W E B Griffin – Men at War 4 – The Fighting Agents

W E B Griffin – Men at War 4 – The Fighting Agents

W E B Griffin – Men at War 4 – The Fighting Agents


Since General Douglas MacArthur’s departure for Australia from the Fortress of Corregidor in Manila Bay was in compliance with a direct order from President and Commander-in-Chief Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it was the General’s belief that the move was nothing more than a transfer of his headquarters. He believed, in other words, that the battered, outnumbered, starving U.S. and Philippine troops in the Philippine Islands would remain under his command.

He believed specifically that Lieutenant General Jonathan M. Wainwright, a tall, skinny cavalryman who had been his deputy, would, as regulations and custom prescribed, remain under his orders.

General MacArthur’s last order to Wainwright–on the small wooden wharf at Corregidor just before MacArthur, his wife, his son, and a small staff boarded the boats that would take them away–was verbal: He told Wainwright to “hold on.” Wainwright understood this to mean that he was forbidden to surrender.

Since he had been promised reinforcement and resupply of his beleaguered forces by Roosevelt himself, MacArthur believed that as long as the Fortress of Corregidor held out, Roosevelt would be forced to make good on his promise of reinforcement. The island of Luzon, including the capital city of Manila, had fallen to the Japanese. But there were upward of twenty thousand reasonably healthy, reasonably well-supplied troops under Major General William Sharp on the island of Mindanao. That force, MacArthur believed, could serve as the nucleus for the recapture of Luzon, once reinforcements came.

MacArthur accepted the possibility that Corregidor might fall. But if that should happen, he believed that Wainwright should move his three-starred, red general’s flag and the other colors to Mindanao, assume command of General Sharp’s troops, and continue the fight.

Before MacArthur reached Brisbane, however, traveling ifirst by PT boat and then by B-17 aircraft. General Wainwright began to receive orders directly from Washington, from General George Catlett Marshall, the Chief of Staff.

General MacArthur and General Marshall were not friends. For instance, some time before the war when Marshall was a colonel at Fort Benning, MacArthur, then Chief of Staff of the Army, had officially described Marshall as unfit for command of a unit larger than a regiment. Several such incidents did not bring the two closer.

It was made clear to General Wainwright by the War Department that he

was no longer subject to General MacArthur’s orders, and that the conduct of resistance in the Philippines was entirely his own responsibility.

Without MacArthur’s knowledge or consent, the decision had already been made by President Roosevelt, acting with the advice of General Marshall and Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower (who had once served as MacArthur’s deputy in the Philippines), that not only was reinforcement of the Philippines impossible–given the relative capabilities of the United States and Imperial Japanese navies–but that the first priority in the war was the conflict against the Germans in North Africa and Europe.

On May 1, 1942, there were thirteen-thousand American and Philippine troops (on a three-eighths ration) in the granite tunnels of Corregidor Island.

These included a large number of wounded and all the nurses evacuated from Luzon in order to spare them rape at the hands of the Japanese. That day, Japanese artillery fired sixteen thousand rounds at Corregidor, one heavy shell landing every five seconds. And that many shells were fired the next day. And the next day. And the next.

On the night of May 5, 1942, when it became evident to General Wainwright that the Japanese were about to make an assault on the fortress, he radioed General Sharp and other commanders elsewhere in the Philippines, releasing them from his command.

Although most of the heavy coast artillery cannon on the island had already been destroyed by Japanese artillery, there were enough smaller cannon and automatic weapons still available to Wainwright’s forces so that Japanese losses in the assault were severe. But the Japanese were both determined and courageous, and a foothold was gained.

The fall of Corregidor was no longer in doubt.

There was nothing to be gained by further resistance. In fact, further resistance would have meant that the Japanese would have trained cannon at the mouth of Malinta Tunnel. These would have swept the tunnel clean of nurses and wounded and the rest of the garrison as effectively as a hose washing down a drainage pipe.

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