On to Corregidor —Part V

Malinta Tunnel 001The 4th Marines moved out of its barracks after the Japanese attack on 29 December; it was safer in the field. 1st Battalion, 4th Marines assumed responsibility for the eastern sector (Manila Hill to Hooker Point) on the tail-end of the island; 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines moved to the western sector, and the provisional battalion assigned to the middle section of the island. On 1 January 1942, the 1st Separate Marine Battalion was officially renamed 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. None of the Marine commanders were kidding themselves. There was no way that a battalion of 350 men could defend a sector of beach extending from between 3,500 to 4,000 yards. Still, the Marines began constructing barbed wire barriers, tank traps, and a system of trenches. When the Marines ran out of sandbags, they improvised with powder cans. Marines also filled bottles with gasoline, intending to drop them on top of landing Japanese forces from their positions in the cliffs of Malinta Hill. They also constructed wooden chutes from which the Marines intended to drop aircraft bombs on the Japanese.

A few Marines remained on the Bataan peninsula, however, and the dispute between General MacArthur and Admiral Rockwell continued over who owned these Marines and how they would be assigned. Two antiaircraft batteries in the Mariveles area formed part of a naval defense battalion assigned to the southern coast of Bataan. When MacArthur learned of these Marines, he ordered one battery to serve as a guard force for USAFFE headquarters, but the battalion commander, Commander Frank J. Bridget countermanded the order and directed the Battery A commander to return to duty at Mariveles. Undeterred, MacArthur wrote directly to Admiral Rockwell requesting suspension of Commander Bridget’s order. Rockwell refused, informing MacArthur that these Marines had not been released to Army control. MacArthur ended the dispute by ordering two officers and forty Marines from Corregidor to serve as guards for USAFFE.

The Japanese made an amphibious landing at Langoskawayan Point on 23 January 1942, some 2,000 yards west of Mariveles. Commander Bridget ordered the commanders of Battery A and Battery C to send patrols to the Point, confirm the landing, and set up a blocking force if necessary. Commander Bridget did not let the battery commanders know that he had issued orders to each; now there were two Marine patrols hunting for Japanese, neither one aware of the presence of the other. Then Commander Bridget organized a hastily gathered platoon of 36 sailors and placed them under the command of Platoon Sergeant Robert A. Clement, who was ordered to “support” his two Marine Corps lieutenants. By hastily formed platoon, I mean that these sailors did not know how to load their rifles with ammunition. Clement held school for individuals unfamiliar with their weapons, and then he pushed on. Clement and his platoon triggered a Japanese ambush a short while later —the firing alerted the two Marine patrols of the presence of other assets. The Marines continued to probe, finding strong Japanese resistance; they soon realized that they didn’t have enough Marines to handle these Japanese troops.

Corregidor Marines 002The Japanese were professional in their conduct, and exceedingly aggressive. They not only moved forward, they sent out patrols to locate the American Marines, and they set up ambushes, inflicting heavy losses. So few Marines could not afford heavy losses. Lieutenant Holdredge and eleven Marines from Battery C were wounded in one early confrontation with the Japanese; one Marine was killed. Whenever the Marines attacked the Japanese, the Japanese put up a vigorous defense and then counterattacked; Lieutenant Hogaboom, commanding Battery A reported to Commander Bridget, “We cannot hold our ground with so few troops.” Bridget was not empathetic; he ordered Hogaboom to dig in for the night and prepare for another attack at first light. Fortunately for these few Marines, the 1st Battalion, 57th Infantry (Philippine Scouts) relieved the Marines during the night permitting Bridget to withdraw his battalion to Mariveles. It took the Philippine Scouts three days to destroy the Japanese landing force, a reinforced battalion.

Continued next week

On to Corregidor —Part IV

Three days following the Japanese attack at Cavite, General MacArthur summoned Lieutenant Colonel William T. Clement, the Fleet Marine Officer, Asiatic Fleet to meet with him and Major General Richard K. Sutherland in an attempt to secure the release of Marines in the Philippines from Navy to Army control. MacArthur wanted a battalion to relieve a battalion of the 31st Infantry Regiment to guard his headquarters.   Admiral Hart was adamant in his refusal to use his Marines as a guard force. On 15 December, Hart offered a counter proposal: convert the 4th Marines to two regiments, combine them with two regiments of Philippine Constabulary, and employ these forces as a brigade, commanded by Colonel Howard.

