THE FALL OF CORREGIDOR
Extracted with the permission of Col. Cesar P. Pobre (Ret) from his book,
HISTORY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE.
(Subtitles provided by The Hawaiian WebMaster)



The fall of Bataan marked the beginning of the end for Corregidor. Without Bataan, Corregidor could not hold out for long since it had become isolated. The Japanese now had the high ground from which they could shell Corregidor at will. However, the defenders of Corregidor and the other forts at the mouth of Manila Bay, had been sworn to defend the island until the end. Wainwright radioed to MacArthur in Australia: "Corregidor can and will be held." For as long as Corregidor held, the Japanese could not enter Manila Bay, thus rendering their capture of Manila with no military rule.

Corregidor and the Other Forts

Corregidor was the largest of four islands at the mouth of Manila Bay that had long been fortified by the Americans. On it were ten 12-inch mortars, eight 12-inch guns (all but 2 being disappearing guns which were covered by concrete parapets until it was time to fire), and a variety of smaller caliber guns. Most of the guns were for coast defense, designed to fire against hostile ships at a distance. Many of these defense guns, however, could fire into Bataan and Cavite, as what was done during the Bataan campaign.

Inside Malinta Hill, in the center of the island, was a complex tunnel system which provided for headquarters and supply spaces, as well as a complete hospital. Malinta Tunnel was invulnerable to bombing and shelling, and this could hold out almost indefinitely until food ran out, or until the Japanese invaded the island and forced their way through. A hospital, barracks, headquarters buildings, and many other structures above ground were made of reinforced concrete, which were supposedly bomb-proof. An electric railroad linked the various parts of the island, and extensive communication lines permitted the instant relay of orders.

Besides Corregidor were three other fortified islands at the mouth of Manila Bay. These were Caballo Island, on which was situated Fort Hughes; El Fraile, on which was Fort Drum; and Carabao Island, on which was Fort Frank. Fort Hughes and Fort Frank were, like Corregidor, armed with an array of disappearing guns, mortars and a variety of smaller caliber guns. tunnel systems had also been built on these islands. Fort Drum was different from them all. The island proper had been leveled to water's edge, and on top of this base was built a reinforced concrete structure on which two armored turrets were emplaced. The fort looked like a battleship, and was often mistaken as one by ships entering Manila Bay.

Most of the big seacost artillery were manned by Americans or Philippine Scouts, but some of the guns were manned by the Philippine Army's 1st Coast Artillery Regiment. This complex of forts trained and fired upon targets as they presented themselves. Fort Drum, for instance, fired on Cavite when it was discovered that the Japanese were using a church belfry as an observation point against the harbor forts. It also fired at a Japanese boat which had tried to sail across Manila Bay. The guns of Corregidor fired in the Battle of the Points, and tried to interdict the Japanese advance on the last days of Bataan.


Philippine Commonwealth Government Moves to Corregidor

MacArthur established the USAFFE headquarters in Corregidor on 24 December 1941, after he had declared War Plan Orange in effect. That same day, Christmas Eve, Quezon departed Manila with his entourage. Because of limited space on the interisland vessel Mayon, Quezon was able to take with him only his immediate family, and some members of his official family; Vice Pres. Sergio Osmena; Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos; Maj. Gen. Basilio Valdes, chief of staff of the Philippine Army; Col. Manuel Nieto, his aide-de-camp; and Serapio Canceran, his private secretary. They arrived in Corregidor at dusk.

With Quezon's party was U.S. high commissioner to the Philippines, Francis B. Sayre, whom Quezon had clashed with before the war regarding U.S. policy. The two were just barely on speaking terms when they were given quarters close to each other at the Malinta Tunnel. It was said that during one of the bombardments in Corregidor, Sayre and Quezon sought further shelter under the beds; when they emerged after the raid, the cold silence between them had been broken.

Quezon remained at the Malinta Tunnel during most of his stay in Corregidor. The dark, dank atmosphere was bad for his health; it aggravated his tubercular condition. He also grew increasingly frustrated at the failure of the Americans to send reinforcements. Realizing that the Americans were paying more attention and sending more aid to England, he angrily told an American officer, "How typically American to writhe in anguish at the fate of a distant cousin while a daughter is being raped in the back room!"

