- 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
It moved out upon a confused and confusing battlefield. The Japanese landing and penetration through the 1st Battalion position had split up elements of A and B companies, and some were isolated behind the enemy lines in the Kindley Field area and to the east. A few Japanese had penetrated in the darkness up toward Malinta. American units were behind the Japanese lines, and vice versa. It was a fire-and-grenade fight with the main lines only thirty yards apart. So closely interwoven were the combatants in the darkness that when the Japanese called for an artillery barrage, it bracketed both sides; the Japanese sent up a rocket to silence their own guns.
While the scrapping was going on for the hogback, Japanese barges, stuttering away in the North Channel, were heading for other beaches. Five or six of them came in toward the outflanked and isolated men at Cavalry Point. The Marines there had only one .30 caliber and one .50 caliber machine gun to meet them. But the Marines were exultant. For four months they had been on the receiving end; now they had a chance to dish it out. They dropped hand grenades down on the beaches; they let the barges have it with pointblank fire. Many Japanese died in the water or on the sand.
There were other brushes along the north shore. One of the 75's that was still functioning (sited far beyond the main action) took some Japanese landing craft under fire and sank a number of them. At dawn, the enemy approached the North Dock area, where a cable barrier and a string of twenty-one 5oo-pound TNT sea mines were awaiting them, but Corregidor’s remaining artillery opened up and drove them off.
The Japanese still clung to the hogback reaching westward toward Malinta from Kindley Field, and they had inched forward in the dark hours, leaving behind them isolated units of Marines still fighting. It was into this scene that the composite reserve—the last vain hope—moved out from Malinta and launched its counterattack.
Exactly what happened in the predawn and morning hours of May 6 on the shell-shattered eastern slopes of Corregidor will never be known in full detail, for most of the men who could tell are dead. And even those who lived saw only segments of action; the fighting was inchoate, wild, vicious.
The counterattack made initial progress—but it was slow and painful. Two enemy guns—one in the ruins of a powder magazine and the other to the right of a road leading to the North Point observation post- held up the advance, but by 6 A.M. these had been knocked out. The line moved on, rooting out determined enemy resistance. But not for long. Heavy machine-gun fire came from a nest by a water tower near Mays Point. Two of the “old breed,” Sergeant Major Thomas F. Sweeney and Quartermaster Sergeant John H. Haskins—Marines from their tough jaws to their big feet—climbed the stone water tower under fire. They lobbed grenades into the Japanese lines and climbed down and up the tower several times to replenish their supply. They knocked out the machinegun nest, but one of them died at the bottom of the tower, and long afterward American prisoners of war, working on Corregidor, found the body of a sergeant on top of the tower. He was one of the great unsung heroes of the war.
There were many others who rose above and beyond the call of duty. A sergeant, assigned to a safe paperwork job in Malinta Tunnel, got permission to leave his job for an hour, organized a voluntary patrol of clerks, typists, and telephone men, knocked out one machine gun and two snipers, and then reported his return, saying, “I’m sorry I’m late, sir; it took me longer than I expected.”
The line moved on; it moved in blood and anguish, but now its progress slowed. The price was too high. Machine guns, mortars, and light artillery had been landed; the enemy came in the thousands. For dead Americans there were no replacements; behind the Japanese were thousands more on Bataan. The hospital tunnels were double-banked with bleeding, unconscious men, and many wounded now lay in the open exposed to the shells.
The Japanese made another landing attempt in the North Dock area, but the cable barrier and fierce defensive fire drove them off. Then, in midmorning, Japanese tanks came into action; the antitank barriers had been blasted to bits and there were no antitank guns to stop them. The Marines began to withdraw to the final defensive line in front of Malinta.
The last messages started to go out from Corregidor. From the Navy—Captain K. M. Hoeffel: “One hundred and seventy-three officers and twenty-three hundred and seventeen men of the Navy reaffirm their loyalty and devotion to country, families and friends....”
The Marines were silent, save with their guns.
From the Army—a soldier named Irving Strobing tapped his key in the depths of Maliuta Tunnel, while America hung on his words: “They are not near yet. We are waiting for God only knows what. How about a chocolate soda? . . . We may have to give up by noon; we don’t know yet. They are throwing men and shells at us, and we may not be able to stand it. They have been shelling us faster than you can count....”