persuade; his powerful personality, his charm, and his military seniority mesmerized some of his Army subordinates, both in Manila and in Washington. Although, when the crisis came, his plan for the defense of all the Philippines existed chiefly on paper, he nevertheless predicted a strong defense that could turn away any enemy, or at least make conquest of the islands not worth the price. The plan had put more than 100,000 Filipinos into uniforms of some kind, but most of them knew little and cared less about the mechanics of warfare. As late as the summer of 1941, a few short months before castastrophe, a viable Philippine army was still merely a dream. The only well-trained Filipinos were 12,000 Philippine Scouts, an elite part of the U.S. Regular Army officered chiefly by Americans.
Thus at the outbreak of war, the United States had three plans for the Philippines’ defense—Orange, Rainbow 5, and MacArthur’s. None was followed through.
But the change in emphasis in U.S. war plans in the Summer of 1941 was not due wholly to MacArthur. The doctrines of Giulio Douhet, the Italian prophet of victory through air power, and of Alexander de Seversky, were exciting stimuli that summer, and theorists of strategic air warfare—notably General H. H. “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces—found ready market for their views. Rainbow 5, which planned no increase in U.S. strength in the Far East, was revised to authorize offensive air operations. A strong air reinforcement of the Philippines began, the aim being to have 165 heavy bombers in the islands by March, 1942.
On November 15, 1941, three weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, General George G. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, held a secret press background briefing. He said that war with Japan was imminent, but that the U.S. position in the Philippines was highly favorable. Our strength in the islands, he said, was far larger than the Japanese imagined. Thirty-five B-17 Flying Fortresses were based in the Philippines—Marshall called them the greatest concentration of heavy bomber strength anywhere in the world. The Philippines were being reinforced daily. If war did start, the B-17’s would immediately attack the enemy’s naval bases and would set the “paper cities of Japan on fire. Although the B-17’s did not have enough range to reach Japan and return to Philippine bases, General Marshall (with a political naïveté characteristic of many of our military men at the time) said optimistically that the bombers could continue on to Vladivostok and would carry out shuttle bombing raids between there and the Philippines.
The new Convair B-2A bombers would soon be in production. General Marshall said; they would be able to fly higher than any Japanese interceptors.