The Fall Of Corregidor

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The men shaved when they could, and bathed by crawling through the barbed wire on the beaches and swimming at night in the warm waters of the bay. They found themselves stumbling in the darkness; the lack of vitamin A in their monotonous rations gave them night blindness.

On Bataan, the surging, clashing lines came wearily to rest between Bagac and Orion, and the campaign settled into bloody piecemeal struggles divided and dispersed by the green compartmentation of the jungle.

The Philippines were isolated; the tide of Pacific conquest had spread far to the south, and its backwash eddied, ever rising, about Bataan and Corregidor.

Time worked for Japan. There was not food enough for both the civilians and the fighting men on Bataan. The newly inducted, badly trained, and poorly disciplined Philippine Army privates and corporals, who handled much of the supplies and food, had a habit of disappearing between the quartermaster depots and the front. Some of the Filipino civilians on Bataan lived well off pilfered army rations, and some of the men in the rear areas ate slimly but passably, but from January on, the men at the front had virtually nothing but rice, pieced out occasionally with mule steak, carabao, and the horses of the famous 26th Cavalry....

On Bataan, as the weeks dragged on, the field hospitals were full; many of the patients mumbled in the grip of the shivering ague and the hot delirium of malaria. Although the Philippines lie close to the greatest quinine-producing areas in the world, the supply of that drug on Luzon was grossly inadequate. Dengue and dysentery were spreading; sleeplessness and hopelessness and hunger made potential victims of all of the Army of Bataan. Sleeplessness was part of the Japanese plan; all night long the tropic dark flickered with the lightning of the guns and thundered with the detonation of the enemy’s heavy mortar shells.

There was little reflection of this situation in the papers in the States. The official communiqués spoke vaguely of “heavy Jap losses.” On March 8—in an announcement broadcast throughout the world—MacArthur’s headquarters pictured Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, commander of the forces besieging Luzon, as dying under a hara-kiri knife, “disgraced by his defeats.”

MacArthur's communiqué next day, March 9, said: “The new commander in chief of the Japanese forces in the Philippines is Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita.... General Yamashita succeeds General Homma, who is reported to have committed suicide.” Except for the fact that the Japanese high command was indeed disappointed at the length of time Homma was taking to subddue Bataan and Corregidor, the communiqué was, like so many others, fiction. General Homma conquered Bataan and the Rock, and survived the war, only to be executed four years later for the Death March of the Bataan prisoners and for other alleged war crimes.

As the weeks went on, the communiqués and press releases consistently failed to mention the Marines who participated in the defense, and when at last a radio report from Corregidor casually referred to them, the Navy Department had to assure the people of the United States that the 4th Regiment had been in the Philippines all along, and that this belated mention of Marines did not mean that the fleet had broken through the Japanese blockade with reinforcements.

So widespread was the American illusion that Bataan and Corregidor were doing pretty well, that broadcasts from the States—cast in a cheerful mood of utter unreality—depressed the morale of the beleaguered men of the Philippines who heard them. The Marines on Corregidor usually listened in about 6 P.M. each evening to Station KGEI, broadcasting from the West Coast of “God’s Country.” This station had a particularly brash commentator who flexed his muscles for the benefit of the Japanese, 10,000 miles away, and one night incautiously defied the enemy: “I dare you to bomb Corregidor!” Said a Marine on the island: “I wish I had that s.o.b. in my foxhole.”

In February, several inter-island steamers from Cebu and Panay ran the blockade with small amounts of food and supplies. The Navy, with submarines and seaplanes, maintained an intermittent and precarious communication with Corregidor. The submarine Seawolf delivered thirty-seven tons of ammunition to the Rock on January 27-28. On the night of February 3-4, submarine Trout brought in 3,500 round of 3-inch antiaircraft ammunition. On the night of February 19, Swordfish felt her way into the mouth of the bay, lay on the bottom during the daylight hours, and at dusk surfaced and took aboard President Manuel Quezon of the Philippine Commonwealth, his family, and some Philippine officials. Four days later, she repeated her exploit and took out High Commissioner Sayre and his party.