The Buzz

Rising Sun, Descending Darkness: How the Philippines Fell to Japan in World War II

While the American and Filipino forces on Bataan withered, Homma replacements for his 16th Division (7,000 men), the better part of the 4th Infantry Division (11,000 men), the Nagano Detachment of the 21st Infantry Division (4,000 men), several batteries of heavy artillery, and 60 bombers based at captured Clark Airfield.

Homma then planned a two-pronged offensive with the 65th Brigade hitting I Corps and the 4th Infantry Division advancing on II Corps. The 16th Infantry Division would follow behind to exploit the expected breakthrough.

The offensive began on April 3, 1942, with a massive artillery barrage supported by bombers, which set ablaze the jungle before the American/Filipino lines. In the center of the II Corps line, the 41st Division collapsed before the onslaught. The Japanese drove south into the southern end of the peninsula and attacked up the sloped of Mt. Samat.

In an attempt to stem the tide, the Philippine Division was split between the two corps  with the 45th Infantry staying with I Corps and the 31st Infantry going to support II Corps; the 26th Cavalry remained in reserve. This move could not stop the Japanese, though, who continued to fight their way through disheartened Filipino troops up Mt. Samat and down the reverse slope.

On the 5th, Homma attempted another amphibious landing, this time on the east coast below Lamao. The Americans had one last success. The landing was met by a pair of gunboats that caught the landing barges as they were drifting to shore and sank them.

On the 6th, Wainwright, acting on orders from MacArthur in Australia, ordered II Corps to counterattack and retake Mt. Samat. The halfhearted offensive was easily beaten back by the Japanese and led to the final disintegration of most of the Filipino units, save the Scouts who, with the 31st Infantry, formed a makeshift line way down the peninsula at Cabcaban.

Finally, on April 9, with all hope gone, General King took it upon himself to surrender American forces on Bataan.

Homma now set about the task of taking Corregidor, known as “the Rock.” He assembled more than 150 artillery batteries at Bataan and across Manila Bay at Cavite, and with these guns pounded the Rock’s defenders unmercifully.

Conceivably, Homma could have starved Corregidor into submission. But Japanese forces had triumphed throughout Asia, at Singapore, at Hong Kong, at Java Sea, and Homma had lost considerable “face” during the long battle for Bataan. A successful storming of Corregidor would rescue his reputation and, it was hoped, be a severe psychological blow to the people of the Philippines.

Besides, how tough could the defenders be after months of siege, minimal rations, and ceaseless bombardment? The Japanese air force, naval assets, and Bataan-based artillery had all combined to pound Corregidor; the above-ground installations known as the Topside and Bottomside Barracks, the Navy fuel depot, and the officers club were blasted into ruins. Wainwright and the headquarters for USAFFE, the Philippine government, and a 1,000-bed hospital had all taken refuge in the island’s Malinta Tunnel.

So, rather than starve the defenders  Homma planned an amphibious assault led by the 61st Regiment of the 4th Division. On the evening of May 5, American spotters saw the Japanese assembling boats at Mariveles and directed the big coastal guns of Corregidor and Fort Drum to fire on them. Tides then took the landing boats carrying the 61st Infantry Regiment 1,000 yards away from where they were supposed to land and washed them ashore between Cavalry Point and North Point.

Here they were met by Company A of the 4th Marines, which was supported by a pair of 75mm guns that blasted many of the boats out of the water as Marine machine gunners raked the beach.

The Japanese, showing considerable élan and bravery, weathered the cauldron and overran the beach. They quickly stormed across the island to Monkey Point and swept over the defenses to East Point. By 2 am on May 6, the Japanese had driven west and captured Battery Denver, which overlooked the entrance to the Malinta Tunnel and Water Tank Hill.

The battle for Corregidor hinged on the fighting here, but the outcome was never in doubt. The Marines, and then an ad hoc battalion of Navy and Air Corps personnel, counterattacked the hill despite withering fire from the Japanese, who had taken the high ground at Battery Denver. The desperate fighting lasted until late morning when, fearing what would happen when the Japanese inevitably fought their way inside the crowded Malinta Tunnel, General Wainwright contacted the Japanese to discuss surrender terms.

When Wainwright discussed surrender terms with General Homma, the latter refused to stop the fighting on Corregidor unless the U.S. commander surrendered all American and Filipino troops in the islands.

Fearing such a demand, Wainwright had released the commander of American forces on Mindanao from his authority  and thus claimed that he couldn’t surrender those troops. Homma was unconvinced and reiterated his previous demand. Fearing for the lives of the 11,000 troops on Corregidor, including the 1,000 sick and wounded in the Malinta Tunnel hospital, Wainwright conceded and ordered all troops in the islands to surrender. He radioed President Roosevelt, saying, “There is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long been passed.”

Major General William Sharp’s Visayan-Mindanao Force was forced to surrender without having played a role in the campaign. Many of his men, however, escaped into the hinterland to fight as guerrillas.