World War II: Battle of Corregidor (1945)

Battle of Corregidor (1945)
USS Claxton provides fire support during the Battle of Corregidor (1945). Photograph Courtesy of the US Government

Battle of Corregidor (1945) - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Corregidor was fought February 16-26, 1945, during World War II (1939-1945).

Armies & Commanders

Allies

  • Lieutenant Colonel George M. Jones
  • Lieutenant Colonel Edward M. Postlethwait
  • around 7,000 men

Japanese

  • Major General Rikichi Tsukada
  • around 6,700 men

Battle of Corregidor (1945) - Background:

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese forces commenced a campaign to capture the Philippines.

Directing the archipelago's defense, General Douglas MacArthur quickly found his forces overwhelmed and ordered his men to fall back to positions on the Bataan Peninsula. In the resulting Battle of Bataan, Allied forces temporarily succeeded in halting the Japanese advance. Commanding from the fortress island of Corregidor offshore, MacArthur received orders from President Franklin Roosevelt to evacuate his person to Australia in February 1942. Passing command to Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, he departed and traveled south via PT boat and B-17 Flying Fortress. In early April, Japanese forces commenced a massive offensive against the Allied lines on Bataan. Pushing back Major General Edward King's men, they compelled him to surrender on April 9.

With the loss of Bataan, Wainwright's forces on Corregidor represented the last Allied foothold in the area. Shaped like a tadpole, the small island was heavily fortified with numerous coastal batteries which contained 45 guns of various sizes.

The wider western end of the island, known as Topside, mounted most of Corregidor's guns, while barracks and support buildings were situated on a plateau to the east dubbed Middleside. Further east was Bottomside which included the town of San Jose as well as dock facilities. Dominating this area was Malinta Hill which contained a vast network of fortified tunnels.

Included within this tunnel system were a 1,000-bed hospital, storage rooms, and headquarters areas. Continuing east, the island tapered to a point where an airfield was located. Based on the strength of its defenses, Corregidor was dubbed the "Gibraltar of the East."

Battle of Corregidor (1945) - Loss of Corregidor:

Having secured Bataan, Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma commenced operations against Corregidor. Beginning with a massive artillery bombardment on May 1, Japanese forces worked to reduce the island's defenses. On May 5, Major General Kureo Tanaguchi's men began landing on Corregidor and met fierce resistance. Though taking heavy losses, they succeeded in gaining a toehold on the island. Landing three tanks, the Japanese overwhelmed the island's defenders and on May 6 Wainwright moved to surrender the island. Though he only wished to surrender those forces on the island, Homma demanded that he turn over all remaining US and Filipino forces in the Philippines, including Major General William Sharp's large Visayan-Mindanao Force which had not yet been engaged. Lacking options and fearing for those who had already been captured, Wainwright complied and Allied resistance in the Philippines ended.

Battle of Corregidor (1945) - The Allies Return:

In the years after the fall of Corregidor, Allied forces halted the Japanese advance at Midway and commenced offensive operations with the capture of Guadalcanal. Marching across the Pacific, they returned to the Philippines in October 1944 with the invasion of Leyte and resulting Battle of Leyte Gulf. Successful operations on Leyte were followed by landings at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in January 1945. With MacArthur's troops driving on Manila, it was recognized that Corregidor would need to be retaken to allow the opening of Manila Bay to Allied vessels. To accomplish this, planners conceived an operation calling for a combined airborne and amphibious assault. This called for Lieutenant Colonel George M. Jones' 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team to be dropped on Topside, while Lieutenant Colonel Edward M.

Postlethwait's 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment from the 24th Infantry Division landed at Bottomside near San Jose Point.

Battle of Corregidor (1945) - The Attack Begins:

As plans for the landings moved forward, US Army Air Forces aircraft commenced striking the defenders on January 23. Hammering the island with attacks, the bombers were soon joined in the campaign by US Navy warships which began a bombardment of Corregidor on February 13. Not content to endure these attacks, Japanese counter fire did damage some Allied ships offshore. On the morning on February 16, B-24 Liberators and A-20 Havocs mounted a final set of raids before departing and allowing troop carriers from the US Thirteenth Air Force to commence dropping the 503rd PRCT. Despite heavy winds, Jones' men hit their drop zones and began moving to engage the Japanese defenders which were part of Major General Rikichi Tsukada's Kembu Group.

Battle of Corregidor (1945) - Retaking the Island:

As the paratroopers were dropping, Postlethwait's men began landing on Black Beach near San Jose. Storming ashore, they gained a foothold but soon came under attack from small groups of Japanese which would sortie from the island's tunnel system. Working across the island, elements of the 3rd Battalion were able to secure the entrances to Malinta Tunnel. Trapping part of the garrison in the tunnel, other parts of Postlethwait's command commenced reducing bunkers and defensive positions in the area. On Topside, Jones' men encountered intense resistance and fought to repel Japanese counterattacks. These continued over the next three days. During this time, Private Lloyd G. McCarter conducted a one-man stand that turned back the enemy and earned him the Medal of Honor.

On the night of February 18/19, around 500 Japanese defenders emerged from Battery Smith and mounted a banzai attack on 503rd PRCT troops near Battery Hearn. Defeated in heavy fighting during the night, the engagement became known as the Battle of Banzai Point.

The effort represented the last major Japanese assault on the island. Over the next few days, American forces continued to defeat sporadic enemy attacks as small groups of Japanese attempted to mount resistance. At 9:30 PM on February 21, a series of explosions rocked Malinta Hill as many of the trapped Japanese elected to commit suicide rather than surrender. That night, 50 Japanese emerged from the caves and attacked American forces. This assault and another two nights later were both defeated. In an effort to end the enemy attacks, engineers moved forward and sealed the tunnel entrances after igniting gasoline inside. By February 26, fighting on the island ended.

Battle of Corregidor (1945) - Aftermath:

On March 1, Corregidor's harbor reopened to Allied shipping and six days later MacArthur returned to the island. Inspecting his former headquarters, he ordered the American flag hoisted from the island's flagpole. In the course of the fighting, Allied forces sustained 207 killed and 684 wounded while Japanese losses numbered around 6,600 killed, 50 wounded, and 19 captured. With the capture of the island and the fall of Manila, Allied forces pressed on with their campaign in the Philippines which continued until the war's end in August.

Selected Sources