On to Corregidor —Part VII

Corregidor Marines 004Initially, the area of responsibility assigned to 1/4 was heavily wooded and dotted with coastal artillery barracks and other buildings; by early May the entire region was completely barren of any vegetation and the buildings were mere remnants; dust a foot thick covered the entire area, the result of heavy pummeling by Japanese bombs. The Marines (a term which now includes all other assigned personnel, regardless of their service affiliation) were constantly repairing beach defenses. Enemy fire was so accurate that the troops could only be fed at night. Shown right, LtCol Curtis T. Beecher and his battalion runner.

Casualties began to mount, including the officers. Major Harry Lang, commanding Company A was killed; Captain Paul Brown and one of his platoon commanders in Company B received serious wounds. Company D lost one Marine officer and three Army officers to Japanese bombs. While Army officers were quickly appointed to command these companies, they had scant knowledge about infantry tactics or how to lead men in combat. The troops had little confidence in them, but this wouldn’t matter for very long.

Colonel Howard reported to General Wainwright and briefed him about the condition of the 4th Marines. After delivering his report, General Wainwright informed Howard, “We will never surrender this command to the Japanese.” Colonel Howard realized that Wainwright was under tremendous pressure. “The matter of surrender never came up; I was on there to brief him about the effectiveness of my command.”

Early in the evening of 5 May 1942, a Philippine civilian arrived in a small fishing boat on the beach at Corregidor. He carried a message from Philippine intelligence on Bataan. He was promptly taken to LtCol George Hamilton, the regimental intelligence officer. The message warned of a Japanese amphibious assault on the night of 5/6 May 1942. The Japanese plan was to land the 61st Infantry Regiment during the evening of 5 May, seize the airfield, and then capture Malinta Hill. A second regiment of the 4th Infantry Division would land on Morrison and Battery Points. The two forces would then join for the capture of topside.

IJA landing Corregidor 1942At 2240 hours artillery shelling concentrated on the north shore beach defenses, in the sector of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. At 2300, supplies of food and water were just reaching the beach positions when landing boats were reported offshore. Then, a second concentration of artillery pounded the beach for just under ten minutes; the barrage ended with phosphorous shells —no doubt a signal for the landing force to proceed. The landing consisted of 790 men of the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. Captain Lewis Pickup of Company A watched as the landing craft angled toward his company’s position. He ordered searchlights turned on and Marines began pouring fire into the landing craft with 37mm guns, machine guns, and individual rifle fire. The Japanese troops struggled in the mire created by layers of oil from the ships that had been sunk earlier. PFC Barnes and one other position were the only remaining automatic weapons of 13 positions—the rest destroyed by enemy bombardments.

First Lieutenant Bill Harris passed the word to his Marines, “Fix bayonets.” Master Gunnery Sergeant Mercurio ordered one of his Marines to go forward observe and report the location of the Japanese. When PFC Nixon got to the beach, the Japanese were only 30 yards away. In the darkness, Japanese infantry were able to by pass the Marine positions, which were spread too thin to be effective. Fighting quickly became hand-to-hand. Corporal Franklin remembered, “It was damn bloody.” A grenade went off close to Franklin, who sustained shrapnel wounds to the face and head. Stunned, he laid down on the ground and hazily saw a Japanese coming at him with a bayonet. Franklin suddenly jumped up, and with his own bayonet, attacked the Japanese soldier. Franklin received a bayonet wound to his chest, but he managed to kill his enemy. Afterward, Franklin ran up the trail past another enemy soldier, who shot him in the leg, but the Marine kept moving until he reached the safety of Malinta Hill.

Continued next week

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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

8 thoughts on “On to Corregidor —Part VII”

  1. I cannot imagine the terror of hearing the order of “fix bayonets”… I certainly could never have earned the title of “Marine”. The courage of Cpl. Franklin was not only incredible, but commonplace amongst the Marines there. I grieve for them.


  2. Courage was a common virtue … and duty. I am so proud of these Marines.


  3. “While Army officers were quickly appointed to command these companies, they had scant knowledge about infantry tactics.” I wonder, how can that be? Mr. B (a former army officer who’s always had the utmost admiration for Marine officers) added that Marine officers are trained to command.

    After reading an earlier post on this story, I got the book They Fought Alone about Colonel Fertig who organized guerrilla actions in the aftermath of the surrender. Mr. B is almost done with it, and it is an amazing story. Translated into English his name means ‘ready.’ Colonel Ready – how perfect!


