Corregidor Island, also known as “The Rock” for its rocky landscape and the heavy fortifications, is a lofty island located at the entrance of Manila Bay in southwestern part of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Corregidor (Fort Mills) is the largest of the islands that formed the harbor defenses of Manila Bay together with El Fraile Island (Fort Drum), Caballo Island (Fort Hughes) and Carabao Island (Fort Frank), which were all fortified during the American occupation of the country. The island was also the site of a small military airfield, as part of the defense. During World War II, Corregidor was the site of two costly sieges and pitched battles—the first during the first months of 1942, and the second in January 1945—between the Imperial Japanese Army and the U.S. Army, along with its smaller subsidiary force, the Philippine Army.
As American and Filipino troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur retreated into the Bataan Peninsula during the Battle of the Philippines (1941-42), Corregidor and its adjacent islets at Manila Bay became the final bastions for holding out against the enemy after the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, which ended all organized opposition by the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East to the invading Japanese forces on Luzon in the northern Philippines. With its network of tunnels and formidable array of defensive armament, along with the fortifications across the entrance to Manila Bay, Corregidor was the remaining obstacle to the 14th Japanese Imperial Army of Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma. 23 batteries had been installed on Corregidor, consisting of 56 coastal guns and mortars. In addition, Corregidor had 13 anti-aircraft artillery batteries with 76 guns (28 3-inch and 48 .50-caliber) and 10 60-inch Sperry searchlights. The longest-range coastal pieces were the two 12-inch guns of Batteries Hearn and Smith, with a horizontal range of 29,000 yards. Although capable of an all around traverse, these guns, due to their flat trajectories, were not effective for use against targets on Bataan.
On 29 December 1941, the defenders got their first taste of aerial bombardment on Corregidor. The attack lasted for two hours as the Japanese destroyed or damaged the hospital, Topside and Bottomside barracks, the Navy fuel depot and the officers club. Three days later, the island garrison was bombed for more than three hours. Periodic bombing continued over the next four days, but with only two more raids for the rest of January, the defenders had a chance to improve their positions considerably. On 12 March, under cover of darkness, Gen. MacArthur was evacuated from Corregidor on four PT boats for Mindanao, where he was eventually flown to Australia.
From 29 December to the end of April 1942, despite incessant Japanese aerial, naval and artillery bombardment, the garrison on Corregidor, consisting mainly of the 4th Marine Regiment and combined units from U.S. Navy, Army units and Filipino soldiers, resisted valiantly, inflicting heavy enemy losses in men and planes.
During the siege, the island had ample armor-piercing ammunition but very little of the anti-personnel type, which then was of greatest demand for use against land targets on Bataan. In fact, most of the anti-personnel shells were only for the 12-inch mortars of Batteries Way and Geary, which turned out to be the mainstay of the Corregidor Garrison during the Japanese invasion. Its mortars, capable of a 360-degree traverse, could fire on land targets at Bataan. They brought the most destruction on Japanese positions during the attempted landings on the southwest coast of Bataan late in January to the middle of February 1942. These mortars were finally silenced by enemy shelling in May 1942.
Battery Geary had a battery of eight 13-ton, 12-inch mortars. Defiladed in a hollow on Corregidor’s Southern coast it was fairly well protected from Japanese shelling. However, on January 6, 1942, a Japanese bomb landed in a makeshift bunker killing 31 of Battery Geary’s NCOs and canoneers. Early in the morning of January 26 Battery Geary opened fire on a unit of Japanese soldiers near Longaskawayan Point on the west side of the Bataan Peninsula. Later, this battery was pinpointed by the Japanese artillery and was subjected to heavy shelling. One direct hit by a 240-mm shell, which detonated the magazines of this battery in May 2, 1942, proved to be the most crippling shot during the entire siege of Corregidor. This explosion tossed the fifty ton barrel of the mortar around, one to a distance of 150 yards, another was blown through three feet of reinforced concrete wall into the adjoining powder magazine of Battery Crockett. Large chunks of steel were blown as far as the Malinta Tunnel, killing 27 of the battery crew instantly. Japanese bombing and shelling continued with unrelenting ferocity. Japanese aircraft flew 614 missions dropping 1,701 bombs totaling some 365 tons of explosive. Joining the aerial bombardment were nine 9.4 inch howitzers, thirty-four 5.9 inch howitzers, and 32 other artillery pieces, which pounded Corregidor day and night. It was estimated that on 4 May alone, more than 16,000 shells hit Corregidor.
