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|The Battle of Corregidor
the battle that forced MacArthur out of the Philippines
Corregidor is a tadpole-shaped, rocky, fortified island at the entrance to Manila Bay on the island of Luzon that is about 2 square miles in area. In 1941 the island was heavily fortified with numerous coastal batteries which mounted 45 guns of various sizes. The wide western end of the island, known as Topside, contained most of the island's guns, while barracks and support facilities were located on a plateau to the east known as Middleside. Further east was Bottomside, which contained the town of San Jose as well as dock facilities.
Looming over this area was Malinta Hill which housed an array of fortified tunnels. Located within this tunnel system were a 1,000-bed hospital, storage areas, and headquarters facilities. Further to the east, the island tapered to a point where an airfield was located. Due the perceived strength of Corregidor's defenses, it was dubbed the "Gibraltar of the East." Supporting Corregidor, were three other facilities around Manila Bay -- Fort Drum, Fort Frank, and Fort Hughes. With the beginning of the Philippines Campaign in December 1941, these defenses were led by Major General George F. Moore.
Chronology of Events
The Japanese invasion of the Philippines began on December 22, 1941, when the Japanese 14th Army, under Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, landed at Lingayen Gulf. American and Philippine troops under U.S. General Douglas MacArthur were quickly overwhelmed and forced to retreat to defensive positions on the Bataan Peninsula. MacArthur then established his headquarters on Corregidor, as did the government of the Philippine Commonwealth.
Japanese aerial bombardment of Corregidor began on December 29th. The first attacks did little damage because the occupants had been on alert and their anti-aircraft defenses were on stand-by. With that lack of success, General Homma ordered at least one more week of bombing. Now that the Japanese pilots were familiar with their target, they managed to inflict much more damage to the artillery and soldiers on the ground. The attacks caused extensive damage to the above-ground barracks and supply depots.
On January 6, 1942, the main focus of the Japanese assault turned to the Bataan Peninsula, giving the occupants of Corregidor a chance to re-supply and shore up their defenses. The respite from the assault was relatively brief, however, as the Japanese began regular artillery bombardment of the island in early February. By late-February the Pentagon was ordering MacArthur to evacuate his command to Australia. Initially resistant to leaving his men behind, MacArthur finally complied with the order on March 12, leaving Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright in command of forces in the Philippines.
Bataan fell on April 9th, and Japanese Major General Kizon Mikami's 22nd Air Brigade began an aerial offensive against the island on the 28th. Shifting artillery to the southern part of Bataan, General Homma began a relentless bombardment of the island on May 1st. This continued until May 5th, when Japanese troops under Major General Kureo Tanaguchi boarded landing craft to assault Corregidor. Just before midnight, an intense artillery barrage hammered the area between North and Cavalry Points near the island's tail. Storming ashore, the initial wave of Japanese infantry met fierce resistance and was hampered by oil which coated Corregidor's beaches. Fighting heavy currents, the second Japanese attack attempted to land further east. Hit hard as they came ashore, the assault was largely repulsed by Colonel Samuel L. Howard's 4th Marines. The second wave then shifted west to join with the first wave. Struggling inland, the Japanese began to make some gains and by 1:30 am on May 6th had captured Battery Denver. Becoming a focal point of the battle, the 4th Marines quickly moved to recover the battery. Heavy fighting ensued, which saw the Japanese slowly overwhelm the Marines as reinforcements arrived from the mainland. With the situation desperate, Colonel Howard committed his reserves around 4:00 am. Moving forward, approximately 500 Marines were slowed by Japanese snipers which had infiltrated through the lines. Though suffering from ammunition shortages, the Japanese took advantage of their superior numbers and continued to press the defenders. Around 9:30 am, the Japanese succeeded in landing three tanks on the island. These proved key in driving the defenders back to trenches near the entrance to the Malinta Tunnel. With over 1,000 helpless wounded in the Tunnel's hospital, General Wainwright was forced to surrender at noon.
General Wainwright was taken to Cabcaben, Bataan, to meet General Homma. Wainwright tried to explain that he only had control over Corregidor, but Homma did not believe him and wanted to take control over all of the islands. On May 7th, Wainwright signed the surrender agreement, and the next day he was brought to a radio station to inform all of the troops in the area. The commanders on Visayas and Mindanao were not sure if the orders were genuine and debated over the orders for many hours. They eventually decided that the orders were not valid and ordered their men to begin guerrilla attacks against the Japanese. Wainwright had to send letters to all the organized forces in the area to let them know that his surrender was for real. The letter stated that they had to surrender or the current prisoners of war would be tortured. Some Americans did not believe that the orders were real, but they had no other choice than to follow them. If they didn't, they would face courts martial for insubordination, and virtually all of the American commanders in the Visayas decided to follow the orders after receiving the letter from Wainwright.
Spared from the "Bataan Death March," the Corregidor survivors, including the doctors and nurses, were taken to Manila and paraded through the streets before being taken to Prison Camp Cabanatuan. The Battle of Corregidor resulted in 800 Americans killed and another 1,000 wounded; the Japanese suffered 900 killed and 1,200 wounded. Corregidor was held by the Japanese until it was retaken by U.S. forces in February 1945.
In 1963, the United States and the Philippines jointly developed Corregidor into a battlefield park as a World War II memorial.
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This page was last updated on 05/06/2018.