The Japanese forces invaded the Philippines from the north at Luzon in early 1942, and by April 9, Bataan fell, but the campaign was yet incomplete because of the Allies’ occupation of Corregidor. As long as it was in American hands, the Japanese would have no access to Manila Bay, a natural harbor with obvious strategic advantages, because of its position guarding the bay. Thus Corregidor was a significant obstacle to Japan’s 14th Imperial Army, commanded by Lt. General Masaharu Homma. The island was very well defended, and General Homma was acutely aware of the necessity as well as the daunting task of its capture.
Two miles away from Bataan, Corregidor is the largest of four islands located at the mouth of Manila Bay, ideally situated to protect the bay from attack. Shaped like a tadpole, its topography is such that the widest and most elevated area, the “head” is known as Topside, and is where the bulk of the artillery was installed. Middleside is a smaller plateau with barracks and more artillery and Bottomside is an even lower ground with docks, close to the civilian town of San Jose. Further east is Malinta tunnel, where MacArthur’s command post and a hospital was located.
After America’s loss at Bataan, the garrison at Corregidor received reinforcements who were assigned to the 4th Marine Division upon their arrival. Few if any of them were trained or experienced in ground combat, but at any rate, by the end of April 1942, the personnel count was around 230 officers and almost 3800 men, not counting the artillery crews or the attached Filipino troops.
The actual siege began at the end of December 1941 with aerial bombardments on a fairly regular basis through January 1942, but from the start of the raids until the end of April 1942, fought tirelessly and well, costing the Japanese significant losses in terms of men and materiel. General MacArthur was evacuated at night on March 12, 1942 to Mindanao. He swore to return and that statement is remembered to this day as one of the most famous in American history. He eventually was flown to Australia where he set about organizing the recapture of the Philippine Islands.
With all the bombardment, the food supply was dwindling down to the point that the men were living on around thirty ounces of food per day, and the constant bombing played havoc with the distribution of the rations of food and water. As the bombs killed cavalry mules, the carcasses were utilized for their meat, but the men grew weaker as the days passed and were unable fully to defend the island. Meanwhile, the assault was continuous and mercilessly ferocious as the aerial bombs and artillery pounded Corregidor day and night. Estimates were that on one day alone, more than 16,000 explosives hit the island, from artillery as well as air bombardment.
The Japanese launched their final assault on 5 May, but even as weakened as the defenders were, they managed to hold the Japanese at bay for almost two days of heavy fighting. In some cases, clashes were carried out with bayonets only, due to both sides’ shortage of ammunition. However, the enemy was finally able to land three tanks, with which they eventually gained control. When they reached the entrance to the Malinta Tunnel, General Wainwright surrendered rather than risk the lives of over 1,000 wounded men who were being treated in the tunnel. Wainwright sent two officers forward with a white flag on 6 May 1942, after sending a radio message to President Franklin Roosevelt, which said in part: “There is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long been passed.” The surrender of Corregidor marked the end of resistance to Japan’s occupation of the Philippines. Wainwright had tried to arrange control over the remaining islands so that when he surrendered, the deal was only for Corregidor. However, the Japanese curtly informed him that his surrender would encompass all the islands under American control, or the new prisoners would be tortured until it did. There was little doubt that the Japanese would do exactly that, so Wainwright sent handwritten letters to General Sharp and his men to convince them to surrender. Once the organized resistance was ended, however, Philippine guerrillas continued to be a thorn in Japan’s side for the rest of the time of their occupation.