Floating earthward without being fired upon by the Japanese, the first man of the first lift of paratroopers was on the ground at 0833, 16 February, three minutes behind schedule. Jumpers from following aircraft encountered sporadic Japanese rifle and machine gun fire, but on the ground at Topside drop zones the paratroopers found only a few small groups of Japanese armed with light machine guns and rifles. These the parachutists either killed or drove off with little trouble. By 0945 the first lift was on the ground and assembled at Topside drop zones–the 3d Battalion, 503d Infantry; Battery C, 162d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; a platoon of Battery D, 462d Parachute Field Artillery; Company C, 161st Airborne Engineer Battalion; and about two-thirds of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 503d RCT, including Colonel Jones.
The missions of the troops in the first lift were to secure and hold the drop zones for the second lift; prepare to move out to clear all Topside upon the arrival of the second lift; provide fire support for the assault of the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, at Bottomside; and, finally, establish physical contact with the latter unit as soon as possible. By 1000 the ‘troopers had successfully accomplished the first mission, had completed preparations for the second, and had moved two .50-caliber machine guns in position on the southeast side of Topside to help cover the amphibious attack. The machine gunners, whose support fire was not needed initially, had a magnificent view of the assault at Bottomside.
The 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, had come to Mariveles with the 151st RCT on 15 February, and had left Mariveles Harbor aboard twenty-five LCM’s of the 592d Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment at 0830 on the 16th. Taking a circuitous route around the west end of Corregidor, the first boats hit the south beach at 1028, two minutes ahead of schedule. Contrary to all expectations, there was no opposition as the men of the first four waves poured ashore. But as the fifth wave came in Japanese machine guns opened up from Ramsay Ravine and Breakwater Point, to the left rear–southeast–and from cliffs at San Jose Point, lying at the southwest corner of Malinta Hill.
AIRDROP, TOPSIDEAs vehicles reached shore they began detonating mines along the Bottomside beaches. In rapid succession a medium tank of the 603d Tank Company, an M7 self-propelled mount of Cannon Company, 34th Infantry, and a 37-mm. antitank gun of Antitank Company, 34th Infantry, were destroyed. Nevertheless, Companies K and L, 34th Infantry, pushed rapidly forward and gained a firm hold atop Malinta Hill by 1100. To that time amphibious landing casualties had been 2 men killed and 6 wounded, far below the anticipated rate.
Surprise was complete. The lack of opposition to the first parachute drops and to the initial landing waves at Bottomside can be attributed both to the shock of preparatory naval and air bombardment and to the fact that the Japanese had not expected a parachute attack. Evidently circling bombers and fighters of the Allied Air Forces had kept the Japanese under cover while the LCM’s and escorts approaching from Mariveles apparently diverted Japanese attention from the incoming C-47’s. Indeed, since the C-47’s resembled “Betty” bombers of the Japanese Army Air Force, the Japanese naval troops on Corregidor may have assumed that the troop-carrying aircraft were more American bombers.
In turn, the parachute drop diverted Japanese attention from the amphibious craft moving on Corregidor. Obviously confused by the co-ordinated assault, the Japanese did not know what to do first. By the time they had recovered their wits sufficiently to take meaningful action, the 3d Battalions of the 34th and 503d Infantry Regiments had secured their initial objectives with negligible combat losses. However, jump casualties among the paratroopers of the first lift had run higher than anticipated–roughly 25 percent of the ‘troopers of that lift had been injured, and many others had failed to land on Topside. There had been a number of contributing factors. For one thing, in their first pass over the drop zones the leading planes had disgorged paratroopers from an altitude of 550-600 feet instead of the planned 400 feet. This increased descent drift and sent some men onto the cliffs south and southwest of the drop zones while others barely hit the narrow beaches below the bluffs. Drift also had increased because the wind velocity was over twenty miles per hour (five miles or more per hour stronger than the velocity then considered safe for parachute operations) and because the wind came more from the