The American and Filipino soldiers on Corregidor and the neighboring islets held out against the Japanese to deny the use of Manila Bay, but with the Japanese Army directing its heavy artillery from the southern end of Bataan, proceeded to block Corregidor from any sources of food and fresh water. The final blow to the defenders came when three Japanese tanks landed and went into action following several costly attempts to land Japanese infantry. The men around Denver Battery withdrew to the ruins of a concrete trench a few yards away from the entrance to Malinta tunnel, just as Japanese artillery delivered a heavy barrage. Particularly fearful of the dire consequences should the Japanese capture the tunnel, where lay 1,000 helpless wounded men, and realizing that the defenses outside Malinta tunnel could not hold out much longer, and expecting further Japanese landings that night, General Wainwright decided to sacrifice one more day of freedom in exchange for several thousand lives, and on May 6, 1942, the remaining American and Filipino forces surrendered.
In a radio message to President Franklin Roosevelt, Wainwright said, “There is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long been passed.” Colonel Howard burned the 4th Regiment’s and national colors to prevent their capture by the enemy. Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright finally surrendered the Corregidor garrison at about 1:30 p.m. on May 6, 1942, with two officers sent forward with a white flag to carry his surrender message to the Japanese.
The Japanese losses sustained from 1 January -30 April and from the initial assault landings on 5 -6 May, resulted in losses of about 900 dead and 1,200 wounded, while the defenders suffered 800 dead and 1,000 wounded.
Corregidor’s defeat marked the fall of the Philippines and Asia, but Imperial Japan’s timetable for the conquest of Australia and the rest of the Pacific was severely upset. Its advance was ultimately checked at the battle for New Guinea, and at Guadalcanal, the turning point in the Pacific War.
About 4,000 of the 11,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war from Corregidor were marched through the streets of Manila to incarceration at Fort Santiago and Bilibid Prison, criminal detention centers turned POW camps. U.S. Army and Navy nurses (the “Angels of Bataan and Corregidor”) continued to work on Corregidor for several weeks, and were then sent to Santo Tomas. The rest were sent off in trains to various Japanese prison camps. General Wainwright was incarcerated in Manchuria. Over the course of the war, thousands were shipped to the Japanese home islands as slave labor. Some were eventually freed at the Cabanatuan and during the battle for Manila’s liberation. While most of the Allied forces on Corregidor surrendered, many individuals continued fighting as guerrillas.
General Masaharu Homma, who conquered the Philippines in five months instead of the projected two months, ended up being relieved of his command.
The battle for the recapture of Corregidor occurred between 16 and 26 February 1945, by American and Filipino forces which liberated the island fortress from the Japanese hands.
During World War II, Corregidor played an important role during the invasion and liberation of the Philippines from Japanese forces. Heavily bombarded in the latter part of the war, the ruins left on the island serve as a military memorial to American, Filipino and Japanese soldiers who served or lost their lives on the island. Corregidor is one of the important historic and tourist sites in the country. One of the most recent additions to Corregidor is the Filipino Heroes Memorial located in the Tail End. This 6,000-square meter complex has 14 murals depicting heroic battles fought by Filipinos from the 15th century up to the present day. It was designed by Francisco Mañosa, while the murals and a statue of a Filipino guerrilla were sculpted by Manuel Casas. The complex was inaugurated by President Fidel V. Ramos on August 28, 1992.