Daytrip to Corregidor Island

My alarm went off at 5:35am but because of some inconsiderately loud alarms going off in the dorm at 5am, I was already awake!

I took a Grab to the Ferry Port at 6am and saw a beautiful dawn. The ride cost 150 Pesos and was much more convenient than the public transport options.

I checked in to the Corregidor Island tour for which I got a price of 2,800 Pesos (£41) rather than the 4,100 Pesos I was offered by the travel agent. Not cheap but I want to see this historic site.

We boarded at 6:45am and left at 7:30. I can see why lots of people aren’t happy with the safety of these vessels; I can’t imagine how on earth we would get out in an emergency because the doors are tiny and the one at the back sticks when it is being opened. Fingers crossed.

The sunrise was gorgeous and the water across the bay was calm and there was a thick mist on the water so it made for an interesting effect.

We made it safely and I slept peacefully the whole way. We have been met at the dock by the cute trams that will take us around the island. Not sure how I wangled it but I got the best seat despite being last to board.

Our guide is Richard and he has excellent English and loves to make jokes. He’s really nice and can’t believe that I am travelling alone.

His explanations were extremely thorough and the following is my best effort to catch the story of this fascinating and historically significant island.

Corregidor Island got its name from its original customs function and comes from the Spanish verb Corregir “to check” boats papers before they were allowed to dock at Manila. It was also used as a quarantine to stop infectious diseases reaching the city and as a prisoner labour camp. It was fortified during American times and was named Fort Mills in 1903.

WWII in the Philippines began 9 hours after Pearl harbor when the Japanese were all over Philippine skies and bombing the fortifications. American General Douglas MacArthur declared warplan Orange Tree and it was hoped that the American and Philippines forces could hold out for 6 months and then be reinforced by American troops from the mainland. But this certainly didn’t go to plan.

An interesting aside: on March 12 1945 the island was declared clear of Japanese troops and 8 months later, 22 Japanese troops handed themselves in to the guards at the YMCA building… Their foxholes were very well concealed.

The Middle Side Barrack Buildings are some of the most famous ruins on the island. They were built in 1914 to be bombproof and hurricane proof but then again, they were built to withstand 1914 bombs. Three direct hits destroyed the Middle Side Barracks on 22 December 1941. That said though, the damage was fairly localised so they really did hold up well against the blast damage.

The mortar emplacement called Battery Way could fire shells 8.3 miles with arcs of 360 degrees. It was open air which was WWI standard and the introduction of aircraft meant that it was a sitting duck as it was easily visible from the air. The island was well set up for WWI but it couldn’t withstand aircraft and it never got the 22 anti-aircraft guns that had been requested. Two of the mortars took direct hits to the barrels. They still look in great condition but if you look down the barrel of mortar No.2 you can see a huge chunk of metal protruding into the barrel.

Further along the road is Battery Hearn which houses a 12 inch naval gun. This gun would have easily overmatched any naval ship of the day and because Corregidor’s naval fortifications were so strong, the Japanese took Manila first and then moved along the peninsula to isolate this battery without having to attack it with ships head on.

The “disappearing guns” of Battery Grubbs were a pair of 10-inch guns overlooking the West Philippines Sea. They were loaded while they were hidden beneath the parapet and then swung up into position to fire. This meant that the guns were much harder for ships to target and thus it was hoped they could get a few rounds off before being locked onto. The gun is unfortunately not still in its position but you can see the lugs that should fit into the cups. Underneath is an enormous 60-tonne stack of metal which was used as the counterweight to lift the gun.

Grubbs was the site of the decisive retaking of the island by the Americans in which the Japanese commanders were all killed within the first 5 minutes of the start of the battle. They regrouped by the end of the day but it was too late, the Americans recaptured Corregidor.

The design of the magazine was quite incredible with two completely separate concrete layers. I found an entrance to a sizeable walkway that showed the roof being separate.

On April 9 of 1942, 76,000 Filipino and American soldiers were gathered and were matched 105 kilometres from Marivelas to Pompanga. If they fell on the road then they were bayoneted. The Japanese then packed prisoners into boxcars with 250 people in each. It was so tight that you couldn’t even fall over if you died. When they arrived in Camp O’Donnell after another 6 kilometres marching only 51,000 prisoners replied to the roll call and the rest were considered dead, missing or escaped. This horrible piece of history is known as the Bataan Death March and was judged to be a war crime, for which the Japanese General was executed by firing squad in 1946.

During our lunch break I walked to the Topside Barracks and had a look around the Topside area of the Island including the movie theatre.

The Pacific War Memorial is interesting as there are 12 slabs in the central corridor which show the various battles of the Pacific during WWII starting with Pearl Harbor and ending with the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Dome of Valor has an oculus through which the light of the sun on May 6th each year hits the marble plinth in the middle and ceremonies of remembrance are held.