With the U.S. Fleet badly damaged in Pearl Harbor and the Asiatic Fleet battling for its life in the Netherlands East Indies, no major offensive effort could be taken in the Pacific. However, the U.S. tried to send in small, privately owned ships from Australia to run the Japanese blockade. Offered large sums of money and other rewards for a completed voyage, around ten vessels of Philippine and Chinese registry were procured to get to bring food, ammunition and supplies to the Philippines. Three ships successfully made it through the blockade and reached Mindanao and Cebu, but three others were sunk by the Japanese.

Within Phiippine waters, attempts were also made to run the blockade from Bataan and Corregidor to obtain food in the Visayas. One ship, the SS Legaspi, was able to make two round trips from Corregidor to Panay but was sunk on its third trip. Another ship, the Kolambugan, was sent from Corregidor to Batangas, escorted by Philippine Army Q-Boats. Food supplies were gathered in Panay, Cebu and Mindanao, but with the tightening of the Japanese blockade, there was no way to securely bring them to Bataan and Corregidor.


First Japanese Attack on Corregidor

Corregidor had its first taste of war when it was raided by Japanese bombers on 29 December 1941. Homma had ordered a massive bombing attack when he learned that MacArthur had transferred his headquarters from Manila to Corregidor. The attack caused only little permanent damage since the men had been on alert and the antiaircraft defenses put up stiff opposition. However, Homma ordered the bombardment to continue for a week more, causing extensive damage to above-ground barracks and other buildings and destroying a great quantity of supplies. The heavy artillery, though, was left almost undamaged. The enemy air attacks ended after 6 January, the very day the land offensive campaign against Bataan was launched. Until Bataan fell, Corregidor and the other island forts would be spared from further air attacks, primarily because the bulk of Homma's air forces had been pulled out to Thailand for employment there.

Instead of an air bombardment, Homma ordered some artillery to be positioned on the hills of Cavite and, from there, be used to shell the harbor forts. The artillery opened in early February, firing on all forts. When the fighting in Bataan abated during a lull, the Japanese increased their artillery barrage on the four island forts. Some damage was done on the big guns, but that was quickly repaired. A part of the tunnel system in Fort Frank, however, was penetrated, killing 28 men. The forts fired back every day but, because the Japanese had camouflaged their guns, were not able to aim at specific targets.

At one point, Capt. Jesus A. Villamor volunteered to fly a slow, unarmed training plane over Cavite to photograph the Japanese positions. It was a dangerous, if not a suicidal mission, but Villamor, escorted by six surviving P-40 fighters, flew just the same. The photographs the mission took revealed the positions of the Japanese guns, and the destruction of several of these by accurate gunfire. Later, it was found out that the Japanese had moved in more guns and hid them behind the Pico de Loro hills, unseen by observers from any of the harbor forts.


Philippine Government in Exile

Washington had suggested the idea of evacuating Quezon to the U.S. when the fall of Bataan and Corregidor was becoming imminent. It was not clear, however, whether getting Quezon and the other Philippine officials to the United States was to be undertaken to ensure the uninterrupted functioning of the Commonwealth government even in exile, as it had been made to appear; the move could also be meant to obviate the possibility that he and the rest of the Filipino people might turn disloyal to the U.S. and, thus, collaborate with the Japanese blockade tightening on Bataan and Corregidor. Quezon decided to transfer the seat of the Commonwealth government from Corregidor to some other Philippine territory free from the Japanese threat. In Corregidor, Quezon felt isolated from his people. However, if he could get to the Visayas and perhaps to Mindanao, he believed he could keep the government functioning in the unoccupied areas while maintaining direct contact with his people.