north than planners had expected. Colonel Jones and the commander of the 317th Troop Carrier Group, circling overhead in a command plane, were in radio contact with the C-47’s. They were able to have the troop carriers progressively reduce their altitude until by the time the first drop had ended all planes were flying at the right height. Nevertheless, most of the men of the first lift missed the assigned drop zones and landed on, in, and among buildings and trees away from the two fields. Some of the officers who came down with the first lift felt that conditions were too hazardous to risk dropping the rest of the 503d and wanted to halt the second lift. But no command action was taken to stop the second lift, which began dropping at 1240 hours, twenty-five minutes behind schedule. This lift was composed of the 2d Battalion, 503d Parachute Infantry; Battery B, 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; Service Company, 503d Infantry; and the remainder of Headquarters, 503d RCT. The planes came in at the proper altitude, and, although the wind was still strong, most of the ‘troopers landed on the drop zones. The second lift encountered some fire from Japanese automatic weapons, but suffered fewer casualties than had the first drop. Of the 2,050 men dropping on 16 February, jump casualties numbered approximately 280. The resultant rate of 14 percent was 6 percent lower than that the planners had been willing to accept. Japanese fire and crashes into buildings had killed approximately 20 ‘troopers, roughly 210 were injured on landing, and Japanese fire had wounded another 50 men during the descent. While Colonel Jones talked with his staff about the advisability of continuing jump operations on 17 February, the troops on the ground began expanding a hurriedly formed perimeter around the drop zones. The 2d Battalion took over at the two drop fields and the 3d Battalion’s Companies G and H–there were only three companies per battalion in the 503d Infantry–set out to secure the rest of Topside. Company H, assembling at the parade ground, rapidly cleared the main barracks building of a few Japanese stragglers and then moved 300 yards northward to secure the gutted hospital, whence one platoon dashed 600 yards northeast to seize a knoll dominating the entire northeast section of Topside. Company G, meanwhile, advanced eastward down the slopes toward Middleside to set up night positions near the head of Ramsay Ravine, only 250 yards from the closest elements of the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry. The rest of the 503d’s troops, patrolling all over Topside, discovered that Japanese strength seemed to be located west and south of the drop zones. By dusk combat casualties numbered about 55 men wounded, a much lower figure than anticipated. In the meantime, the question of additional drops had been settled. Colonel Jones felt that since the operation had been successful beyond hope, opposition had been lighter than expected, and the Japanese were obviously surprised and
disorganized, there was no need to risk further jump casualties. Accordingly, he requested XI Corps to cancel the drop of the rest of the regiment in favor of sending it forward by landing craft to Bottomside. The request was approved, and only supplies were dropped on the 17th. One unexpected blessing resulted from the scattered drop of paratroopers in the 0830 lift. Captain Itagaki, having been informed that landing craft were assembling off Mariveles, had hurried with a small guard to an observation post near Breakwater Point, obviously more concerned with the imminent amphibious assault than with the possibility that paratroopers might drop out of the C-47’s already in sight of Corregidor. Suddenly, his attention was rudely diverted as twenty-five to thirty paratroopers who had been blown over the cliffs near the point began pelting down around the observation post. Fired on by the Japanese, the small American group quickly assembled and attacked. In the ensuing skirmish eight Japanese, including Captain Itagaki, were killed. Effective control among the Japanese units, already rendered practically impossible by the destruction of the communications center during the preassault air and naval bombardment, now ceased altogether. Leaderless, the remaining Japanese were no longer capable of coordinated offensive or defensive efforts. Each group would fight on its own from isolated and widely separated strongpoints.
