MANILA

Bunye: The retaking of Bataan and Corregidor

Speaking Out

TOMORROW, April 9, the whole nation will observe Araw ng Kagitingan in honor of those who gallantly fought in Bataan and Corregidor.

Against a well-equipped invading force, Bataan fell on April 9, 1942 while Corregidor surrendered on May 6, 1942. Although both ended in the defeat of the American and Filipino soldiers, Bataan and Corregidor are commemorated by military historians for delaying the Japanese timetable for the conquest of Asia. The 50-day conquest of the Philippines predicted by the Japanese high command had taken five months!

As a result, the Japanese commander in the Philippines, General Masaharu Homma, was severely criticized in Tokyo for not being aggressive enough and was recalled home. He was replaced by General Tomoyuki Yamashita.

Surrendered American and Filipino troops in Bataan were forced to undergo the brutal Death March. Those who survived the march, from Mariveles to San Fernando, ended up in Camp O'Donnell, in Capas, Tarlac and other satellite POW camps. Some American prisoners eventually spent the rest of the war in labor camps in Japan.

Those who surrendered in Corregidor ended up in the Old Bilibid Prison in Manila and in a POW camp in Los Baños, Laguna.

After a few months, surviving Filipino POWs were allowed by their captors to go home with instructions to stay out of the war. Many of them, including Manuel Colayco, immediately joined the underground.

Estimates of those who died during the Death March or while in confinement range from 25,000 to 30,000.

Bataan and Corregidor produced a roster of Filipino heroes, most notable of whom was Sergeant Jose Calugas -- the first ever Filipino recipient of the highest US military decoration -- the Medal of Honor. Calugas served with the Philippine Scouts.

Payback time would not occur until almost three years later. My E-book: "From Leyte to Bessang Pass" (2017) traces the events leading up to the recapture of Bataan and Corregidor.

Noteworthy was the relative speed by which Bataan and Corregidor were re-taken. Bataan was back in Allied hands after only 3 weeks of fighting. Corregidor fell in just 10 days.

By this time, the Japanese defenders had been cut off from re-supply after successive defeats on land and at sea in Leyte and Lingayen. Meanwhile, General Yamashita's main group initially retreated north towards Baguio and eventually to Isabela.

The Battle to Retake Bataan commenced January 31, 1945 (about the same time that a "Flying Column" was on its way to Manila to liberate US internees in Santo Tomas).

The Battle to Retake Bataan ended February 21, 1945 (around the time when Allied troops were pounding Japanese defenses in the New Police Station, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Manila Club, General Post Office and Manila City Hall.)

Captain Ramon Magsaysay figured prominently in the early stage of the battle in Bataan, when his guerrillas took control of San Marcelino airstrip prior to the landing of US troops in San Narciso.

Before long, other vital targets -- the port facilities of Olongapo as well as Grande Island in Subic Bay -- were captured.

Inland, "the Japanese decided to make a stand in the rugged Zambales mountains at the northern base of the Bataan Peninsula (nicknamed by the Americans as Zigzag Pass)."

Fighting became very heavy at the first Japanese strongpoint called "Horseshoe Bend."

On February 15, allied troops made two separate amphibious landings to put additional pressure on the Japanese.

"A final major engagement occurred during the night of 15 February, and mopping up operations continued throughout the peninsula for about another week. Finally, on 21 February, after three years, Bataan was again secure in American and Filipino hands."

The Battle To Recapture Corregidor (February 16 to 26, 1945) occurred about the same time that the final phase of the Battle of Manila was being fought.

Although daily aerial bombing of Corregidor started as early as January 23, it was not until February 16 that the Allied troops tried to take the island.

It started with a daring and hazardous airborne assault on the morning of February 16.

Around 1,000 US paratroopers jumped over a very small landing zone on an elevated portion of Corregidor called Topside.

Because of strong winds, "some paratroopers were blown back into Japanese held territory. .. (s)ome had fallen close to the rocks and had to be rescued."

Considering the risks involved in making the jump, the Japanese mistakenly assumed that an airborne attack was unlikely.

Simultaneous with the daring para-drop, the first wave of seaborne troops waded ashore and established a beachhead at the eastern end of Corregidor which they called "Black Beach."

"The most ferocious battle to regain Corregidor occurred at Wheeler Point (nicknamed Banzai Point) on the night of February 18 and early the next morning.

"....At 22:30 under a black, moonless night, 500 suicidal Japanese marines came out of the Battery Smith armory and charged American and Philippine positions....The savage encounter ended in failure with more than 250 Japanese corpses strewn along a 200 yard stretch...

"For eight straight days, (allied troops) staved off successive banzai charges, and mortar attacks. The Japanese defenders refused to surrender and many preferred to commit suicide by blowing themselves up inside the Malinta Tunnel.

But just as the allies were about the recapture the island, tragedy struck.

"An M4 Sherman tank fired a shell into a sealed tunnel suspected of harboring Japanese soldiers but which instead contained tons of stored ammunition. The subsequent explosion threw the tank several dozen feet, killing its crew and 48soldiers nearby, and wounding more than 100 others in the immediate area."

On February 26, Corregidor was declared cleared.

By March 1, Corregidor was opened to Allied shipping.

Six days later, General Douglas McArthur returned to the island, which he had been ordered to leave three years earlier, to preside over the ceremonial hoisting of the Stars and Stripes.

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