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OPERATIONS OF THE “ROCK FORCE”

(503D RCT REINFORCED) IN THE RECAPTURE

OF CORREGIDOR ISLAND, 16 FEBRUARY - 8 MARCH 1945

(LUZON CAMPAIGN)

(Personal Experience of an Assistant Regimental Operations Officer)

 

ORIENTATION

 

INTRODUCTION

            This monograph covers the operation of the “Rock Force” (503d RCT reinforced) in the recapture of CORREGIDOR ISLAND 16 February - 8 March 1945, during the LUZON CAMPAIGN.

            Before continuing it is necessary to cover a few of the major developments that led up to this operation.

            On 20 October 1944 American troops of the Sixth US Army under General Krueger landed on the east cost of LEYTE ISLAND in the PHILIPPINES.  (See Map A)  (1)

            During the closing days of the LEYTE Campaign, American forces again struck the Japs.  This time in a sweep “around end” General MacArthur sent two RCT’s ashore unopposed in southern MINDORO. (See Map A)  (2)  The purpose of this landing was air bases for the LUZON Operation which was about to start.

            1945 was days old when American I Corps and XIV Corps of the Sixth Army waded ashore at LINGAYEN GULF.  (See Map A)  (3)  The mission of the Sixth Army was to push up the central plains, destroy the Japanese troops and liberate MANILA.

            On 29 January, troops of the XI Corps landed on the western coast of LUZON near SUBIC BAY.  (See Map A)  (4)  SUBIC BAY had been a big UNITED STATES Naval base prior to the war with Japan. XI Corps troops drove straight across BATAAN to seal off the peninsula.

            Airborne troops were used on 31 January to land amphibiously in the BATANGAS area and to join up with the parachute elements who jumped at TAGATTAY RIDGE on 3 February.  (See Map A)  (5)

            Allied forces were now closing in on MANILA from the north, west, and the southwest.  (See Map A)  It was only a matter of time until MANILA would fall to the Sixth Army.

THE GENERAL SITUATION

            While troops were closing in on MANILA, plans were made to open MANILA BAY, so that our forces could use the excellent harbor facilities of the city as a base for the destruction of the remainder of the enemy on LUZON, and as a stepping stone for further expansion in the PACIFIC.

            The entrance to MANILA BAY, which is about twelve miles wide, is guarded by a string of four islands.  These are:  CORREGIDOR, CABALLO, EL FRAILE and CARABAO.  (See Map B)  CORREGIDOR which is four miles long and less than one and quarter miles wide at its widest point is the key to this defense.  A ship entering either the NORTH or SOUTH Channel must pass under the mouth of the large caliber Coast Defense guns located on the island.  In addition to these defenses, the channels were all guarded with controlled mines that had their nerve center on CORREGIDOR.  (6)  Thus, the reader can readily see that CORREGIDOR, the symbol of United States humiliation and defeat since its fall in May 1942, must again fly the American flag before MANILA could be used as a port.

            Since CORREGIDOR lies two and one-half miles off the southern tip of BATAAN, its capture should logically fall to the XI Corps who was engaged at the time in sealing BATAAN peninsula.

            The detail plan for the opening of MANILA BAY is embodied in Sixth Army Field Order No. 48 issued on 7 February 1945.  In short, it stated that Sixth Army, supported by the Navy and the Airforce would seize the MARIVELES BAY, CORREGIDOR Area by using shore-to-shore and airborne operations would open MANILA BAY and secure BATAAN peninsula.  D-Day was announced as 12 February but was later changed to 16 February.  (See Map B)  (7)  XI Corps was given this task.