- Clearing the IslandOnce Rock Force was ashore, operations on Corregidor evolved into a large-scale mop-up. The size of the island and the nature of the terrain precluded maneuver by units much larger than a platoon, while the generally static and disorganized defense of the Japanese led to a “campaign” of small unit assaults. Colonel Jones’s plan called for the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, to secure Malinta Hill and contain the Japanese on the eastern end of the island while the 503d Infantry cleared Middleside and Topside. After the 503d’s job had been finished, Rock Force would overrun the tail. Within this framework, operations proceeded in a series of generally uncorrelated incidents. On the afternoon of 17 February the 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry, and other reinforcements reached Bottomside by landing craft. Japanese rifle and machine gun fire, most of which passed overhead, “expedited” the movement ashore, and the battalion soon joined the rest of the regiment on Topside. The troops already on Topside had spent the day expanding their hold, systematically reducing the first of the many Japanese bunkers, pillboxes, and underground defenses they were to encounter, and had developed a pattern for the destruction of the Japanese installations. First, aircraft or naval fire support ships–the air arm using napalm extensively–were called upon to strike positions accessible to these types of bombardment; then the infantry attacked almost as the last shell or bomb burst. When this method failed, the 503d’s own 75-mm. pack howitzers and lesser weapons were brought forward for direct fire. Next, having stationed men with submachine guns and rifles at
advantageous points to cover approaches to a Japanese position, infantry assault teams moved forward behind white phosphorus hand grenades and the extremely close support of flame thrower teams. To avoid backflash and assure the deepest possible penetration of cave defenses, flame thrower operators often projected their fuel unignited, and then used white phosphorus grenades to fire it. If the Japanese within the caves still could not be induced to give up the fight, engineer demolition experts blocked the cave entrances. One Japanese tactic was both advantageous and disadvantageous to the 503d Infantry. Each night small groups of Japanese would attempt to reoccupy positions cleared during the previous day. To the 503d, this often meant some dirty, repetitive work, and additional casualties. On the other hand, the Japanese sometimes reoccupied tactically indefensible positions that proved easy to take out. The 503d Infantry seems to have been happy to let the Japanese occasionally return to such positions, secure in the knowledge that the only result would be more Japanese killed at no cost to the attackers. The only way to keep the Japanese from reoccupying less vulnerable positions was to stop night infiltration, a process that in turn required the blocking of the underground passageways that abounded on Topside. By these methods Japanese casualties began to mount rapidly. On the 17th, for example, over 300 Japanese were killed; nearly 775 were killed the next day. In the same two days Rock Force’s casualties were approximately 30 killed and 110 wounded. Apparently in an effort to redeem their losses in a blaze of glory, Japanese at the southern and southwestern sections of Topside attempted a counterattack in the predawn hours of 19 February. Shortly after 0200 about 40 Japanese committed suicide by blowing up an ammunition dump a few hundred yards north and inland from Breakwater Point, simultaneously killing or wounding 15-20 men of the 503d Infantry who, unaware of their danger, had been occupying a building directly over the ammunition. About the same time Japanese from Cheney Ravine and Wheeler Point, 800 yards southeast of the ravine, started a ground counterattack that reached its peak around 0600. The Japanese force, nearly 400 strong, pushed some of its troops all the way to the barracks area on Topside, but the 503d Infantry finally drove them back after 0800. By 1100 the 503d had hunted down the last stragglers from the counterattack and had resumed its daily process of small unit actions against known strongpoints. Operations on the 19th, including the events during the night, cost Rock Force over 30 men killed and 75 wounded, the Japanese nearly 500 killed. In addition, the 503d had captured 3 Japanese, the first prisoners of the battle. The effort of the morning of 19 February was the last major offensive action taken by the Japanese on Topside, although small groups continued to execute un-co-ordinated banzai attacks from time to time. Some Japanese officers retained control of forces at the southwestern
corner, and here resistance continued to bear some semblance of organization. The last significant opposition, centered at Wheeler Point, ended with a small-scale banzai charge on the morning of 23 February, and by 1800 that day the 503d Infantry had substantially cleared the western section of Corregidor. Colonel Jones could now direct Rock Force’s full energies toward clearing the area east of Malinta Hill, which the 3d Battalion of 34th Infantry had held since the 16th. The battalion had not been inactive at Malinta Hill. The very first night ashore it had to beat off a series of small but determined Japanese counterattacks along the north side of the hill. In these skirmishes 10 Americans were killed and a like number wounded, while about 35 Japanese lost their lives. On the 17th the battalion devoted most of its time to securing the roads leading through Middleside so that the wounded of the 503d Infantry could be evacuated and supplies could be sent to Topside. Here, as on Malinta Hill and Topside, much of the fighting involved the laborious process of cleaning out small caves or, failing that, sealing them with explosives. At Malinta Hill every night was marked by numerous small counterattacks, executed