On 20 February 1942, Quezon, his family and his immediate staff boarded the submarine Swordfish, and debarked at San Jose de Buenavista in Antique four days later. The rest of his Corregidor entourage followed him on the interisland steamer Don Esteban. Most of the Visayas was not yet directly affected by the war, although Iloilo had already been bombed. Quezon tried to keep the Commonwealth running and urged the people to collect food for the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. The people obliged. Quezon traveled around central Visayas, meeting with military and political leaders in Iloilo, Bacolod and Cebu to discuss local defense plans, plans to protect the civilians and their interest, and attempts to keep industries and the economy going. Quezon had ordered his party to bring as much cash from Corregidor, and what was available was distributed in the Visayas.

In the meantime, MacArthur had been ordered to leave Corregidor for Australia. High Commissioner Sayre departed by submarine on 23 February. Although no point in the Visayas was occupied as yet by the Japanese, the Japanese blockade around the Philippines was tightening. Already, Japanese planes were beginning to attack points in the Visayas, with the airfields in Iloilo and Cebu being the first to be strafed and bombed. By mid-March 1942, Japanese warships were steaming in Visayan waters, signaling the time for Quezon to leave the area. On 18 March 1942, PT boats met with Quezon's party in Negros and took him to Mindanao, but not after a perilous journey where a torpedo almost exploded while still on the deck of Quezon's boat. In Mindanao, the presidential party motored to the Del Monte airfield, where they waited for a plane from Australia to pick them up. Quezon drafted an order appointing Manuel Roxas (now a colonel) as his successor should anything happen to him or vice President Osmena. Late in the evening of 26 March, Quezon and his immediate party left the Philippines for Australia.


Second Japanese Attack of Corregidor

As the Japanese built up their forces to attack Bataan for one last time and planned their Visayas and Mindanao campaigns, Corregidor braced up to endure its second series of aerial attacks. Newly arrived Japanese bombers attacked Corregidor to prevent it from supporting the lines in Bataan. Although Corregidor was constantly under attack by air or artillery, its men kept their spirits up and prepared for the day when the Japanese would invade the island fortress. Inside the Malinta Tunnel, a radio station was established, which was named the "Voice of Freedom." Headed by Maj. Carlos P. Romulo, the prewar editor of the Philippines Herald, it broadcasted music and news to the men in Bataan and those in occupied areas. It gave hope to those who listened to it in Manila, as well as in Bataan.

No doubt, the men's spirit was willing, but their flesh was beginning to wear away, so to speak. The unrelieved strain of the siege, the continued bombardments, the lack of reinforcements, and the departure of General MacArthur, took their toll. It was inevitable that the fortress would fall. The Japanese continued to pound Corregidor daily after Bataan fell. Corregidor was prevented from firing freely into Bataan because the Bataan defenders, now prisoners of war (POWs), were being used by the Japanese as hostages and placed beside the Japanese guns. They also raised an observation balloon daily to spot on Corregidor's gun positions, and any movement observed was immediately pinpointed and fired upon.

On 29 April, the Japanese Emperor's birthday, a particularly heavy artillery and air bombardment was carried out. The attacks continued daily from then on. At night, the Japanese assembled landing craft from Olongapo and from Nasugbu in southern Batangas. As the attacks intensified, one of Corregidor's mortar batteries, Battery Geary, got a direct hit which detonated its magazines. The resultant blast, which was heard in Manila, threw the massive 12-inch mortars away like matchsticks, and left corregidor with only one battery of four mortars. The mortars were particularly effective against the Japanese because they fired at high angles, allowing them to hit Japanese positions behind hills and mountains. On 3 May, Wainwright reported to MacArthur: "Situation here is fast becoming desperate."


Japanese Invasion of Corregidor

On the night of 5 May, the Japanese launched their invasion of Corregidor. They miscalculated the strength and direction of the tides, however, and landed far from their intended landing areas. The first waves were met by withering rifle, machine gun and point-blank artillery fire, but the Japanese landed more and more men and were able to secure a beachhead. The American forces tried to counterattack, but were halted by Japanese artillery fire and the appearance of Japanese tanks on the battlefield. All available personnel were pulled out from their positions to challenge the Japanese, but the constant Japanese artillery and air bombardments, plus the tenacious advance of the landing force with its tanks soon made further resistance futile. Had the Japanese forces reached the Malinta Tunnel, carnage might have ensued because of the presence of noncombatants in the tunnel and the wounded in the hospital.


