FROM SHANGHAI TO CORREGIDOR: Marines in the Defense of the Philippines
by J. Michael Miller
Bombing of Cavite
Three Marine-manned antiaircraft positions were
located outside the Cavite Navy Yard: Battery A, across the bay at
Canacao Golf Course on the tip of Sangley Point; Battery B at Carridad;
and Battery C at Binacayan one mile south. Each held four 3-inch,
.50-caliber, dual-purpose guns with a range of about 15,000 feet.
Battery D was divided to support each position with five .50-caliber
On 10 December, two Japanese combat teams came ashore
in northern Luzon, securing airfields for their Army aircraft to support
more landings. However, there was no alarm in Cavite. As usual, civilian
workers came into the Navy Yard and quickly went to work. The only sign
of war was a detachment of Filipino workers digging an air-raid trench
in the yard of the Commandancia, Admiral Rockwell's headquarters. The
half-completed trench was the only air-raid shelter in the Navy Yard.
Only the antiaircraft weapons had been revetted. Four 3-inch
antiaircraft guns were mounted at the ammunition depot in the yard, as
well as numerous .50-caliber machine guns mounted around the yard.
Small arms ammunition explodes in burning warehouses on
the Cavite Navy Yard waterfront. National Archives Photo SC 130991
A little past noon the droning of numerous aircraft
engines was heard, followed by an air-raid siren. Marines rushed to the
veranda of the Marine Barracks and watched 54 aircraft in three large
"V" formations approach. All eyes in the Yard were focused on the
aircraft which were widely assumed to be Army Air Corps. The first
suspicious sign was a dogfight below the formation. Someone then yelled,
"Look at those leaflets come down." Almost in unison, many voices yelled
out, "leaflets, hell they're bombs!" The naval base was rocked by
the first bombs striking the ground. Marines, sailors, and civilians
crouched under the nearest cover with no formal shelters available.
The first stick of bombs hit the water, as did most
of the second, but the rest of the bombs criss-crossed the Navy Yard and
small fires began to spread among the wreckage. The Marines of Battery
E, on top of the Naval Ammunition Depot, opened fire as bombs hit first
on one side of their building and then on the other, splashing mud and
water over them. Private First Class Leslie R. Scoggin called out the
plotting data for the nearby battery, but found the aircraft were flying
above 23,000 feet, far above the range of the battery. Luckily, no bombs
actually hit the depot.
The Marine on the rangefinder at Battery C, stationed
at Binacayan, reported to First Lieutenant Willard B. Holdredge that the
aircraft were above the range of the guns. Holdredge ordered the Marine
to take the reading again. When given the same answer, the lieutenant
took the reading himself. Holdredge knew then that the Japanese aircraft
were flying at 21,000-25,000 feet but his guns had a range of only
15,000 feet. He ordered the battery to fire anyway.
of two .50-caliber machine gun mounts of Battery F located on Guadalupe
Pier, Cavite Navy Yard. Capt Ted Pulos successfully evacuated his men
from the pier after being trapped by fire. Navy Historical Center
First Lieutenant Carter Simpson at Binacayan later
wrote, "We were left with a sense of fatality which was renewed every
time our eyes fell on the Yard across the bay . . . A toy pistol would
have damaged their planes as much as we did." Battery A on Sangley Point
ceased fire after the first wave passed untouched. Battery B on Carridad
also tried to hit the Japanese aircraft, but the 280 rounds expended
during the raid fell short.