Admiral Hart convinced Lieutenant General Sutherland that the Marines still needed additional field training after so many years of light duty in Shanghai. Sutherland agreed and detailed the 4th Marines as beach defense on Corregidor. Later, on 2 January 1942, General MacArthur remarked that since the Marines had no tactical training, they were little use to him as a tactical combat organization.

Naval Base MarivelesOn 20 December, Admiral Rockwell ordered Lieutenant Colonel Adams to move his 1st Separate Marine Battalion to the Naval Section Base at Mariveles —a move that began the next day and was completed by Christmas day eve. Second Battalion, 4th Marines began their move to Mariveles on Christmas Eve, completing their relocation and that of the regimental headquarters within two days. Admiral Rockwell then ordered a detachment of demolition Marines to destroy the Olongapo Navy Yard. Moreover, the obsolete cruiser USS Rochester was scuttled in Subic Bay, the PBY ramp destroyed, and all aviation fuel and submarine supplies were destroyed. Whatever facilities not blown up were set afire. On Christmas Eve, Japanese aircraft initially targeted American activities at Mariveles but ended up concentrating on a free-French freighter, the SS Si Kiang. The ship had been interned in Mariveles and a guard of eight Marines prevented the crew from moving the vessel. It its hold were much needed supplies of gasoline and flour, but before these materials could be off-loaded, Japanese aircraft bombed the ship and sent her to the bottom of Mariveles Bay. Two Marines were killed and three wounded in this action.

Christmas for everyone serving in the Philippines was nothing if not incongruent; the Marines were served a turkey dinner, but frequently had to run to the trenches to avoid Japanese bombers and strafing by fighter aircraft.

Four islands situated near its mouth protect Manila Bay. The largest of these is Corregidor, fortified prior to World War I with powerful coastal artillery and named Fort Mills. The tadpole shaped island is roughly three and a half miles long and one and a half miles wide at its head, and sits two miles off the southern tip of Bataan. The widest part of the island, called the topside, was the location of military headquarters and communications facilities, and a hospital. In the middle of the island was a small plateau, and this is where most of the officer’s quarters and enlisted barracks were located, along with the Malinta Tunnel, a vast storage shelter and personnel bunker. The tail of the island was called bottomside, the location of port facilities, and a small town named San Jose. Most of the coastal artillery was located in the area of topside, which included 23 batteries of 56 coastal artillery guns, 12 anti-aircraft batteries with 76 guns, and 10 searchlights.

Corregidor Marines 001The 4th Marine Regiment began to move to Corregidor on 26 December; 400 Marines of the 1st Separate Marine Battalion taken across the channel on lighters and then taken by narrow gauge railway to Middleside Barracks. The second battalion moved to the island on the following day, joined by the first battalion two days after that. The fortifications of Corregidor were so substantial that the Marines immediately felt as if they were finally safe. They were told that the island was impregnable —the Marines had nothing more to fear from any Japanese attack, but a Japanese aerial attack on 29 December quickly arrested all good feelings about Corregidor’s fortifications. Colonel Howard began an immediate inspection of the beach defense areas.

Continued next week

On to Corregidor —Part III

Luzon Manila Bay 1942On 12 December 1941, IJA troops made another landing in southeastern Luzon. Mid-morning, 4th Marines headquarters received notice of approaching enemy aircraft. An air raid was sounded, but after five minutes no aircraft appeared and field music sounded, “secure.” Suddenly, the roar of Japanese aircraft was heard. Apparently, seven fighters followed in a flight of PBY aircraft of Navy Patrol Wing 10 and, as these aircraft touched down, initiated their attack. All of the PBYs were soon in flames. The Japanese then turned toward Olongapo.

Marines at Olongapo opened fire on the Japanese aircraft with automatic rifles, rifles, and light machineguns, but had little effect. One Marine recounted, “The Japanese weren’t very impressed with our marksmanship; I’ve never seen more casual staffing runs than theirs.”

According to archivist J. Michael Miller, “Private First Class Thomas S. Allender was stationed on the water tower armed with a .30 caliber machine gun and soon engaged Japanese aircraft as they strafed the Navy Yard. ‘That god-dam plane was shooting at him, he’d run around to the other side of the tank and the guy would go by,’ recalled Master Technical Sergeant Ivan L. Buster, ‘and then the guy would come back and he’d run around to the other side of the tank again.’ Allender remained on the tower for the entire raid untouched, although the tank itself was riddled with machine gun fire, ‘with water spraying everywhere.’ A Marine gunnery sergeant lay in a ditch on his back firing his .45 pistol at the aircraft on their strafing runs. When asked why he was firing at all, he said, ‘This makes me feel better.’”

