The American flags of the 4th Marine Regiment were burned to avoid capture on Corregidor on May 6, 1942. This is the last days of fighting before the order came to surrender to the Japanese. (Click on above map.)
During the morning action Major Williams fought beside his men, moving from position to position along the line. Captain Brook remembered, “He was everywhere along the line, organizing and directing our attack, always in the thick of it, seeming to bear a charmed life. I have heard men say that he was the bravest man they ever saw.”
From 0900 until 1030 the firefight proceeded without change in position. The lines were so close that none of the companies could shift a squad without drawing machine gun fire and artillery. All of the 4th Battalion was fighting without helmets, canteens, or even cartridge belts. However, the Marines had the advantage of being too close for the Japanese artillery to be of use. Small parties of Marines occasionally were dispatched to take out Japanese snipers who were firing into the rear of the Marine position from the beach area.
The Japanese were now facing a serious problem, which threatened to lose the battle for them. Each Japanese rifleman came ashore with 120 rounds of ammunition and two hand grenades. The machine gun sections carried only two cases totalling 720 rounds of ammunition and three to six grenades. The knee mortar sections had only 36 heavy grenades and three light grenades. A large quantity of additional ammunition had been loaded on the landing craft due to the expected problems in resupplying the force. However, the ammunition crates had been hurriedly dumped overboard by the crews of the landing craft as they grounded on Corregidor and now few boxes could be recovered in the murky water. By morning most of the Japanese on Denver Hill were either out of ammunition or very close to it. Many Japanese soldiers were now fighting with the bayonet and even threw rocks at the Marines to hold the hill.
At 0900, Captain Herman Hauck, USA, reinforced the Marines and sailors with 60 members of his Coast Artillery battery. Williams placed the soldiers on the beaches to his left where heavy losses had whittled away at his strength. With the reinforcements some advance was made, but against strong enemy resistance. Nevertheless, much of the fighting was done with the bayonet, as the Japanese were running out of ammunition. The tide was beginning to turn against the Japanese. As Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma reflected one year after the surrender, “If the enemy had stood their ground 12 hours longer, events might not have transpired as smoothly as they did.”
The Japanese were able to set up a mortar battery on North Point and opened with telling effect on Williams’ left companies. Two squads were sent out to flank the guns, but ran into machine gun fire which wiped out almost the entire right squad. Three more squads were sent out, two to the left and one to the right of the mortars. After heavy fighting and loss, the deadly mortars were silenced.
The machine gun at the head of the draw at Cavalry Point also had held up the progress of the advance. U.S. Army Lieutenant Otis E. Saalman of the 4th Battalion staff was ordered by Williams to go to the left and see what he could do to get the line moving. With the help of Captain Harold Dalness, USA, Saalman took a party of volunteers up the draw to silence the gun. The Americans crawled unobserved to within grenade range and then opened fire on the enemy with rifles and grenades. One of the Japanese defenders picked up a grenade and lifted it to throw it back at the Americans when it went off in his hand. The gun was at last silenced and the way lay open to link up with the 1st Battalion survivors to the east. Saalman was able to observe the Japanese landing area where he watched three Japanese tanks climbing off the beach.
The Japanese landed three tanks, two Type 97 tanks and a captured M-3. Two other tanks were lost 50 yards offshore while landing with the 2d Battalion, 61st Infantry. The surviving tanks were stranded on the beach due to the steep cliffs and beach debris and were left behind by the advancing infantry. In one hour, the tank crews and engineers worked a path off the beach. When the tanks reached the cliffs, they found the inclines too steep and were unable to move further. The Marines were alerted to the presence of the tanks and Gunner Ferrell went to Cavalry Point to investigate the rumors of tanks, and found the vehicles apparently hopelessly stalled.
At daylight the Japanese were able to cut a road to Cavalry Beach but were still prevented from moving inland by the slope behind the beach. Finally, the captured M-3 negotiated the cliff and succeeded in towing the remaining tanks up the cliff. By 0830, all three tanks were on the coastal road and moved cautiously inland. At 0900, Gunnery Sergeant Mercurio reported to Malinta Tunnel the presence of enemy armor.
