France Fights On (English Translation) - Thread III - The lost files

On the sidelines – Great Game in Mindanao
At the same time as he pressed the final preparations for the defense of Corregidor, MacArthur was engaged in what Rudyard Kipling would no doubt have called his personal "Great Game".
Without any instructions to that effect from Washington and without informing his superiors, MacArthur ordered General Wainwright, that he had sent to command the defense of Mindanao (the Visayas, as we have indicated, having been abandoned), to enter into negotiations with the native Moros living on the island.
The Moros had always refused Spanish domination. Until the end of this one (i.e. until the 1890s), the colonizers barely controlled the coast of the territory. After the arrival of the Americans, two major conflicts had pitted the Moros against the new dominant power. It had taken very tough clashes for peace to reign on the island of Mindanao. Throughout the region and throughout the US Army, the military prowess of the Moros was highly respected. General “Black Jack” Pershing was to describe the defense of Bud Bagsak by the Moros in 1913 as the fiercest fighting he had ever seen. About ten thousand Moros, men, women and children, the entire population of the sector, had entrenched themselves on the mountain of Bud Bagsak. Perhaps a third were combatants (although it was claimed that the women took part in the fighting and that two hundred of them were actually killed). Of these 3,500 defenders, at least 1500 were killed in the terrible four-day battle between them and the 8th American Infantry Regiment, supported by two companies of Filipino Scouts and artillery.
Although they had remained calm since that time, or perhaps precisely because they had remained so, they could stand in the way of Japanese ambitions to control Mindanao.
This is why MacArthur had asked General Wainwright to seek an agreement with the Moros, under which he could give them the arms and ammunition which the American-Filipinos did not need, to use against the Japanese. . But MacArthur's instructions included another clause, the enforcement of which by Wainwright nearly resulted in him being court-martialed after the war.
MacArthur had ordered government funds in Mindanao and all available gold and securities to be distributed to the Moros as gifts. Wainwright followed these instructions, believing that MacArthur simply wanted to grease the hand of the Moros chiefs.
But the Moros themselves interpreted this act quite differently, a difference exacerbated by the poor communication between the two partners.
The Moros were Muslims, and were familiar with the custom of levying a jizyah, or poll tax, on “infidels” in exchange for protection. Moro leaders in the interior of Mindanao therefore came to believe, during the negotiations, that the US Army troops did indeed want to obtain their protection in exchange for tribute. It is believed today that this was precisely MacArthur's intention, as a far-sighted orientalist. In this way, he knew that the sense of honor of the Moros would oblige them, once the agreement was concluded, to wage a guerrilla war against the Japanese and to protect the American troops when all organized resistance had collapsed on Mindanao.
The understanding of Moro psychology that enabled MacArthur to achieve his ends was essentially based on a very strong personal interest in the Orient, in the broadest sense. He had received an excellent education and took particular pride in his knowledge of Asian cultures in general. There was little in the way of cultural twists and turns that he was unaware of in the whole expanse of Asia. The depth of this knowledge was recognized even by his worst enemies as one of the character traits that could allow MacArthur to play, in certain circumstances, a political rather than a military role.
The time for such a role came in early 1942, and MacArthur used his knowledge to best serve American interests at the time. No doubt the fact that he was not authorized to do so and that he certainly exceeded the limits of his authority could have legitimately exposed him to condemnation if he had survived the war. This was not the case and others had to bear the consequences of the actions he ordered, for better or for worse.
In fact, the agreement concluded between Wainwright and the Moros meant that the latter fiercely resisted the Japanese throughout the war, that they sheltered twenty thousand American and Filipino soldiers on their territory, helped them in their fights and enabled them to avoid to be slaughtered or captured. Until the liberation of the Philippines, almost all of Mindanao was a hotbed of guerrilla warfare. The Japanese were never able to truly control the island; all they could do was send in heavily armed columns which set out from the ports on the coast and ravaged the Moros villages in the interior of the island before falling back. The ports themselves were constantly harassed, and the Japanese were compelled to maintain a garrison on Mindanao beyond what they had hoped for – which was clearly MacArthur's aim.
It was his ultimate victory.