            Intelligence estimates of the Sixth Army indicated that of the 235,000 enemy troops on LUZON (8) 12,410 were on CORREGIDOR and BATAAN.  Of these 3,300 were combat troops, the remainder were service elements, Naval personnel and the remnants of other organizations who had drifted down to BATAAN and CORREGIDOR.  (9)  The combat efficiency of these troops was high.  They fought fanatically from caves, bunkers, and well prepared foxholes, as a last resort reverted to their old familiar tactics of the “BANZAI” charge or committed HARI-CARI.  (10)

            In the PHILIPPINES the months of January, February, and March are the dry season, while June, July and August are the wet months.  February is the ideal time for military operations.  During this month, a Commander may expect light brief showers with a monthly average of only 48”.  In the early mornings a light mist will be present, but it will burn off by 0330.  (11)  The prevailing winds at this season are from the North and Northeast at about 15-20 miles per hour.

            The logistical support of the Sixth Army was excellent.  With the fall of OLONGAPO Naval Base, the XI Corps had a good harbor for supply and evacuation in its own area.  (See Map B)  (12)

DISPOSITION AND PLAN OF THE XI CORPS

          The XI Corps plan for the MARIVELES-CORREGIDOR operation was simple and complete.  The 1st RCT (reinforced) would drive down the east coast of BATAAN.  Elements of the 38th Division would embark at SUBIC BAY, proceed down the west coast of BATAAN to its southern tip where they would make an amphibious landing at MARIVELES.  (See Map B)  (13)  MARIVELES will be remembered as the starting point for the infamous “death march” in 1942.  The object of the MARIVELES  landing was to pocket the Japs on BATAAN and to establish a base for the CORREGIDOR show.  (14)  The 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, 24th Division accompanied the amphibious force and was to stage at MARIVELES for the shore-to-shore phase of the assault on CORREGIDOR.  On D + 1 at 0830I the 503d RCT would make an airborne assault on TOPSIDE CORREGIDOR.  At 1030I the 3rd Battalion 34th Reinforced would land amphibiously on SAN JOSE beach at the foot of MALINTA HILL, CORREGIDOR.  The XI Corps announced that several briefings would be held, where all plans would be coordinated, and final detail laid on.  These meetings would include all three of the participating services.  The date and time would be announced.  These briefings spawned the spirit that caused the CORREGIDOR operation to be called “Operation Coordination.”  (15)

 

THE SITUATION OF THE 503D RCT

 

          Since this monograph covers an unusual operation, it is necessary to vary slightly from the normal in telling this story.

          The 462nd Parachute Field Artillery and the 161st Airborne Engineer Company had joined the 503 Parachute Regiment at the close of the NOEMFOOR operation in NEW GUINEA.  The newly created RCT had gone into LEYTE as Sixth Army Reserve and had staged for the MINDORO landings which were completed on 15 December, 1944 (See Map A)  (16)  The RCT met little opposition at MINDORO, so the unit as a whole had not been battle tested.

At the close of the MINDORO operation, during which time the RCT had seen some of the hottest air battles of the Pacific, and had been on the receiving end of a 8 hour shelling by the Japanese Navy, (17)  the 503d built a tent camp and began to conduct small unit training.  Replacements were received from the Parachute School at Fort Benning.  Equipment and supplies were brought up to RCT standards.  A few key officers were shifted to equalize the number of experienced personnel in each Battalion.  Several outstanding NCO’s were tended direct commissions and transferred to another Battalion within the Regiment.  Officers and Non-commissioned officers schools were conducted.  These schools covered the RCT SOP, Jumpmaster training, leadership,

 

 

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Mindoro, 15 February, 1945
The tents are down.

 

Preparations reach an advanced stage.

 

Medical Supplies are broken down from bulk
supplies to individual carry packs.

 

Individual specialist packs are being readied.

 

Medics prepare their packs.

 

 

Medics are supervised by the M.D.'s

 

 

Parachute harnesses are fitted.

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Adjusting the parachute packs is
a tedious, but necessary task.

 

Everything is double-checked,
and double checked again.

 

Getting used to the weight.
Nothing is to be left to chance.

 

 

We were issued two WP and
two fragmentation grenades.

 

 

Bundles are rolled and
checked for the last time.

 

 

An extra canteen, and four meals
 of K-Ration was issued.

 

Assistance is readily available -
 teamwork gets it right

 

It's almost like getting a saddle on a horse.

All will be ready for entrucking at 0600.

 

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