At 1000 Marines on the north beaches watched as the Japanese began an attack with their tanks, which moved in concert with light artillery support. Private First Class Silas K. Barnes fired on the tanks with his machine gun to no effect. He watched helplessly as they began to take out the American positions. He remembered the Japanese tanks’ guns “looked like mirrors flashing where they were going out and wiping out pockets of resistance where the Marines were.” The Marines still had nothing in operation heavier than automatic rifles to deal with the enemy tanks. Word of the enemy armor caused initial panic, but the remaining Marine, Navy, and Army officers soon halted the confusion.
One of the Marines’ main problems was the steady accumulation of wounded men who could not be evacuated. Only four corpsmen were available to help them. No one in the battalion had first aid packets, or even a tourniquet. The walking wounded tried to get to the rear, but Japanese artillery prevented any move to Malinta Tunnel. No one could be spared from the line to take the wounded to the rear. At 1030 the pressure from the Japanese lines was too great and men began to filter back from the firing line. Major Williams personally tried to halt the men but to little avail. The tanks moved along the North Road with Colonel Sato personally pointing out the Marine positions. The tanks fired on Marine positions knocking them out one by one. At last Williams ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions just short of Malinta Hill.
With the withdrawal of the 4th and 1st Battalions, the Japanese sent up a green flare as a signal to the Bataan artillery which redoubled its fire, and all organization of the two battalions ceased. Men made their way to the rear in small groups and began to fill the concrete trenches at Malinta Hill. The Japanese guns swept the area from the hill to Battery Denver and then back again several times. In 30 minutes only 150 men were left to hold the line.
The Japanese had followed the retreat aggressively and were within 300 yards of the line with tanks moving around the American right flank. Lieutenant Colonel Beecher moved outside the tunnel, shepherding his men back to Malinta hill. He knew his men would be thirsty and hungry and ordered Sergeant Louis Duncan to “See what you can do about it.” Duncan broke open the large Army refrigerators near the entrance to Malinta Tunnel, and soon was issuing ice-cold cans of peaches and buttermilk to the exhausted Marines.
At 1130 Major Williams returned to the tunnel and reported directly to Colonel Howard that his men could hold no longer. He asked for reinforcements and antitank weapons. Colonel Howard replied that General Wainwright had decided to surrender at 1200. Wainwright agonized over his decision and later wrote, “It was the terror vested in a tank that was the deciding factor. I thought of the havoc that even one of these beasts could wreak if it nosed into the tunnel.” Williams was ordered to hold the Japanese until noon when a surrender party arrived.
At 1200 the white flag came out of the tunnel and Williams ordered his men to withdraw to the tunnel and turn in their weapons. The end had come for the 4th Marines. Colonel Curtis ordered Captain Robert B. Moore to burn the 4th Marines Regimental colors. Captain Moore took the colors in hand and left the headquarters. On return, with tears in his eyes, he reported that the burning had been carried out. Colonel Howard placed his face into his hands and wept, saying, “My God, and I had to be the first Marine officer ever to surrender a regiment.”
The news of the surrender was particularly difficult for the men of the 2d and 3d Battalions who were ready to repel any renewed Japanese landing. Private First Class Ernest J. Bales first learned of the surrender when a runner arrived at his gun position at James Ravine, who announced, “We’re throwing in the towel, destroy all guns.” Bales and his comrades found the news incredible, “hard to take . . . couldn’t believe it.” One Marine tried to shoot the messenger but was wrestled to the ground.Private First Class Ben L. Lohman of 2d Battalion destroyed his automatic rifle, but “we didn’t know what the hell was going on,” as Japanese artillery continued to pound Corregidor long after the surrender. “The word was passed,” recalled Lohman, “go into Malinta Tunnel.” The men packed up their few belongings and marched toward the Japanese. Three Marines of 3d Battalion refused to surrender and boarded a small boat and made their escape out into the bay.
