Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Arrival in the Philippines
The 1st Separate Marine Battalion
Preparing for War
Bombing of Cavite
Concentration at Mariveles
Christmas Day
Defenses of Manila Bay
First Bombing
Battle of the Points
The Bombardment Continues
The Formation of the 4th Battalion
1st Battalion Defenses
Japanese Preparations
The Landing
Movement of the Regimental Reserve
Attack of the 4th Battalion
Morning Battle
Special Subjects
The Marine Rearguard on Bataan
Marine Detachment, Air Warning Service
The Bataan Death March

FROM SHANGHAI TO CORREGIDOR: Marines in the Defense of the Philippines
by J. Michael Miller

The Landing

A Japanese artillery piece on Bataan pounds Corregidor, April 1942. Photo courtesy of Dr. Diosdado M. Yap

At nightfall on 5 May Colonel Gempachi Sato assembled his Left Flank Force at Limay on the Bataan Peninsula. The gathered troops "sang softly the high thin haunting melody of 'Prayer in the Dawn,'" and then climbed into 19 landing craft for the assault. The landing craft varied in size, the smallest carrying 30 men and the largest 170. More important, five tanks of the 7th Tank Regiment were also embarked in two landing craft. The landing craft and barges approached Corregidor in a three-line formation with expected landfall at 2300, shortly before the rise of the moon.

At 2240 the artillery shelling concentrated on the north shore beach defenses in the 1st Battalion sector. At 2300, supplies of food and water were just reaching the beach positions when landing boats were reported offshore. A second artillery concentration pounded the beach defenses for 6-7 minutes. The shelling was particularly intense, ending with phosphorous shells. Three to four minutes of silence followed the last shell when word reached Beecher at battalion headquarters that seven Japanese landing craft were nearing the beach. The initial Japanese landing of 790 men of the reinforced 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry was headed for the beaches from Infantry Point to North Point.

Captain Lewis H. Pickup of Company A watched from his command post as the first force of landing craft in echelon headed for his company's positions. Searchlights picked up the landing craft and the 1st Battalion commenced firing. The 37mm guns had no trouble tracking the landing craft, as Sergeant Louis E. Duncan had altered the traversing mechanism so it could move more freely Gunnery Sergeant William A. Dudley held up the trails to his 37mm gun to fire down on the incoming boats.

Private First Class Silas K. Barnes heard the boat motors from his machine gun position on Infantry Point and for a few moments was able to hit the approaching landing craft that were illuminated by the search lights. He effectively enfiladed Cavalry Beach and cut down many of the Japanese soldiers as they came ashore. The Japanese struggled in the layers of oil that covered the beaches from ships sunk earlier in the siege and experienced great difficulty in landing personnel and equipment. Unfortunately Barnes' and one other machine gun position were all that remained of 13 machine guns from Infantry Point to North Point. The rest had been destroyed by the Japanese bombardment.

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The 1st Platoon, Company A, commanded by First Lieutenant William F. Harris, defended the beach from Infantry to Cavalry Points, while the 2d Platoon under Master Gunnery Sergeant John Mercurio held the line from Cavalry to North Points. "I've got word that landing boats will attempt a landing," Harris told his men, "They'll be coming in here someplace. Fix Bayonets." He ordered Private First Class James D. Nixon to go to the cliff overlooking the beach, and report on the location of the Japanese. Nixon looked at the beach and saw Japanese troops coming ashore only 30 feet away. The Marines placed a heavy fire on the Japanese as they climbed the steep cliffs and tossed "Molotov Cocktails" down on the landing craft. In the darkness, however, the Japanese succeeded in bypassing many of the Marine positions.

Col Gempachi Sato
Col Gempachi Sato, who commanded the Japanese forces which landed on Corregidor on 6 May, is here planning that invasion. Photograph courtesy of 61st Infantry Association

Master Gunnery Sergeant Mercurio's 2d Platoon was spread thin covering the beach area, with many of his positions right on the water. "At high tide," recalled Corporal Edwin R. Franklin, "I could reach out and touch the water." The landing craft were only 100 yards away from the beach when Japanese flares lit up the night. The 2d Platoon began firing, but the Japanese were too close to halt the landing. A landing craft beached in front of Franklin's position and enemy troops began coming ashore. Mercurio, armed with only a pistol, killed a Japanese soldier "so close he could have touched him," as the Japanese overran the beach defenses. The fighting became particularly bloody, "with every man for himself," remembered Franklin. The Japanese 50mm heavy grenade dischargers or "knee mortars" were particularly effective at close range, and the overwhelming numbers of Japanese infantry forced Mercurio's men to pull back from the beach.

