- 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
One of Corregidor’s deficiencies was in its water supply. There were some twenty-one wells on the island, but the supply was insufficient even for the peacetime population; water had to be brought in by barge from Bataan. The island's power plant, which provided electricity to pump water from the wells, ventilate the tunnels, run the railroad, preserve perishable foods, and train and elevate the seacoast batteries, was situated in a narrow, low-lying area with no protection against bombing. It was too small for the demands made upon it, and power and communication wires were strung on the surface or so close to the surface that, during the siege, they were severed repeatedly by enemy shells and bombs.
The three fortresses on the islands around Corregidor—Fort Drum on El Fraile, Fort Hughes on Caballo, and Fort Frank on Carabao—were in some ways even more powerful than the Rock itself, but each was too small to withstand a long siege alone. The most heavily protected of all the Manila Bay fortifications was Fort Drum, known as “the concrete battleship.” The top of the tiny island had been shaved off and four 14-inch guns in armored turrets, buried in heavy concrete, covered the seaward approaches.
On Bataan, a twenty-mile main battle line stretched across wild mountains from Mabatang, on Manila Bay, to Mauban on the South China Sea. Major General Jonathan Wainwright commanded the I Philippine Corps on the western, or seaward, side; Major General George M. Parker, Jr., the II Philippine Corps on the east. General MacArthur, from his new headquarters established on Corregidor, commanded both forces.
Eight miles behind the main battle position stretched a rear battle line running between the towns of Bagac and Orion, and at the extreme tip of the peninsula were the service command, supplies, hospitals, and support and maintenance units. Eighty thousand troops plus 26,000 civilian refugees—most of them Filipinos—crowded into Bataan; original plans had contemplated 43,000. Six months’ supplies for that number had once been cached on the peninsula, but because of MacArthur’s last-minute plan to defend all of the Philippines, dumps of food and equipment had been moved to other spots on Luzon and were now lost.
For years our Orange war plan had envisaged withdrawal into Bataan and to the fortified islands of Manila Bay; yet in December, 1941, there were not even field fortifications on the peninsula, while the section naval base at Mariveles, near its tip, was far from finished. There were no mosquito nets, shelter halves, or blankets; uniforms, other clothing, and shoes were in short supply. There was enough food for only twenty to fifty days (depending on the item—e.g., twenty days of rice; fifty days of canned meat and fish, etc.). Gasoline had to be carefully rationed; there was not enough of anything.
Corregidor had long been stocked with food, but the prewar strength of the fortified islands had not exceeded 6,000 men. This cadre was now swollen by a number of high-echelon headquarters—those of the Army, the Navy, the Philippine Government, and U. S. High Commissioner Francis B. Sayre—as well as by quartermaster troops and other units evacuated from Manila, and by the 4th Marine Regiment, evacuated from Shanghai before Pearl Harbor. The Marines brought their own rations with them. Nevertheless, rationing was in effect on Corregidor almost from the first day of war, and two meals a day was the routine. All told, there were some 10,000 mouths to feed on Corregidor.
The first attacks on Corregidor occurred even before the headquarters had shaken down in their new surroundings. A heavy Japanese bombing raid on December 29, the first of more than 300, blasted the Middleside quarters, the barracks of the 4th Marines and of Marine detachments from abandoned Olongapo and Cavite (on the far shore of Manila Bay). The Marines moved out to beach defenses all over the Rock and from then until the end lived in scattered groups near the guns—in foxholes, shelters, tunnels.
The troops on the Rock turned to in the sweltering heat while the guns boomed on Bataan. More than twenty miles of barbed wire were strung in the eastern sector; the miscellaneous pieces of light artillery available as beach-defense guns were adapted, sited, and dug in. Foxholes and tank traps were constructed, concrete trenches poured, homemade land mines fused and emplaced, cable barriers and mines laid off the little harbors of the island.
Some of the defense positions had to be hacked with bolo knives out of the thick jungle vegetation. Monkeys, great pilferers of soap and flashlights, chattered and swung from the long lianas, and there were even a few small deer on the island. But these animals died quickly beneath the shells and bombs, the venison providing a welcome addition to a meager diet.
From December 29 through January 6, the Rock was bombed almost daily. Damage to supplies, buildings, and guns was heavy, and the island’s little above-ground railroad was wrecked. The vulnerable communication wires were continually riddled by fragments; the damage done by one bombing was no sooner cleared up than another compounded it. It was dig and work and toil, and lie flat on the belly and claw the earth when the whoosh of the bombs warned of death.