Captain Ted E. Pulos command ed Battery F, which had
two .50-caliber machine guns located on the Guadalupe Pier near the Navy
Communications building. He ordered his men to open fire on the first
wave of planes, but after the initial bombing ordered his men to cease
fire as the aircraft were obviously above range. Private First Class
Thomas L. Wetherington was killed by bomb fragments, becoming the first
Marine to lose his life in defense of the Philippines. Private First
Class George Sparks was on guard duty at the Naval District Headquarters
when the bombs hit. He was able to take cover in a worn path beside the
building as the bombs began to fall. Trees were blown down and one fell
over Sparks. Although the path was only a few inches deep, it was enough
to save him from serious injury. One other Marine was wounded during the
Captain John Clark ran to the barracks and ordered
the Marines not on duty to draw ammunition and get outside to fire on
enemy aircraft which might strafe the Yard. They ran to the
quartermaster's office and formed in line to receive ammunition. As
bombs fell nearby, the Marines dove for cover, and then returned to the
line, repeating the process several times. Bombs struck close to them as
Private Jack D. Thompson later remembered, "When you hear one of those
bombs coming down, you think it's coming down the back of your neck."
The effort proved fruitless as the buildings restricted the fields of
fire for small arms.
The Yard continued to burn as the last Japanese
aircraft departed. An aid station was set up in the library of the
Marine Barracks as the hospital had received a direct hit. Approximately
1,000 civilians were reported killed and more than 500 wounded were
treated in the aid station. Marines formed firefighting parties to put
out the raging fires. The Filipino fire companies surrounded the
ammunition dump and prevented fire from reaching the explosives, but the
torpedo warehouse burned and the warheads sporadically exploded,
preventing the firefighting parties from putting out the fire.
The fires trapped Captain Pulos' Battery F on the
Guadalupe Pier and the exploding torpedo warheads threatened the
Marines, sailors, and civilians who had escaped to the dock. Pulos
ordered his Marines to build makeshift rafts and successfully evacuated
men, weapons, and ammunition.
Cavite Navy Yard burns in this Japanese photograph taken
after the bombing on 10 December 1941.
As night neared, all personnel, except a small group
of Marines and Manila firemen, were evacuated out of the Yard and
transported by truck to a site on the road leading to Manila. After
travelling 15 miles the trucks stopped and the battalion set up camp.
The following morning Marine detachments were sent back to guard the
abandoned Navy Yard. Field kitchens were established to feed civilians
as well as Navy and Marine Corps personnel. Other detachments reinforced
the Sangley Point radio station as well as the ammunition depot at
Canancao. Marines were also posted at all the gasoline stations on the
road to Manila to guard the fuel supplies for military use.
Marines patrolled the emptied Navy Yard, checking for
looters and any new fires. At noon an administrative force returned and
reopened the battalion offices. A bulldozer dug a trench near the
Commandancia and working parties attempted to bury the civilian dead.
Dump trucks were filled with bodies which were dumped into the trench as
Marines buried more than 250 corpses with shovels. Once the burials in
the Yard were finished, the mass grave was covered with dirt.
The Cavite area remained quiet until 1247 on 19
December when nine Japanese bombers returned with Sangley Point as their
target. The bombers hit the large radio towers and the fuel depot.
Numerous 55-gallon fuel drums were stored on the golf course, in the
hospital compound, and on the beach. Fuel drums exploded, forcing the
evacuation of the wounded. One Marine remembered "the roar of the fire
drowned the sound of the motors (of the bombers) and the sound of the
Mess Sergeant Milton T. Larios, Corporal Earl C.
Dodson, and a Filipino cook named "Pop" were preparing rations for the
Marines still in the Cavite Navy Yard when the air-raid siren went off.
Larios shouted, "Let's get this meat off the fire," and tried to load
the beef into a nearby garbage can when the bombs hit. Corporal Dodson
remembered running until hearing the whistle of the bombs coming down
and then fell to the ground. Explosions covered him with dirt and debris
but he escaped the blast unhurt. He ran back to the mess area where he
found Larios dead and "Pop" dying. He carried the bleeding Filipino to a
collection point where 15 wounded Americans and Filipinos were lying
Admiral Rockwell ordered First Lieutenant James W.
Keene to make a fire break in the rows of barrels to save as much fuel
as possible. Keene took 12 Marines into the area of the exploding
barrels and began work when another "stick" of bombs hit, killing
Private First Class George D. Frazier. The bombs started new fires,
which forced Keene to pull his men out. Total Marine casualties were
five killed, eight wounded.