Corporal Joseph Q. Johnson, a 31st Infantry soldier attached to the 2d Platoon, remembered, "the gun next to me chattered, and glancing to my right, I saw its targets, small, fleeting, darting in the shadows." Johnson fired two belts of machine gun ammunition and was firing a third one when a grenade landed 20 yards away. A second grenade landed closer, and rifle fire also hit Johnson's position. When a third grenade landed only 10 yards from the gunpit, Johnson ran to the next machine gun position and found the two occupants dead. He kept moving, crawling along the beach with two other survivors of his platoon, toward Kindley Field.

Bataan Peninsula
Bataan Peninsula is viewed across Manila Bay from the North Dock area on Corregidor. The masts and stack of a ship sunk in the bay are visible in the middle of the photograph. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 311-T

The survivors of the 2d Platoon found themselves surrounded by the advancing Japanese as they tried to reach safety Corporal Franklin saw a grenade land in the trail in front of him, which exploded and knocked him to the ground with a head wound. Franklin next hazily saw a Japanese soldier charging with fixed bayonet. The Marine said to himself, "I ain't going this f***** way" and jumped up to engage the enemy with his own bayonet. Franklin was stabbed in the chest, but succeeded in killing the Japanese soldier. He ran ahead down the trail past another enemy soldier, who shot Franklin in the leg, but the Marine continued moving until he reached Malinta Tunnel.

Lieutenant Harris was forced to pull his platoon out of the area of Cavalry Point after the Japanese overran Mercurio's platoon. Most of the men fought on their own through the night. Private First Class Nixon moved toward the high ground of Denver Battery, when he encountered a Japanese soldier, "eyeball to eyeball." Both men charged with fixed bayonet, and in the ensuing struggle, Nixon was able to wound the Japanese soldier in the side. He left his enemy in the darkness and moved toward the sound of firing.

After facing 30-45 minutes of defensive firing the landing craft seemed to abandon their attempts to land and retired to the bay. The firing then subsided. Unknown to Captain Pickup, most of the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry was ashore in 15 minutes and the barges were returning to Limay. The Japanese sent up a flare to signal a successful landing at 2315. In 30 minutes, Colonel Sato had his men off the beach and moving inland.

SSgt William A. Dudley physically lifted the trails of his 37mm gun to fire down at the Japanese landing craft on the night of 5-6 May 1942. Dudley is the Marine second from the left in the second row. William C. Koch Papers, Personal Papers Collection, MCHC

The 785 men of the reinforced 2d Battalion, 61st Infantry were not so successful. The Japanese planners had not reckoned with the strong current in the channel between Bataan and Corregidor and the battalion landed east of North Point where all defensive positions were still intact. The craft also hit the Corregidor beach 10 minutes after the 1st Battalion, and the Marines were ready and alert for the attack. The Japanese came under heavy fire for the next 35 minutes, losing eight of 10 landing craft on the shore and one more sinking after pulling off the beach.

Private First Class Roy E. Hays manned a .30-caliber machine gun nestled in the cliffs overlooking the beach area at Hooker Point. He could see the barges approach his position, but was ordered to hold fire until the landing craft came closer. Hays decided, "We're not waiting any longer," and opened a devastating fire at point blank range. This was instantly followed by accompanying fires from all the weapons positions along the beach.

The Japanese who did get ashore were crowded in most cases on beaches that were only 30 feet wide backed by 30-foot-high cliffs. Most of the officers were killed early in the landing, and the huddled survivors were hit with hand grenades, and machine gun and rifle fire.

Private First Class David L. Johnson remembered a sailor named Hamilton firing a twin .50-caliber machine gun up and down the beach, "like shooting ducks in a rain barrel. The Japanese would run up and down the beach," remembered Johnson "and each time there would be less men in the charges. Finally they swam into the surf, and hid behind boulders." For the remainder of the night, only small bands of Japanese were able to scale the cliffs and engage the Marines.

Captain Pickup went out to check his platoons, assuming the attack had been repulsed. He then learned that some of the landing craft had made it ashore in the North Point area and Japanese troops were moving inland. At the same time, Beecher sent runners to all of his company commanders alerting them to the landing. As planned, if the enemy penetration was successful, Company A would withdraw and join Company B in a line based on Battery Denver, holding the tail of the island from the Japanese. Before the line could be formed, the Japanese captured Denver at 2350 and were discovered digging in. Colonel Sato had led his 1st Battalion soldiers to Denver Hill almost unnoticed.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division