FROM SHANGHAI TO CORREGIDOR: Marines in the Defense of the Philippines
by J. Michael Miller
Attack of the 4th Battalion
Before midnight, Colonel Howard gave orders for the
4th Battalion to prepare to move to Malinta Tunnel and replace the
regimental reserve. Major Williams had already alerted his men based on
the view he had of the east end of the island. The men of the battalion
needed little warning, having also watched the landing take place. At
midnight Williams had extra ammunition issued and all companies ready to
move. At 0130 he received Howard's order to shift to the tunnel and the
4th Battalion moved at once.
Noel O. Castle, expert team shot with both rifle and pistol, was killed
leading the first counterattack on Denver Hill. He is shown here at the
Camp Perry matches in March 1937, when he was a member of the Marine
Corps rifle team. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 7563
The battalion marched in the darkness in two columns
along the road to the tunnel well spread out to avoid Japanese artillery
fire, but were delayed by a 20-minute artillery barrage and suffered a
few casualties. By 0230, Major Williams had his men into Malinta Tunnel
and awaited further orders.
At 0430 Colonel Howard decided to commit his last
reserves, the 500 Marines, sailors, and soldiers of the 4th Battalion.
Major Williams' men were long ago ready to move out, the Malinta Tunnel
being severely congested with a constant stream of wounded Marines from
the early fighting. Morale in the battalion was strained by the constant
concussions from the Japanese shelling outside and the proliferation of
rumors in the tunnel. Lieutenant Charles R. Brook, USN, remembered, "It
was hot, terribly hot, and the ventilation was so bad that we could
Led by Major Williams, the battalion emerged from the
tunnel in platoon column. The men were suddenly subjected to a severe
shelling and casualties began to mount before the last company was able
to leave the tunnel. However, within 10 minutes, the battalion reformed
under fire and began to move forward. Another barrage soon struck,
causing more casualties and confusion. Minutes later, the column was
again reorganized and the advance continued. At 200 yards behind the
line of the 1st Battalion, Williams ordered Companies Q and R to deploy
in a skirmish line and guide to the left of the line. Company T repeated
the orders and formed on the right of Company R and guided to the right.
Company S formed the reserve.
The order of the battalion was prudent, for the main
line of resistance was badly in need of reinforcement. In the moonlight,
deployment into skirmish formation was difficult, but eventually
accomplished. Contact with the 1st Battalion was spotty at best and no
Marines were found in line ahead of Company R. Scattered parties of
Japanese soldiers had infiltrated behind the Marine positions all night
and their sniping proved worrisome to the inexperienced sailors. Both
Companies Q and R were receiving fire from ahead and behind as they
moved into position.
In the confusion, two sailors, Signalman First Class
Maurice C. Havey and Signalman First Class Frank H. Bigelow, became
separated from their command and came upon an unmanned twin .50-caliber
machine gun overlooking the beach area. They manned the gun and opened
fire on the Japanese on the coastline for 30 minutes. Havey fired until
the barrels burned out and Bigelow then replaced them. Suddenly, Havey
dropped from the gun, turned and said, "I'm hit." He staggered to the
rear toward Malinta Tunnel while Bigelow stayed with the gun. Havey had
traveled only 100 yards when he was killed by seven machine gun bullets
across the chest.
prewar view of Denver Hill from Malinta Hill. Note the water tank on the
hill. National Archives
Unbeknownst to the Marines, the Japanese troops on
Corregidor received reinforcements just before dawn. The 3d
Battalion, 61st Infantry, engineers, and light artillery arrived
with at least 880 men to join the battle. This force was originally
scheduled to arrive at 0230, but the losses in landing craft in the
initial attack forced the delay. Even so, five tanks and most of the
field artillery were left on Bataan due to lack of landing craft. At
0530, three green flares signaled the successful landing by the
From 0530 to 0600 the four company commanders of the
4th Battalion tried to put their men into position but were hampered by
the darkness, lack of knowledge of the terrain, and the lack of cohesion
of the 1st Battalion. In some cases the 4th Battalion actually formed a
line behind the 1st Battalion positions with no knowledge of the Marines
ahead of them. Luckily, the Japanese artillery was strangely silent.