by Japanese from Corregidor’s tail or from within the hill’s tunnels. Everyone feared that at any time the Japanese might set off tons of ammunition and explosives known to be stored in the tunnels, and during the night 21-22 February the expected happened. At 2130 a deafening explosion literally rocked the hill; flames shot out of tunnel entrances; rocks and other debris flew in every direction; fissures opened along the slopes; 6 men of Company A, 34th Infantry, were buried alive by a landslide on the south side. Apparently, the Japanese had planned a controlled explosion to set the stage for a counterattack or to allow the troops inside–now estimated to number 2,000–to escape to the tail area in the ensuing confusion. If so, the explosion had gotten completely out of hand, killing an unknown number of Japanese within the tunnels. Troops of the 34th Infantry killed other Japanese who counterattacked westward, but several hundred Japanese did manage to make their way eastward under cover of the explosion and the counterattack. Additional explosions, apparently marking the suicide of Japanese still in the tunnels, shook the hill during the night of 23-24 February. Meanwhile, Rock Force had prepared plans for the final assault against the east end of the island. The attack was to be undertaken by the 1st and 3d Battalions, 503d Infantry, while the regiment’s 2d Battalion continued to mop up at Topside and the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, continued to hold Malinta Hill, Bottomside, and Middleside. Especially heavy air and naval bombardment preceded the attack, which began on 24 February, and the 503d’s light artillery laid down the heaviest concentration of which it was capable. The 503d’s battalions first encountered serious resistance at Engineer Point, off the northeast corner of Malinta Hill, and when they overcame this they developed still stronger opposition at Infantry Point, 800 yards eastward along the north shore. Here some 600 Japanese attempted to assemble for a counterattack, but 300 of them were killed by artillery and infantry defensive
fires before the attack got well under way. The remaining Japanese retreated eastward, and by nightfall on the 24th units of the 503d held all but the last 3,000 yards of the tail. On the 25th the American troops decreased this distance about 1,000 yards. That night’s lines ran from Cavalry Point, on the north shore, south-southeast some 700 yards to the south shore at Monkey Point. The 503d had encountered stiff resistance, including some banzai charges, near Monkey Point, and during the afternoon many of the Japanese still remaining on the tail attempted to escape by swimming to Bataan or Caballo Island. Those refusing to surrender to cruising PT’s or engineer LCM’s were killed by the boats’ gunners and strafing planes. As dark came on the 25th, Rock Force was confident that the morrow would see the end of significant resistance on Corregidor. The 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, would not be there to share in the glory, for with the 24th Division assembling on Mindoro for operations in the southern Philippines, the battalion had to leave. Its place was taken by the 2d Battalion of the 38th Division’s 151st Infantry, which moved over from Mariveles. Shortly after 1100 on 26 February the Japanese on Corregidor executed their final, suicidal tour de force, blowing an underground arsenal at Monkey Point amid scenes of carnage on both sides. As the dust from terrific explosions settled, a hollow appeared where a small knoll had previously stood. Debris had flown as far as Topside where one man, almost a mile from the explosion, was injured by flying rock. Other debris hit a destroyer 2,000 yards offshore. A medium tank was hurled 50 yards through the air, most of its crew killed. Bits and pieces of American and Japanese troops splattered the ground; rock slides buried alive other men of both forces. Over 200 Japanese were killed outright, while Rock Force lost some 50 men killed and 150 wounded. Medics took an hour and a half to clear the casualties from the area, and at the end of that time one medical officer, an eyewitness to the horrors, could only report: As soon as I got all the casualties off, I sat down on a rock and burst out crying. I couldn’t stop myself and didn’t even want to. I had seen more than a man could stand and still stay normal. . . . When I had the cases to care for, that kept me going; but after that it was too much.
The explosion marked the end of organized resistance on Corregidor, and by 1600 on 26 February elements of the 503d Parachute Infantry had reached the eastern tip of the island. The battle was over except for mopping up small groups of Japanese holed up in waterline caves. This process the 503d Infantry had to hurry along since the regiment had been alerted to get back to Mindoro no later than 10 March in order to make ready for participation in operations to clear the southern Philippines. By 2 March General Hall and Colonel Jones had concluded that mopping up had progressed to the point that they could set an official terminal date for the Corregidor operation. Casualties to 2 March, including those from the parachute drop, numbered over 1,000 killed,
wounded, injured, and missing. Japanese losses–actually counted–numbered about 4,500 killed and 20 captured. An additional 200 Japanese were estimated to have been killed while trying to swim away, and it was thought that at least 500 might have been sealed in caves and tunnels; a few remained alive in various hideaways. On 2 March 1945 General MacArthur returned to Corregidor, just nine days short of three years after his departure. A simple yet impressive flag-raising ceremony was held. The theater commander and those members of his staff who had shared the terrible days of 1942 on The Rock must have had large lumps in their throats as Colonel Jones stepped forward, saluted, and reported: “Sir, I present to you Fortress Corregidor.”