But for the United States, the problems began after the war, when the Moros claimed that gifts given to them by a US Army official (Wainwright) in recognition of their supremacy over Mindanao demonstrated that the ancient Sultanate of Sulu had been officially legitimized by the government of the United States of America. Therefore, continued the Moros, the said government could not support the claims of the government of the Philippines on the territory of the Sultanate. This disagreement was at the origin of the Moros' guerrilla war against the Philippine government, which has never really stopped for more than half a century, the Moros always finding a foreign power interested in supporting them in a more or less veiled way. .
Immediately after the war, when the Moros first expressed their position, the American government was painfully surprised (especially since, at the time doing everything possible to have its British, French and Dutch allies grant independence to their colonies, he did not want to be accused of allowing Filipinos to exercise colonial rule over Mindanao). Inquiries and controversies raged for several years, until the guilt for this state of affairs was placed on MacArthur himself - but the latter had long been beyond the reach of any punishment for what remains the most original of his efforts to defend the Philippines.
May 26 to June 3 – The Japanese bomb Corregidor
On May 26, the day before the USS Narwhal and Nautilus arrived at Corregidor, the Japanese began an intensive aerial bombardment campaign against the island. The 22nd Air Brigade of Major-General Kizon Mikani, reinforced by a few squadrons, was in charge of these bombardments. In four days (from May 26 to 29) and 650 combat missions, this unit dropped two thousand tons of bombs on the fortress. These massive air attacks did considerable damage to the defences, knocking out many guns, even the heaviest ones, and damaging old desalination equipment. Eight aircraft were shot down by the DCA.
As the aerial bombardment continued, the Japanese prepared to open fire with numerous heavy artillery pieces, the same ones that had twice breached the Allied lines on the Bataan peninsula. It had been very difficult to set them up on the rough terrain facing Corregidor, so that they would be able to rain their shells down on the island, while remaining safe from counter-battery fire from the mighty fortress artillery. But in the end, the Japanese had collected 11 pieces of 240 mm, 54 of 150 mm and thirty-six of lesser calibers, within range of the Rock and reasonably protected against counter-battery fire. Large quantities of ammunition had also been amassed, despite fierce competition that logistics officials in Yamashita, Malaysia, had given up to those in Homma: the hundred and one guns had a total of 105,000 shells.
On May 30 at 05:30, Homma himself gave the order to start the fire. On the first day of bombardment, fourteen thousand shells fell on the island. On the second day the figure was twenty thousand. On the evening of June 3, the island of Corregidor had received in five days nearly ninety thousand shells! The whole island, from one end to the other, was masked by a veil of smoke raised by the continual explosions, to the point that the gunners were sometimes forced to take breaks for this smoke to dissipate, the time to adjust aim.
The landings were to take place on June 4 at dawn. The force charged with this task was placed under the command of Major-General Kureo Tanaguchi, leader of the division fresh from Japan which had broken the last Allied resistance at Bataan at the beginning of May.
Although she had suffered some casualties, she was at this time considered strong enough to take the Rock. The brigade which had been sent from Shanghai to support Homma's languishing efforts had been placed in strategic reserve (but it did not have to commit any of its forces).
To summarize the Japanese plan, the first landings were to be accomplished on the beaches between Cavalry Point and North Point by only two battalions of eight hundred men each. Once a bridgehead was established on the island, new units would swarm the fortress to take over the entire island. Extremely strong artillery support, provided by all available guns firing at their best rate, would be directed against the beaches between Cavalry Point and North Point just before the boats made landfall.
It may be useful to recall here that Corregidor had a garrison of 4,000 men, plus a number difficult to establish today of volunteers from the 6,000 civilian refugees on the island. The operational artillery consisted of eight 12-inch, two 10-inch and five 6-inch naval guns, twelve 12-inch mortars, 27 6.1-inch howitzers, 59 3-inch guns and an assortment of about forty guns of 37 mm for the DCA and the defense of the beaches, as well as 48 machine guns of 0.50 AA and numerous machine guns of 0.30. A number of pieces had been put out of action by the bombardments, which had caused notable losses in men, but the arsenal remained no less formidable.
June 4 – The first assault on Corregidor
Shortly before midnight on June 3, the Japanese assault troops embarked in their landing craft. At the same time, the bombardment of the targeted beaches increased to a terrifying crescendo. The other sectors of the island being spared from the shells, it quickly became clear that the Japanese were about to land.
