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

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.

Capt Noel O. Castle
Capt 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 hardly breathe."

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.

Denver Hill
A 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 Japanese.

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
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 men.

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
Japanese troops move to the high ground on Corregidor's north shore during the firefighting on 6 May. Photograph courtesy of 61st Infantry Association

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 hard-pressed.

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.

two water tanks
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 is."

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.

Col Sato
Col 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.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division