Late in the evening of March 11, 1942, a small boat slipped away from the shores of Corregidor. This small, tadpole-shaped island was strategically placed right in the middle of the entrance to Manila Bay in the Philippine Islands, so watercraft were not unusual. But this was an unusual watercraft.
It was a PT boat.
The PT (or “Patrol Torpedo”) boat was designed pretty much as lightweight, high-speed attack boat…you could think of it as “the water-based F-16” (though that’s a pretty cheesy analogy). They were very manueverable (compared to larger vessels), small, hard to hit, and packed a wallop. Carrying a cannon, twin .50-caliber machine guns, and a brace of torpedoes, they could be devastating in the right hands at night. And this particular example, PT-41, was no exception. But PT-41 wasn’t attacking anyone…it was escaping with a very important passenger.
That passenger was General Douglas MacArthur.
Back in December of 1941, the Japanese had invaded the Philippines. Though at a clear numerical disadvantage, they enjoyed such a superiority in training and equipment and by March of 1942, they were well on their way to victory. MacArthur, a General in the U.S. Army and a Field Marshal in the Philippine Army, had seen his forces overwhelmed. And as the enemy made its way down the southwest side of Luzon towards Manila, the General’s headquarters, located on Corregidor, was threatened.
It was at that point that President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to Australia and out of harm’s way. After giving brief thought to resigning his commission in order to stay, the General packed up his wife, his son, and a few military personnel. Turning over command to General Jonathan Wainwright, MacArthur put out to sea under the cover of darkness and departed. Upon arrival in Australia, he would utter his famous line “I shall return.”
But for General Wainwright, it was almost as though his boss had never left. MacArthur’s desire to be in charge caused him to try to micro-manage Wainwright’s situation from thousands of miles away, and a hopeless situation got no better being run from afar. Ultimately, U.S. forces would be forced to surrender at Bataan the following month (against MacArthur’s wishes), and the rock of Corregidor would fall in early May, and it would be three years before General MacArthur could make good on his promises.
And another birthday shout-out is required today. My grandmother turns 95!! Happy Birthday, Grandma!!