    1. Baysider, I want you to know how much I enjoy these conversations. Invite your husband to chime in, as well.

      At the beginning of World War II, the U. S. Army consisted of regular forces (243,000), National Guard forces (226,000), and Army Reserve forces (150,000) with an additional 104,000 personnel involved in the Army Officer Reserve. These are huge numbers of personnel, and divided up into occupational fields, there were Army officers assigned to command tank units, motor units, infantry units, artillery units, military police units, air defense units, Signal, Corps of Engineers, and aviation units. I am quite certain I missed a few.

      Compared to the Army, the size of the Marine Corps was infinitesimal. The reason for this is simple: the Army’s job is land warfare. The Marines are part of the Naval Service; their job is amphibious warfare. While there may be similar elements in both of these areas, each demands its own expertise. In 1941, the largest permanent Marine formation was a Marine Brigade. We had two. A Brigade consisted of an infantry regiment and attachments, and a Marine Air Group. In 1941, every Marine unit was significantly under strength.

      In the Marine Corps, we train all of our officers as platoon leaders; we train all of our enlisted Marines as riflemen. Marines could not afford to waste manpower on such things as signal and logistics. Regular infantry officers performed these functions, along with intelligence and operations —and in many instances, as an additional duty.

      This brings us to Corregidor in 1941/1942. Many of the Army officers incorporated into the 4th Marine Regiment were specialists. They were tank officers without tanks, aviation officers without airplanes, or they were combat engineers, communicators, adjutants, and motor transport officers. They had no training as infantry officers, and many had limited exposure to leadership positions. I cannot speak to the relationship in the Army between officers and enlisted men, but in the Marines, officers and NCOs form a very close relationship and very often, the more experienced NCO will offer suggestions to the officer about what should next happen. If the officer is bright, he will consider carefully what his NCO has shared with him. In any case, an enlisted Marine has a keen eye; he is able to judge the trustworthiness of his officers. In the Marines, officers earn the trust of their men by leading from the front, through good sense, courage, and by demonstrating genuine concern for the men. No Marine officer will consume his ration until all of his men have eaten.

      The situation on Corregidor was not the fault of the Army; it was the result of unhappy circumstances. The Philippine Islands was good duty in 1940. MacArthur, while present, was retired from the Army and served as Marshal of the Philippine Army. I doubt if he bothered himself with training of army units stationed in the Philippines. War manifested itself quickly out there and there was scant time to send dependents home before hostilities engulfed Southeast Asia. I think it is a fair assessment to say that Colonel Fertig, while a reserve Engineer, stood above the average officer of this period. He refused to surrender, and without asking for permission, launched an aggressive guerrilla campaign against the Japanese. As you say, it is a fascinating story.

      Tactical inexperience plagued the Army again at the beginning of the Korean War. In contrast, the Marine Brigade sent to shore up the Pusan Perimeter were blessed with an extraordinary number of veterans from World War II, both officers and NCOs. Many Marines believe that MacArthur placed Ned Almond in command of II Corps for only one reason: to piss off the Marines, which he succeeded in doing. One wonders how it is possible for anyone so incompetent to receive three stars in the US Army. However, of course, this is another story…


  4. Re: Ned Almond. My understanding is that one generally does not like to piss off Marines. 🙂

    Well, thank you for this thorough and interesting context. Mr. B found it a worthy read too, but he generally saves the wordsmithing to me. I had a vague idea that “training” – or lack thereof – was involved. But I hadn’t envisioned the breadth of the issue, which is now easy to understand.

    I read the book you recommended about the Bonnie Sue helicopter pilots in Vietnam. One situation I remember vividly shows the difference it makes to have the right man with the right training in place. The pilots were shuttling in fresh troops and extracting wounded from a horrific battle that took over a day to turn as they were essentially surrounded with aggressive probing of the perimeter. Some were shot down. One of these managed to crawl into the perimeter the Marines were holding. His bad luck was all of their gain as he took over calling in strikes and choppers. For they now had an experienced pilot who knew the approaches and hazards better than anyone on the ground, and who was able to articulate in precise pilot-ese instructions that formerly came across as “yeah, it’s coming from over there, on the right.”


    1. I believe you are talking about the fight in which Captain Howard won the Medal of Honor and the pilot a Navy Cross. Yes … extraordinary.


  5. I read your comment made in reply to Baysider’s first comment. I enjoyed it very much.

    And from this civilian’s experience with Marines, the bond between the Gunny and his officer in a combat situation can never be expressed with words… nor fully appreciated by us civilians even if read. But you did a darn fine job though, sir.


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