The Fall Of Corregidor

PrintPrintEmailEmail

The Japanese often flew above the range of the three-inch “sky” guns, and at best were within range for only a few seconds. But the gunners fired anyway, to keep up morale, and occasionally a Japanese bomber plummeted into the bay or disappeared above the hills of the mainland, trailing smoke.

There were no great battles on Bataan—except in the newspapers back home. In the communiqués—many of them couched in the rolling phrases that were characteristic of MacArthur’s pronouncements throughout the war—we often “defeated” the enemy, and the size of the Japanese forces and the scale of their attacks were exaggerated.

On January 10, just as the first assaults against Bataan were starting, MacArthur paid his first—and perhaps only—visit to Bataan since Pearl Harbor. The Commander in Chief inspected I and II Corps positions and then returned to his tunnel headquarters on Corregidor.

General Homma started his first assault on Bataan on January 9 with about 25,000 men against a Filipino-American army almost twice that strength. Nevertheless, within one week the Japanese had driven a wedge between the I and II Corps and had turned the II Corps’ inland flank.

So serious was the situation that on January 15 a historic and controversial order was issued:

Subject: Message from General McArthur

To: All Unit Commanders.

The following message from General MacArthur will be read and explained to all troops. Every company commander is charged with personal responsibility for the delivery of this messag. Each headquarters will follow up to insure reception by every company or similar unit:

Help is on the way from the United States. Thousands of troops and hundreds of planes are being dispatched. The exact time of arrival of reinforcements is unknown as they will have to fight their way through Japanese attempts against them. It is imperative that our troops hold until these reinforcements arrive.

No further retreat is possible. We have more troops in Bataan than the Japanese have thrown against us; our supplies are ample; a determined defense will defeat the enemy’s attack.

It is a question now of courage and determination. Men who run will merely be destroyed but men who fight will save themselves and their country.

I call upon every soldier in Bataan to fight in his assigned position, resisting every attack. This is the only road to salvation. If we fight we will win; if we retreat we will be destroyed.

                       MacArthur

This order briefly raised the hopes of some, but was an ultimate depressant—since its promise of aid could never be kept. One officer wrote that “by the middle of January it had become apparent that ours was a holding scrap out here, with no hope of reinforcement or aid....”

And MacArthur must have known it. For the “thousands of troops and hundreds of planes” (in itself a generalized exaggeration) were being sent to Australia and the Malay barrier—not through the iron ring of the Japanese blockade to the Philippines. On the Rock, the defenders scanned the skies and the tropic seas to the westward, but the only planes they saw bore the “fried egg” insignia of Japan upon their wings, and the only reinforcements they received were the casuals and the stragglers from the broken units on Bataan. Meanwhile, the laterals of Malinta Tunnel were quickly filling up with wounded.

By January 23-24, both 1 and II Corps—their lines infiltrated and penetrated—were in full retreat to the Bagac-Orion position. Against the Japanese combat aggressiveness, will-to-die, and infiltration tactics, the Filipinos and Americans were at a tremendous disadvantage. The Japanese losses were heavy, but I Corps lost most of its field artillery; one regiment—the 51st (Philippine Army)—disintegrated in rout and panic, and MacArthur estimated his losses at thirty-five per cent, with some divisions depleted by as much as sixty percent. Before the end of January, the defenders of Bataan were occupying their final, no-retreat, last-stand positions.

In early February, shells began falling on Corregidor and the other islands from the Cavite shore of the hay. The shelling usually occurred between 8:30 and 11:30 A.M.: the morning haze and the rising sun made it impossible for American gunners to spot the enemy’s gun flashes. Corregidor's garrison quickly accustomed itself to artillery fire and carried on—but the furrows and the gouges and the shadows across the face of the island and the faces of its defenders grew and deepened; slowly damage and casualties mounted; Signal Corps linemen, ordnance repairmen, and medics were busy day and night.