Major Schaeffer came out of the firing line to confer with Major
Williams on the placement of the reinforcements, asking, "Joe, what in
the hell did you bring me?" Williams responded, "I have my whole
battalion here or what's left of them. Where is your unit? and
what position do you want my battalion in?" Schaeffer lost his composure
for a moment and replied, "Joe, I don't know! . . . I don't know where
in hell my non coms are, I think they are all dead!" Williams motioned a
near by corpsman to check the major and said, "Dammit now, you relax,
I'll take over this situation." Schaeffer pulled himself together and
indicated the most needy area was the gap between his two companies.
Company S moved out of reserve and forward to fill the breach.
Japanese soldiers pause amid the fighting on 6 May as
they move their light artillery inland from the beaches. Photograph courtesy
from 61st Infantry Association
Major Williams and his staff armed themselves with
rifles and hand grenades and entered the front lines where the firing
was the heaviest. This command decision at times prevented tight
coordination among the companies as the commanders often would have
little idea how to contact the major. The dazed battalion settled into
its positions and extended its flanks to cover the island from end to
end. A decision was reached to find how many men had been lost in
getting into position, but this effort was unsuccessful. The best
estimate of the strength of the battalion at that time was about 400
At 0600 Williams ordered his battalion to
counterattack at 0615, the break of dawn. In 10 minutes all companies
were alerted and jumped off promptly at the designated time. The order,
"Charge," came down the line and the Marines, sailors, and soldiers
attacked with fixed bayonets, "yelling and screaming . . . cursing and
howling . . ." Gunner Ferrell tried to use the 1st Battalion Stokes
mortars to support the attack, but again the rounds were too inaccurate
for use. Companies Q and R rapidly gained ground on the left, but
Company S ran at once into heavy machine gun fire and was halted after
moving only 100 yards.
Japanese troops move to the high ground on Corregidor's
north shore during the firefighting on 6 May. Photograph courtesy of 61st Infantry
Company T also ground to a halt after gaining little
ground. The Japanese sent up flares which brought a prompt response from
the artillery on Bataan. In 10 minutes the gunfire halted and Company T
resumed the attack on the ground around Battery Denver, but machine gun
fire quickly halted the advance. A machine gun position on the north
road was knocked out, as was another in the ruins on Battery Denver
Hill, but at heavy cost.
Major Schaeffer was pinned down in his command post
by these two machine guns and had lost contact with his men. When the
fire was silenced, he rose from his position, a mixture of dirt and
blood from wounds running into his eyes, blinding him. Despite his
wounds, Schaeffer tried to reorganize his men and explain to Williams
what had happened. Major Williams had Schaeffer cared for and calmly
took control of the action.
Predictably, contact was soon lost between the two
left companies, Q and R, and the two companies on the right, S and T.
The companies on the left had outdistanced those on the right by 200
yards. Williams halted Companies Q and R, ordering them to regain
contact with the stalled companies and try to break into the Japanese
flank on Denver. The two boat loads of Japanese soldiers left drifting
by Private First Class McKechnie, and now hung up off shore, were
successfully destroyed despite the poor marksmanship of the sailors in
Company Q. At 0630 Williams began to shift men to the right, which was
Quartermaster Clerk Ferguson, now in command of
Company O, decided to attack the two machine guns which covered the
beach road by the flank. Ferguson, with six men, moved down the road
covered for some distance by the road embankment. Unfortunately, two new
machine guns opened on the party and they were bracketed by knee
mortars. By the time Ferguson was abreast of the first guns he had only
one man left, Corporal Alvin E. Stewart of the 803d Engineer Battalion.
The two gave up the enterprise and moved to the south side of the road
to place rifle fire on the offending machine guns.
The Japanese on top of the hill evidently thought
they were being flanked by a larger party of men and a reinforced
platoon began to file out of Battery Denver to counter Ferguson's move.