Bombers returned to Olongapo on 13 December dropping their loads on the Navy Yard and inside an adjacent town. No installations were actually hit, but bombs did straddle the regimental hospital located near the river. The Japanese did manage to kill another 13 civilians and wound 40 more. After this bombing, the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines moved to the hills on the Manila Road, five miles outside the Navy Yard. Elements of the battalion were rushed to beach near Calapacuan Point to repel a Japanese landing on several occasions, but all of these were false alarms. Lieutenant Colonel Anderson ordered his Marines to construct permanent defensive positions along Mauquinaya Beach; he calmed his Marines by telling them, “Don’t worry men, the Japs got nothing bigger than 8-inch shells.” The Marines also coordinated with the Philippine Division in setting up blocking positions on the Manila Road at Mount Panaigar. It wouldn’t be enough.

On 22 December, the 48th Division, Imperial Japanese Army landed north of Olongapo at Lingayen; most of the 2nd Battalion returned to protect the Naval Station and it wasn’t long before the IJA crushed the defenders. Two days later another major force came ashore, the 16th Division, IJA landing just 60 miles from Manila. Douglas MacArthur, commanding US Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) withdrew to the peninsula of Bataan.

Note: The intended use of Marines in the joint defense plan for the Philippines called for the transfer of the 4th Marine Regiment to Army operational control. Admiral Hart believed that experience level of Marine Corps officers and NCOs made the 4th Marine Regiment the strongest infantry regiment in the Philippines. He reminded MacArthur of this in a letter dated 8 December 1941, but MacArthur only wanted a single battalion of Marines to guard his headquarters in Manila.

Continued next week

On to Corregidor —Part II

The word was passed down to the Marines through the chain of command. At the barracks in Olongapo, a gong was sounded and continued for several minutes. One Marine inquired, “What in the hell is that sound?” An anonymous reply came, “It’s the general alarm,” and so the Marines tumbled out of their bunks, quickly dressed, and fell in to standard formation. The Executive Officer of the battalion stood before his men and informed them of the news: “Men, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and we are at war with Japan.” One salt remarked, “Christ … you got us up for that?”

Luzon Cavite 001By 10 December, Colonel Howard’s 4th Marines and the 1st Separate Marine Battalion worked on their defensive positions. Crew served weapons were employed around Olongapo as an anti-air defense, beach defensive positions, and fire teams were organized, demolition crews designated, and bridges designated for destruction should the Japanese land there. The regimental band was formed as a rifle platoon within E Company, and a company officer ordered to liaison with the 31st Philippine Army Division.

One Marine remembered, “The supply corporal brought us clips of five rounds each for our rifles; a few hours later he brought us even more ammunition, and then a few hours after that he was passing out bandoliers of ammo … we looked like a bunch of Mexican bandits.”

The Japanese did attack the Philippines, but rather than initially targeting the facilities at Cavite, the Imperial Japanese Army focused its attention on US airfields and the capital of Manila. The Japanese did eventually find Cavite, however … nor did it take them very long. Three Marine anti-aircraft positions were located outside of the Navy Yard: Battery A was set in on the tip of Sangley Point, Battery B about one mile south of that, at Binacayan, and Battery D reinforced these with additional .50 machineguns.

Two Japanese combat teams came ashore in northern Luzon (Philippine Islands map left by E. A. Villar), securing airfields for Japanese aircraft to support additional amphibious landings. There was no alarm at Cavite, however. Workers came to the base as they normally did and the only sign of war was a detachment of Filipinos digging air-raid trenches near the Commandancia. Then, at a little past noon on 10 December, the droning of numerous aircraft engines were hard and an air raid siren activated. Marines rushed to their stations and observed 54 aircraft in three “V” formations approach Cavite, and not long after that, the bombs began to fall.

Cavite Navy Yard 1942The first two sticks of bombs fell into the water, but the rest of the bombs landed inside the Naval Station; small fires began to spread. Marines began firing, but soon learned that the aircraft were flying at 23,000 feet … far above the 15,000 foot ceiling of the Marine weapons. One Marine lieutenant noted, “We knew we were outmatched.” The first Marine to lose his life in defense of the Philippine Islands was PFC Thomas L. Wetherington, killed by bomb fragments.

