Singapore and Hong Kong had fallen to the forces of Imperial Japan, Thailand and Burma had been invaded and islands across the Pacific captured. But one place, one tiny island fortress garrisoned by a few thousand hungry and exhausted men, refused to be beaten. That island fortress was Corregidor which guarded the entrance to Manila Bay and controlled all sea-borne access to Manila Harbour. At a time when every news bulletin was one of Japanese success, Corregidor shone as the only beacon of hope in the darkness of defeat.
The Japanese 14th Army of Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, threw everything it had at Corregidor, officially named Fort Mills. But deep within the island’s rocky heart, a tunnel had been excavated into Malinta Hill and there the US troops, marine, naval and army, endured the terrible onslaught. At their head was General Douglas MacArthur who became a national hero with his resolute determination never to surrender, until ordered to evacuate to Australia to avoid such a senior officer being captured by the enemy. Bur with his departure, the rest of the garrison knew that there was no possibility of relief. They would have to fight on until the bitter end, whatever form that might take.
That end came in May 1942. The defenders were reduced to virtually starvation rations with many of them wounded. Consequently, when, on 5 May the Japanese mounted a powerful amphibious assault, the weakened garrison could defy the enemy no longer. Corregidor, the ‘Gibraltar of the East’, finally fell to the invaders.
Those invaders were to become the invaded when MacArthur returned in January 1945. For three weeks, US aircraft, warships and artillery hammered the Japanese positions on Corregidor. Then, on 16 February, the Americans landed on the island. It took MacArthur’s men ten days to hunt down the last of the Japanese, after many had chosen to commit suicide rather than surrender, but Corregidor was at last back in Allied hands.