The Spanish-American war in 1898 started after the sinking of the USS Maine in Cuba (which was later found to be an accident in the boiler room and not the Spanish after all). This led to the battle of Manila Bay. The most one-sided naval battle in history. When the Spanish lost the battle, as part of the peace treaty, the Treaty of Paris (1898), the Americans asked the Spanish to sign over numerous territories to the USA. This included the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico and the treaty ended the Spanish empire and it was the beginning of the United States becoming a world power. The Philippines cost America $20 million and saved Spain from the “horrors of war” according to the formal reply.

In the museum at the Pacific War Memorial in a display case is the US flag that flew at Corregidor with its 45 stars.

The US troops dropped from aircraft to take back the island from the Japanese, Rock Force, had to drop at 400 feet (half the height considered safe) because the wind was so strong. 2,000 men dropped and luckily only 200 were injured (because estimates suggested that 50% would be injured). These men were scattered all over the Highlands and they took it with relative ease.

A Japanese 240mm shell hit battery Gyrie magazine and 30 tonnes of ammunition exploded, utterly dismantling the battery, killing all the men there and sending the mortars themselves as far as the Topside Barracks. We saw it from a distance but it’s just a hole.

After 5 months of tough fighting, Wainwright, in charge of the island after General MacArthur left for Australia, decided he must surrender Corrigidor but the Japanese refused! They knew that the commander here was in charge of all of the USAF in the Philippines, so the Japanese would only accept the full and unconditional surrender of all the USAF in the Philippines. The Japanese commanders told him to go back to Corrigidor and do what he will, but the American and Filipino troops had already blown up the guns and during the negotiation truce, the Japanese troops had advanced into a position to slaughter the 10,000 troops on the island so Wainwright had to rethink. On 6 May he signed the surrender of the Philippines to avoid the needless deaths of all those on the island.

The battle for the Philippines had significantly delayed the Japanese advance in the war. The war planners in Japan had given 50 days to the capture of the Philippines, which actually took 5 months. This is in stark comparison to other parts of the region – Thailand surrendered in 4 hours to avoid the temples being destroyed. Singapore was seen to be a real stronghold in the region but it was entirely set up to defend from the sea so its massive guns were all useless when the Japanese came from Malaysia by bike.
The 100,000 Japanese troops that were delayed here in the Philippines for 5 months may have saved Australia from invasion.

Malinta Tunnel took 10 years to create and it was initially expected to be a storage tunnel but it was used as a bomb shelter that saved many people that survived here, with room for 8,000 people.

2,000 Japanese troops blew themselves up in Malinta Tunnel with all the ammunition at the time that the Americans were retaking the hill.

The light and sound show in Malinta Tunnel costs a further 200 Pesos/£3 (which goes to the foundation that are restoring the island). It lasts 30 minutes and takes you most of the way through the Malinta Tunnel with around a dozen stops to observe the displays in the side tunnels. It tells the story of the tunnel, the tough 5 months of resistance, the capture of the island by the Japanese and then its retaking by the US forces.

We visited the Philippines Hero Monument which shows many epic battles in the Philippines history.

Then we saw the long lost Japanese war cemetery which was only rediscovered after a photo was sold at a garage sale in Portland, Oregon of a soldier standing in front of the cemetery with a very clear view to a nearby island which was recognised. So the trees were torn down and during the searches, many crosses were found. Bodies were exhumed, cremated and sent back to Tokyo.

In 1974 the last Japanese fighter in the Philippines surrendered after hiding out for 29 years in the farming region of Luzon. There were a few Japanese Holdouts, though the one in this story was Hiroo Onoda

The story goes: 6 Japanese troops were left behind in the Philippines they were told to live off the land, they were commanded not to commit suicide and that someday Japan would send somebody to bring them home. Years passed and three of them were killed in altercations with farmers and after more years, two surrendered to Filipino authorities. This is how the Philippines found out there was a sixth man. Leaflets were scattered all over the land to tell him the war was long over and that he should surrender but he thought it was propaganda so he still continued to hide. He was met once by a researcher, Norio Suzuki, who was trying to get him to come out of hiding but the soldier said that only his commander telling him to surrender would be enough. His commander did and the soldier was given a full pardon (as he had killed 29 farmers thinking the war was still on) and then he was given high military honours and 30 years of back pay so he became a rich man. Japan had changed too much for him and so he lived out his days in Brazil. He died perhaps three years ago. What a story!!

The journey back on the ferry flew by because I was asleep again! I met a lovely Dutch woman called Randy and we hung out for the evening.

The port area is really lively in the evenings and there are some rides and a zipline. Plus it’s almost one month until Christmas and the Filipinos are bonkers for Christmas!!

We watched the Mall of Asia fireworks (Friday and Saturday nights) with a fantastic meal with the best view in Manila.

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