Sergeant Milton A. Englin commanded a platoon in the final defensive line outside Malinta Tunnel, and was prepared to deal with the Japanese tanks with armor-piercing rounds from his two 37mm guns. As he waited for the Japanese, an Army runner came out of the tunnel, shouting, “You have to surrender, and leave your guns intact.” Englin yelled back, “No! No! Marines don’t surrender.” The runner disappeared, but returned 15 minutes later, saying, “You have to surrender, or you will be courtmartialled after all this is over when we get back to the States.” Englin obeyed the order, but destroyed his weapons, instructing his men, “We aren’t going to leave any guns behind for Americans to be shot with.” The 4th Marines, 1,487 survivors, many in tears, destroyed their weapons and burned the American flags, and waited for the Japanese to come.
The defenders of Hooker Point were cut off from the rest of the island and were the last to surrender. They had finished the Japanese survivors of the 2d Battalion, 61st Infantry, in the daylight hours and for the rest of the day faced little opposition. As evening approached, they heard the firing on Corregidor diminish, and Forts Hughes and Drum fell silent. First Lieutenant Ray C. Lawrence, USA, and his second in command Sergeant Wesley C. Little of Company D, formed his men together at 1700, and marched to Kindley Field under a bedsheet symbolizing a flag of truce. The Marines soon found Japanese soldiers, who took their surrender.
Marine casualties in the defense of the Philippines totaled 72 killed in action, 17 dead of wounds, and 167 wounded in action. Worse than the casualty levels caused by combat in the Philippines was the brutal treatment of Marines in Japanese hands. Of the 1,487 members of the 4th Marines captured on Corregidor, 474 died in captivity.
The Japanese recognized that the five-month battle for the Philippines was seen by the world as a defining contest of wills between the United States and Japan. Lieutenant General Masaham Homma, Japanese commander in the Philippines, recognized the critical nature of this conflict when he addressed his combat leaders in April 1942, saying:
The operations in the Bataan Islands and the Corregidor Fortress are not merely a local operation of the Great East Asia War . . . the rest of the world has concentrated upon the progress of the battle tactics on this small peninsula. Hence, the victories of these operations also will have a bearing upon the English and the Americans and their attitude toward continuing the war. And so they did.
Japanese Victory Parade Through Manila, Capital of the Philippine Islands
The capture and subsequent loss in 1942 of the original 4th Marines’ records prove at first daunting to any researcher of the period. The search for source material must begin with part IV of LtCol Frank 0. Hough, Maj Verle E. Ludwig, and Henry I. Shaw, Jr.’s History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, vol 1, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal (Washington: HistBr, G-3 Div, HQMC, 1958). This work proved to be the single best account of the regiment in the fall of the Philippines.
Other works of value include Hanson W. Baldwin’s “The Fourth Marines on Corregidor,” Marine Corps Gazette, Nov46-Feb47; Louis Morton, The Fall of the Philippines, The War in the Pacific: United States Army in World War II (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1953). Also useful were James H. and William M. Belote, Corregidor: The Saga of a Fortress (NY: Harper and Row, 1967); Reports of General MacArthur, vols I and II (Washington: GPO, 1966); Carl M. Holloway, Happy, the POW, (Brandon, Mississippi: Quail Ridge Press, 1981); Donald Versaw, The Last China Band (Lakewood, California: Peppertree Publications, 1990); and William R. Evans, Soochow and the 4th Marines (Rogue River, Oregon: Atwood Publications, 1987).The 4th Marines records which were brought out from Corregidor by submarine or retrieved from the prison camps after the war are found in the geographical and subject files in the Archives Section, Marine Corps Historical Center. The Personal Papers Collection proved to contain valuable items, including the Thomas R. Hicks journals, which contain a daily record of events of the regiment. Also of use were the Reginald H. Ridgely papers, Curtis T. Beecher memoir, Floyd 0. Schilling papers, Cecil J. Peart papers, James B. Shimel papers, Carter B. Simpson memoir, Wilbur Marrs memoir, and the Charles R. Jackson manuscript.Many other articles written by Marine participants or about the 4th Marines in the defense of the Philippines were consulted for this work.
The best sources, by far, for the 4th Marines experience in the fall of the Philippines are the survivors themselves. Capt Elmer E. Long, Jr., USMC (Ret) and CWO Gerald A. Turner, USMC (Ret), provided assistance in locating the surviving members of the “Old” 4th. More than 100 Marines have been interviewed as well as men from other services