Some Marines were assigned to man machineguns, in anticipation of Japanese aircraft staffing the Navy Yard —others took on fire-fighting duties. The next day, several dump trucks arrived at the Naval Station filled with the bodies of 250 civilians killed by Japanese bombs. As the trucks unceremoniously dumped these bodies into a trench, Marines shoveled dirt on top of them.

Continued next week

On to Corregidor —Part I

“The Government of the United States has decided to withdraw the American Marine detachments now maintained ashore in China, at Peiping, Tientsin, and Shanghai. It is reported that the withdrawal will begin shortly.”

—Franklin D. Roosevelt, 14 November 1941

It was thus that the 4th Marine Regiment concluded its fifteen-year duty assignment in Shanghai —and it came as the dark clouds of war began to close in on the old China hands. The United States and Empire of Japan edged resolutely toward hostilities. Everyone felt it. At this time, the 4th Marine Regiment consisted of only two small battalions of less than 1,000 Marines and U. S. Navy attachments. Should war finally come, the regiment would be in a dangerous position. On this basis alone, the regimental commander, Colonel Sam L. Howard, recommended to Admiral Thomas Hart, Commander of the Asiatic Fleet, that the regiment be evacuated. Over several months, Colonel Howard had diverted a number of Marine replacements to a provisional battalion at the U. S. Navy Yard, Cavite, Philippine Islands. He was not authorized to do this; he simply did it because he was in command —he made a command decision.

4th Marines Departing 001Colonel Howard received his order to evacuate China on 10 November 1941 … the Marine Corps 166th Birthday. On 27 November, Lieutenant Colonel Donald Curtis’ 2nd Battalion made its way to the SS President Madison[1] via the lighter Merry Moller, which sailed down the Whangpoo, past Soochow Creek, where the Marines boarded for a destination not yet revealed to them. On the following day, Colonel Howard led the regimental staff and the 1st Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Beecher, marched smartly through Shanghai toward the SS President Harrison, waiting for them at port. The Harrison made way after 1400 and, once at sea, Admiral Hart ordered the 4th Marines to land at Olongapo (Subic Bay) Navy Yard. The second battalion came ashore on 30 November, the rest of the regiment on the next day. Admiral Hart ordered Howard to get his Marines into the field without delay. Admiral Hart later explained, “We realized these Marines had been cooped up in Shanghai for years where conditions for any sort of field training were very poor; not much time remained.”

The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 4th Marines began training immediately; the provisional battalion, designated as 1st Separate Marine Battalion and commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John P. Adams, organized as both a defense and infantry battalion with only 700 Marines.

Colonel Howard reported to Admiral Hart in Manila on 3 December 1941. Hart placed the Marines under the command of Rear Admiral Francis W. Rockwell commanding the 15th Naval District. His mission: protect the naval stations on the island of Luzon, primarily Olongapo and the Naval Section at Mariveles. But Howard was given a more important mission: get his Marines ready for field operations. Hart told Howard, war with Japan was imminent. How imminent? Colonel Howard informed his staff, “… only a matter of days, if not hours.” Following a meeting with Admiral Rockwell, Colonel Howard deployed his forces and implemented a training program. Senior Naval and Marine Corps officers were informed of the attack at Pearl Harbor at 0257 hours, 8 December, Philippine Islands time. At this moment, Colonel Howard knew that some of his Marines would never see their families again.

Continued next week


[1] SS President Madison was constructed in 1921 by the New York Shipbuilding Company and served with the American President Lines until April 1942, when the ship was acquired for use as a troop transport ship, renamed USS Kenmore (AP-62). The ship was renamed USS Refuge (AH-11) in 1944.

The China Marines —Part IV

1937 Marco Polo Bridge IncidentJapan, utilizing Manchuria as a forward base, began a systematic program of seizing Chinese territory from 1932 onward, so it is no surprise that heavy fighting between Japanese and Chinese forces erupted again early in 1937, or that these clashes became steadily worse. The incident at the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing is but one example. The Japanese used the battle that they started as justification for sending more troops to Shanghai. After Japanese soldiers were killed by Chinese civilians, Japan dispatched several of its warships to Shanghai and landed troops into the city. Chinese forces soon arrived to oppose the Japanese.

The 4th Marines was once more deployed along Soochow (today, Suzhou) creek. As before international military units joined forces. The rules of engagement handed to the 4th Marines included the following: “Prevent both belligerents from entering the American sector of the International Settlement by means other than rifle fire.” Amazing.

