- 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
From April 10 on, living on the Rock was like living in the center of a bullseye. The fortified islands were under crossfire from Bataan and Cavite, and almost continuous bombardment from the skies.
By April 14, only five days after Bataan’s surrender, all the seacoast batteries on Corregidor’s north shore were destroyed or out of action; confidently the Japanese put up two observation balloons on Bataan, emplaced more guns, and proceeded methodically to range on Corregidor’s big guns and south shore batteries. Japanese bombers in groups of three to nine flew over the Rock every couple of hours from 8 A.M. to sunset. At first, they flew at 20,000 feet, but when the antiaircraft guns opened, Japanese artillery on Bataan spotted their positions and smothered them in deadly fire. Gradually the antiaircraft fire slackened; soon enemy planes were swooping leisurely over Corregidor and dive-bombers were hurtling to within a few hundred feet of Malinta’s crest. The Japanese did not escape unscathed; a few planes were shot down, but far fewer than the American communiqués claimed.
The artillery fire was far more damaging than the bombing. The enemy blanketed the Rock with shells from 80 to 150 batteries, up to 240 mm. in size. Gun emplacements were wrecked, land mines exploded, the little vessels of the Navy’s inshore patrol sunk one by one, wire destroyed, beach defenses—painfully built up in weeks of toil—razed in one crushing barrage.
Corregidor’s response was brave but intermittent; batteries—those that were yet able to operate—fired “blind,” and even in the first half of April the ratio was at best one shell against four. Fifteen antiaircraft guns were salvaged from bombed-out batteries and moved to new locations. The 155's used for counterbattery work were shifted to new positions after each twenty rounds of fire. All mobile guns were moved into one-gun defiladed positions. Ordnance technicians, working steadily, modified the fuses of armor-piercing shells to explode on impact, but their best efforts added only twenty-five rounds a day to the magazines. Ammunition dumps went up in sputtering fireworks; toward sunset, parts of the Rock were sometimes veiled in dust and smoke—a haze so thick that the shores of Bataan and even the skies were obscured. The artillerymen and the 4th Marines, crouching, eating, sleeping, waiting in foxholes or in shallow tunnels dug into the sides of the hills, bore this unending bombardment with dull stoicism. Meals now were haphazard, for kitchens were hit and cooking had to be done in the dark. Some units were on one meal a day. Breakfast was eaten before dawn, dinner after dark.
Toward the end of April many men began to crack; morale sagged and cases of shell shock increased. During all this period, the 4th Marines, Navy personnel, and the splendid cadre of Regular Army men had held together and inspired the whole makeshift garrison. As the gun batteries were destroyed one after another, coast artillerymen became part of the beach-defense organization, and as the Navy’s minesweepers and small craft were sunk, sailors swam ashore to join the defense. At the last, the 4th Marines were the stiffening of a composite force the likes of which had never yet been seen in war—Coast Guard, Navy, Naval Reserve, Insular Force, U.S. Army, Philippine Army, Philippine Scouts, and Philippine Constabulary.
On April 29, two Navy PBY flying boats from Australia landed in the darkness with medicines and antiaircraft fuses—a last despairing gesture. They flew out, barely staggering off the water, with fifty nurses and key officers of MacArthur’s staff.
On May 3, the submarine Spearfish ran the blockade and took off twenty-five passengers, including thirteen women. One of these passengers, Lieutenant Commander Parker, was told by General Wainwright just before the Spearfish left that “they [the Japanese] will have to come take us. … They will never get this place any other way.” It was the Rock’s last personal contact with the outside world.
On May 4, 16,000 shells in twenty-four hours was the culminating blow; there was little left on the Rock—save the rock itself and men with heart and courage. The lovely green-capped hills now lay bare, the earth scourged and flayed and ulcered. All vegetation and all structures and buildings in the open were destroyed; shell cases from burned-out ammunition dumps pocked the landscape. Two more tunnel laterals had been cleared for hospital use, and still the sick and wounded overflowed. And only three or four days’ supply of water remained. Forty-six of forty-eight beach-defense guns had been destroyed and all of the Rock’s great batteries silenced—the mortars, the 12-inch rifles, the 8- and 10-inch disappearing guns, the 155’s. The small supply of star shells was exhausted, the searchlights—except for one or two—were wrecked; of the antiaircraft guns a few remained, but their firecontrol instruments were destroyed, and Japanese planes swept boldly a few hundred feet above the Rock to strafe and bomb. The great 14-inch guns on the other fortified islands were still firing, but except for those on Fort Drum, the “concrete battleship,” only intermittently. A thousand shells struck the deck of Fort Drum in one day, and some fifteen feet of its concrete was chipped away by shellfire during the siege, but its turrets still spoke.