“On Friday, 16 February 1945, at 0825 Lt. Col. ‘Big John’ Erickson, commanding officer of 3d Battalion, 503d RCT, crouched in the open jump door of a C-47 flying at 1,150 feet above the waters of Manila Bay. The pilot held the plane at 110 knots on a northeasterly course. Erickson, loaded with his combat gear and parachute, filled the jump door opening. … Erickson’s plane was the lead ship in one of two long, single-0file columns of C-47s flying to Corregidor.” It was a homecoming…of sorts, and Edward Flanagan’s words, from his book Corregidor, help describe it.
Corregidor had been American control until May of 1942 when, after nearly a month of continuous shelling, a late-night assault by the Japanese had wrested control from General Wainwright and his men. And for almost three years, the flag with the rising sun had flown over the island.
But three years had seen a tremendous change in fortunes. The Japanese army and navy, undaunted and undefeated in May of 1942, was hanging on for dear life in early 1945. And the Americans, crushed in the Philippines and all over the Pacific in early 1942, possessed in 1945 the most powerful military machine on the planet. American forces were on the cusp of capturing the Philippine capital of Manila and General Yamashita’s men were on the run all over the main islands. But Corregidor, a small tadpole-shaped island strategically located in the entrance to Manila Bay, remained unconquered. It was decided that a separate operation would handle the tricky job.
The “softening-up” process began three weeks prior, with USAAF heavy bombers making the first of more than 2,000 sorties against the island’s defenses. On February 13th, the U.S. Navy joined in, adding cruiser and destroyer fire to the mix.
Since the most expected form of attack was an assault from the sea (and it was the method the Japanese had used in 1942), it was decided that a combined air and amphibious assault (with the airborne forces going in first) might catch the defenders off guard. The air assault was given to the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team, while elements of the 24th Infantry Division would attack from the sea. In all nearly 7,000 U.S. troops would be landing and attempting to defeat a garrison of 6,700 Japanese soldiers, commanded by General Rikichi Tsukada and known as the Kembu Group.
And so, as the sun rose on February 16, 1945, another bomber force of B-24 Liberators plastered Corregidor with bombs. Following right behind were the C-47’s, dropping their human cargoes onto the dazed and shell-shocked Japanese. Simultaneously, the lead elements of the 24th Infantry Division were coming ashore on the “tail of the tadpole” and establishing a beachhead. The combined assault achieved the desired surprise, but the Japanese recovered quickly.
This second battle for Corregidor would not end in a day like the first one had, but eventual (and inevitable) victory would come to the Americans. I hadn’t planned to, but I think I might do a “wrap-up” piece on this next week. After all, it took two pieces to cover the fall of Corregidor in 1942, so it’s only fair…
Recommended Reading: Corregidor: The Rock Force Assault, 1945