- 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
The Japanese on Bataan were also in a bad way. Because the conquest was taking longer than anticipated, the troops were on twenty-three ounces of rice a day instead of the normal sixty-two, and heavy battle casualties had reduced Homma’s effectives to about 3,000 men at the end of February. Like the Americans, most of the Japanese had malaria. But in March, General Homma’s army was heavily reinforced, and seventy to eighty more aircraft were assigned to the bombardment of Bataan and Corregidor. Japanese general headquarters was irked at U.S. tenacity; the Japanese 14th Army was in disgrace.
As April began, the remorseless cacophony of the Japanese barrage sounded the knell of hope; on Bataan, the II Corps line had buckled. The unequivocal orders of Mac Arthur left no room for local judgment: “When the supply situation becomes impossible there must be no thought of surrender. You must attack.”
The end came in a hideous spectacle which those who saw it will long remember. There were the last and desperate orders to Bataan from the tunnel headquarters on Corregidor—then silence, and the uneasy men in foxholes on the Rock watched the trickling stream of stragglers, watched the end of organized resistance on the mainland of Luzon. Then the night was split asunder by the crashing jar of great explosions; the retreating Americans blew up caches of gasoline, ammunition, and supplies near Mariveles, and from the Rock the defenders saw a whole mountainside dissolve into dust and debris. And nature, too, seemed to mourn. About midnight of April 8 an earthquake caused Malinta Tunnel to “weave like a snake.” Next day a pall of smoke covered the dying army on the mainland, and the noise of explosions, the dull voice of artillery, and the desultory crackle of small arms were the Valkyrian accompaniment to the fall of Bataan.
Major General Edward P. King, Jr., quiet, modest, strong, and able, the commander of all the troops on Bataan, sent a flag of truce to the Japanese commander early in the morning of April 9. His battered units were completely broken; there was only a half-ration of food in the quartermaster stores. “VVe have no further means of organized resistance,” King said. King took the responsibility for the decision—like the strong man he was—without informing Wainwright on Corregidor, who had passed on MacArthur’s “No surrender” order. He felt, he said when he went to meet the Japanese conquerors in his last clean uniform, like Lee at Appomattox. With him, in piecemeal units and in scattered groups, surrendered some 76,000 exhausted men—all but 12,000 of them Filipinos—the greatest defeat for American arms in history. At the time of the surrender Homma had about 81,000 men on Luzon.
On Corregidor, beginning on April 3, empty powder cans had been filled with water and distributed to beach-defense positions, and all possible reservoirs had been stocked. New wells had been dug at the entrance to Malinta Tunnel.
About 2,000 men escaped from Bataan, and for many hours after the surrender they were desperately making their way to the Rock. The Marines watched the frantic attempts of fleeing survivors to cross the North Channel in several small launches. Japanese artillery ranged on them; the men on the Rock, helpless, saw two boats holed and sunk and one grounded on Artillery Point. Some of the gaunt survivors swam through the oil-streaked waters to doubtful security; most of them died in the sea.
Wainwright felt the inevitable sag in his men’s morale and he issued an order: Corregidor could and would be held. On April 12, a Flying Fortress bombed Japanese-held Nichols Field, and it “cheered our hearts tremendously,” Lieutenant Commander T. C. Parker reported.
The Japanese wasted no time. As the coast artillery crews and the Marines stood to their guns, the enemy established forward observation posts in the Bataan cliffs and commenced to plaster the Rock with the greatest artillery barrage the Orient had ever known.
The scarecrows from the mainland—those who could walk—were incorporated into the beach-defense battalions of the 4th Marines. This regiment and its incorporated elements were the only guardians of Corregidor’s beaches, and on April 9 and 10 they slept by their guns, ready for a quick Japanese attempt to overrun the Rock.
Two days after Bataan’s fall, friendly Filipinos from Manila smuggled in at night some $650 worth of quinine and other medicines they had collected from the city’s drugstores. But it was a drop in the bucket. There were more than 1,000 wounded and hundreds of sick. Fifty per cent of the 4th Marines’ 1st Battalion had already undergone an epidemic of acute gastroenteritis, and 114 of the cases had been severe. There were also many cases of malaria and jaundice, and there had been a mild outbreak of tonsillitis.
Many of the Navy’s mine sweepers, local defense and naval district craft, and small boats had been sunk; others clustered close to the Rock, looking vainly for protection from the enemy’s murderous fire. Communications failed frequently. The beach defenses, isolated from the command in Malinta Tunnel and from each other, cached water supplies, rations, and ammunition.
So, facing the end, Corregidor girded for defeat.