Fall of The Rock

by Richard Sassaman

Unfortunately for Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, victory on Bataan did not give him access to Manila Bay and its harbor. To get that, he would have to capture Corregidor.

This island two miles from Bataan, 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles at its widest, is shaped like a tadpole facing west. Nicknamed the Gibraltar of the Pacific or The Rock, it was officially designated Fort Mills. Corregidor was protected by shore batteries and an extensive tunnel system, but without food and supplies, airplanes and ships to provide cover, or any hope of reinforcements, it had little hope of holding out for long.

The fortress dated to World War I. Upon completion in 1914 it seemed impregnable, with 56 coastal guns and mortars commanding the bay, but no one back then had figured airplanes into the defensive equation.

When Bataan fell, The Rock’s landward northern flank was unprotected. Artillery on Bataan’s Mariveles Mountains, combined with devastating bombing attacks, soon meant the end was near. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright and his harbor defense commander, Major General George Moore, estimated that 1.8 million pounds of shells were fired at them on May 3 alone. That did not include bombs dropped during 13 air raids.

May 4 was worse; an estimated 16,000 shells fell on Corregidor, more than 11 every minute for 24 hours. Just before midnight on May 5, the invasion began. The first two waves of attackers, misjudging the tide and lost in the dark, landed on the wrong beaches at the wrong times. “One Japanese officer claimed that only 800 men of the 2,000 who made the attempt reached the shore,” wrote Louis Morton in The Fall of the Philippines (1953).

The surviving Japanese soon recovered, and set up effective light artillery. Firefights raged all night, killing hundreds on both sides. By mid-morning, the American front line was pinned down, most men in the middle areas were wounded and not able to be evacuated, and those retreating to the tunnels were being shelled from the peninsula. The lives of 1,000 wounded men in a tunnel hospital were threatened, and Wainwright, like Major General Edward King on Bataan a month earlier, realized further resistance was pointless.

Before leaving his headquarters in the Malinta Tunnel, Wainwright alerted President Franklin Roosevelt of his plan to surrender. Wainwright explained, “There is a limit of human endurance, and that limit has long since been passed…. With profound regret and with continued pride in my gallant troops I go to meet the Japanese commander.”