Believing that the present crisis could have disastrous consequences to American interests in China, the US government ordered that the 4th Marines be reinforced. The Second Marine Brigade under the command of Brigadier General John C. Beaumont sailed from California in August 1937. The Brigade was mainly composed of an anti-aircraft battery and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 6th Marines. The 4th Marines became part of the Brigade on September 20th.

By the end of October, Japanese forces controlled all of the area around Shanghai, leaving the international settlement surrounded by increasingly belligerent Japanese forces. Japan, with its jurisdiction of territory adjacent to the city began a campaign to undermine the position of the Western Powers. The main concern of the 4th Marines at this point became one of thwarting the Japanese from seizing the American sector of the settlement. Meanwhile, other elements of the international community quietly began a withdrawal from Shanghai. Admiral Thomas C. Hart, then commanding the Asiatic Fleet, believed war with Japan was inevitable and recommended the withdrawal of the 4th Marines from Shanghai. No action was taken on this recommendation, however, until November 1941 when Washington finally consented to the withdrawal of US forces from China.

Most of the China Marines escaped what happened next —albeit, temporarily. When the 4th Marines departed China, they went to the Philippines —and eventually to an island called Corregidor.

1941 Col Ashurst SurrenderNot every China Marine made it out before the Japanese declared war on the United States, however. There remained Marines assigned to Embassy Duty; they were stationed in Peking (Beijing), Tientsin (Tianjin), and Chinwangtao (Qinhuangdao) some 140 miles northeast of Tientsin, which in late November 1941 totaled 189 Marines and a 14-man detachment Navy medical personnel. They were scheduled to depart China on 10 December 1941 but on the morning of 8 December, the North China Marines awoke to find themselves completely surrounded by an overwhelming number of Imperial Japanese Army. Outnumbered and outgunned, Colonel William W. Ashurst, USMC surrendered his Marines while under the impression that the Japanese would abide the Boxer Protocol of 1901. Ostensibly, this protocol gave diplomatic status to Embassy Marines, but no such clause seems to exist. It was a misunderstanding that may have prevented Marines from making an escape from Japanese captivity while en route to Shanghai.

End of series

The China Marines —Part III

1935 Bund, ShanghaiShanghai remained peaceful for the next few years —the 4th Regiment assuming regular guard and garrison duty. During this time, the regiment participated in the Fessenden Fifes (a fife and drum corps created by Sterling Fessenden[1], honorifically regarded as the Lord Mayor of Shanghai) and established close ties with the 1st Battalion, Green Howards —a famous British Regiment whose long service was finally ended with the amalgamation of British army units in 2006. The 4th Regiment thus became the only organization in the Marine Corps to have a Fife and Drum Corps. Marines were taught to play donated instruments by members of the Green Howards.

The 3rd Brigade was withdrawn in 1928. In 1930, the 4th Regiment of Marines was redesignated as the 4th Marines and numbered companies were changed to alphabetic designations: Company A, Company B, and so on.

In January 1932, the international settlement was again threatened —this time by Japanese forces stationed in Manchuria. After their defeat in battle by the Japanese, Chinese forces resorted to other means to oppose Japan’s actions in Manchuria, including the boycott of all Japanese-made goods. The effects of this boycott were most noticeable in Shanghai, which became the center of anti-Japanese feeling. Bloody clashes erupted between Chinese and Japanese civilians in 1932, and this led the Japanese military garrison in Shanghai mount attacks against Chinese nationalist forces in neighboring Chapei (today the Zhabei District of Shanghai). The 4th Marines again deployed to prevent violence spilling over into the international settlement and began making security patrols with civilian policemen.

The 4th Marines were reinforced in February by Marines from the Philippines and by the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Houston. The 31st US Infantry was likewise ordered to China. Japanese and Chinese forces continued to clash for over a month. The conflict ended in early March when the Chinese withdrew from Chapei and with an agreement that each side would return to their former positions, the state of emergency was ended in early June. The 31st US Infantry returned to the Philippines, the 4th Marines resumed its normal routine, but the Commander of the Asiatic Fleet recommended that the Marine Corps bring the 4th Marines up to full strength. A new 2nd Battalion was activated in mid-September 1932 —marking the first time the 4th Marines had had three battalions since 1927.

To be continued


[1] Sterling Fessenden (1875-1943) was a practicing attorney in Shanghai after 1903. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1941 and died while interned with Russian captives in 1943).