The Japanese were entirely in silhouette against the skyline and the two
Americans by the road had perfect targets. Ferguson later wrote "There
wasn't a chance to miss them we were too close for that." Within
seconds 20 Japanese soldiers were killed or wounded. The Americans were
so intent on firing that they didn't notice a Japanese rifleman coming
up behind them. Ferguson was shot by a glancing bullet in the face,
leaving blood streaming from his nose and cheek. Stewart was able to
pull him back to the Marine battle line without further wounds.
These two water tanks were the focus of the heaviest 4th
Marines fighting on 6 May. The tank in the foreground overlooked the
Denver Battery positions and was where QMSgt John E. Haskin and SgtMaj
Thomas F. Sweeney died. Photo courtesy of 61st Infantry Association
One of the major impediments to the Marine attack was
a Japanese machine gun placed in a hole in the base of one of the water
tanks. Quartermaster Sergeant John E. Haskin and Sergeant Major Thomas
F. Sweeney ran under fire and climbed up the cement water tower in the
predawn darkness. The two Marines did not expect to survive the battle,
and their comrades knew that both would attempt some extreme action
during the expected fighting. Marine Gunner Ferrell talked to Sweeney as
he led his men into action that morning. Sweeney said as they parted,
"Well, this is it. We've been in the Marine Corps for 15 years and this
is what we've been waiting for. If I don't see you, that's the way it
The two Marines now lobbed grenades into the Japanese
positions, promptly destroying the machine gun in the water tank.
Captain Brook remembered, "A Marine sergeant . . . gathered an armful of
hand grenades and climbed to the top of a stone water tower near our
front line. From here, he threw them at a Japanese sniper position and
succeeded in knocking it out." Another Marine, Corporal Sidney E. Funk,
was crawling beside the water tank when he heard a voice call down, "Hey
Funk, those bastards are right over there in the brush. If I had enough
hand grenades, I'd blow the hell out of them." Funk had no idea who the
voice belonged to and quickly crawled away for cover.
Despite drawing fire to themselves, Haskin and
Sweeney continued to have some initial success, destroying at least one
more machine gun. However, their supply of grenades was soon exhausted
and Haskin was killed while reclimbing the tower with more ammunition.
Sweeney was killed soon after. The two "were very close friends in
life," remembered Quartermaster Clerk Frank W. Ferguson, "it was most
fitting that they should go out together."
The American advance on both the right and the left
was next halted by an enemy machine gun located in the gun pit of
Battery Denver near the water tower. From this commanding position the
gun could hit any movement from the north coast to the south. The gun
drew the attention of Major Williams who personally took on the gun with
his Springfield rifle with no result. At 0730 Lieutenant Bethel B.
Otter, USN, commanding Company T, took Ensign William R. Lloyd and four
volunteers, armed only with hand grenades, to take out the gun.
Sato confers with his staff during the fighting for Denver Battery hill.
The absence of an ammunition resupply threatened the success of his
landing. Photograph courtesy of 61st Infantry Association
Under covering fire of the company, Otter crawled
with his volunteers to within 25 yards of the gun pit and lobbed
grenades into the position. For a few moments the weapon was silent, the
gun crew dead. Almost immediately the gun crew was replaced and all but
one member of the assault party was killed. With the gun still in
operation, no movement further east could be accomplished. Army Captain
Calvin E. Chunn of the battalion staff took over the company and led an
advance on a group of Japanese soldiers setting up a light artillery
piece. As the company moved forward, a shell struck amidst the command
group, wounding Chunn and two other officers. By 0900 the 4th Battalion
was stalled and Williams sent to Colonel Howard for reinforcements and
artillery support to resume the attack. Neither were available.
First Lieutenant Mason F. Chronister of Company B, on
the south shore beaches, could see in the growing daylight the Japanese
holding the high ground around Denver Battery. He organized his platoon
with volunteers from the Navy Communications Tunnel and Battery M, 60th
Coast Artillery, to attack the Japanese from the west at the same time
Williams was attacking from the east. The attack proceeded up the ridge,
but hit Japanese reinforcements from the recently landed 3d
Battalion, 61st Infantry, also moving up the hill. Lieutenant
Chronister withdrew his men from the larger force, and moved them along
a trail, joining Williams' line at the watertank.