Wainwright Surrenders Corregidor

Wainwright decided to surrender Corregidor and the harbor forts, sending a party to approach the Japanese with a white flag. At noon, 6 May, the American flag was lowered from the flagpole and replace with a white flag. Wainwright had, before sending his emissaries to contact the Japanese, radioed General Sharp in Mindanao to relay the message that he was releasing command of the Visayas and Mindanao to him. This move would give Wainwright the authority to surrender only Corregidor and the other fortified islands to the Japanese. Resistance could thus continue in the south. He also reported to Roosevelt, "with head bowed in sadness but not in shame," that he was arranging for the surrender.

Wainwright was taken to Cabcaben, Bataan to meet Homma. Upon learning that Wainwright only offered to surrender the harbor forts, Homma rejected the offer and threatened to continue the general attack. He stood firm on the position that he would only accept the surrender of all forces in the Philippines. Wainwright tried to explain, saying that he only had command of Corregidor and its satellite islands; but Hommaa refused to believe this. When Wainwright further explained that he could no longer contact General Sharp because he had no radio facilities, Homma allowed him to use Japanese facilities, even offering the use of a plane so that he or his representatives could personally inform Sharp. Wainwright was then at a loss for an excuse. Homma then broke off negotiations and told Wainwright to return to Corregidor, to deal with the Japanese commanding officer there once he had decided what to do.

Wainwright returned to Corregidor but, realizing the hopelessness of his position, decided to reassume command over Sharp. He contacted the Japanese commander in Corregidor. At midnight of 6 May, he signed the surrender documents, as Homma had wanted him. All formal organized resistance in the Philippines against the Japanese thus ended. On 7 May, Wainwright was brought to Manila to broadcast a message to General Sharp and guerrilla leaders in Luzon, announcing that he was taking command over them and ordering them to surrender. In addition, he sent personal representatives to northern Luzon, the Visayas, and to Mindanao to inform the commanders there of his decision. He stressed that his orders must be followed; otherwise, the garrisons of Corregidor and its satellites would be harmed.

The American commanders in the Visayas and Mindanao debated on whether the orders of Wainwright were genuine and so had to be followed, or were actually forced on him by the Japanese, thus making them illegal. MacArthur himself had radioed Sharp, saying that orders of Wainwright and his decision to surrender were not valid, and should not be followed. Instead, he ordered Sharp to initiate guerrilla operations against the Japanese.


End of the Organized Resistance

Wainwright sent personal emissaries to all points in the Philippines where organized forces were still resisting. They carried his personal orders to surrender. Some of the American officers decided that the orders were legal, and therefore had no choice but to follow them, or else face court martial for insubordinations. Wainwright's representatives stressed that the Japanese were holding the prisoners in Corregidor as hostage and that if their respective forces did not surrender, they might be massacred. And so, General Sharp and virtually all of the American island commanders in the Visayas obeyed the orders to surrender. However, it was difficult for some of them do do this, particularly Brig. Gen. Bradford G. Chynoweth, the island commander of Panay, who had just emplaced his forces to be ready to fight. Likewise, the officers on the islands of Negros, Leyte, Samar, and Bohol, which had not even been invaded at all, did not see the need to surrender without having fired a shot.

The hostage situation of the Corregidor prisoners, however, weighed heavily on every American officer's mind; in the end, all ranking commanders reluctantly decided to follow Wainwright's orders. Yet, the Japanese were not satisfied with the surrender of officers alone; they wanted all the soldiers to give up, too. But this was impossible for, although the island commanders tried to persuade their men to surrender, the majority refused to do so. Eventually, the Japanese were satisfied with the surrender of the officers and some of the men. By 9 June 1942, Wainwright was informed by the Japanese that his command had ceased to exist and that he was now a regular prisoner of war. With all organized resistance in the Philippines officially ended, the Japanese began taking over the various islands which they had not yet invaded. Guerrilla warfare, which had begun in many parts of the country even before the surrender, would now take over from where organized defense had left off.



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