Douglas MacArthur's life was directly threatened. He responded to this threat with energy and creativity. His first step was to redeploy the mobile quadruple .50 mounts around the beaches targeted by the invasion. Indeed, the Japanese assault taking place at night, it was not necessary to maintain the anti-aircraft weapons in their positions. In addition to this redeployment, the truce in the bombardment of the rest of the island made it possible to regroup a reserve of troops behind the threatened beaches, always more violently hammered.
Inevitably came the moment when the Japanese ships approached the coast. They were received by a hail of fire from the 37 mm and 3 inch guns installed near the shore.
Many boats were lost, and in those that remained afloat the number of casualties mounted rapidly. However, the last minutes of the bombardment had pushed the defenders some distance from the water and, despite the intensity of the American fire, the Japanese managed to reach the beach and take a foot halfway to Cavalry Point and North Point, more or less as expected.
If this first wave had received reinforcements very quickly, this landing could have succeeded, or at least would have forced the Americans to commit all their forces to keep control of the island. This was not the case, due to a minimal intervention of nature in favor of MacArthur. Powerful sea currents between Bataan and Corregidor had deflected the second battalion of the landing force far away from its objective. They were preparing to disembark elsewhere, when they were recalled by the Japanese general staff.
This recall was due to the severe losses inflicted on the first battalion. The landing beaches were arranged in a semi-circle between the projections of Cavalry Point and North Point, and these two points were strongly fortified by the Americans. The Japanese were enfiladed on both flanks, and the quadruple .50 mounts proved deadly effective against the men struggling to cross the beaches. The floor of the beaches itself was an obstacle, for the sand was covered with a thick layer of fuel oil which oozed from the wrecks of the ships sunk in Manila Bay by the Japanese themselves, and the unfortunate soldiers slipped, fell or remained stuck on this filthy carpet. The Japanese had there at least three hundred dead and wounded out of eight hundred men, and the survivors had to cling to a strip of ground which did not exceed ten meters in depth in places, open or close to it, while losses continued to mount.
Faced with this situation, the second battalion received the order not to attempt to land elsewhere, to circumnavigate the island against the current in their landing craft and to come to the aid of the first battalion by landing at the same place. For its part, the artillery began to fire on the island again, this time behind the beaches, to disrupt the Allied concentrations. MacArthur was then forced to order his reserve to attack, rather than see it destroyed under this massive artillery barrage or allow the Japanese to advance.
During this time, the boats carrying the second battalion endeavored to circumvent the island and to return to the position initially envisaged. But in doing so, they exposed themselves to fire from the batteries on the island, now all alert and ready to fire. Very soon, many of the slow little boats, barely able to fight against the current, were slaughtered by the island's heavy guns, most of which were still intact. Three hundred other Japanese were thus put out of action - about one hundred and twenty killed by the shells or drowned in the waters of Manila Bay, the others forced to swim for their lives, their landing craft having been destroyed beneath them.
Ashore, MacArthur's order to counterattack was eagerly obeyed. Soon the Japanese found themselves in an untenable position, forced to face on a tiny strip of land the attack of American and Filipino soldiers, who were charging with the support of 37 mm cannons and heavy machine guns. However, the Japanese finally had the opportunity to target the quadruple .50 gun mounts, poorly protected against fire from the ground, damaging several of these pieces and killing many of their servants, highly trained men whose skill would lack afterwards.
Faced with the evolution of the situation, the Japanese command decided to re-embark the disembarked battalion. The leader of the latter ordered a company to hold at all costs, to allow the rest of the battalion to fall back. But these last defenders were soon swept away by a violent hand-to-hand charge which left very few survivors.
By this time, the entire First Battalion could have been wiped out had it not been for the arrival of some of the landing craft from the Second Battalion, which had finally managed to get into position. The guns covering the area immediately redirected their fire on these boats, relieving the Japanese who were trying to re-embark and allowing some of them to extricate themselves from this trap.
However, the second battalion had not received the order to withdraw and, in the darkness, did not realize that the first was evacuating the beach. His boats continued on their way to land while the others tried to leave, causing terrible confusion until everyone, including the coxswains of the landing craft, realized that all hope of success was lost and that retirement was the only chance of survival. The boats fell back, aided by renewed Japanese artillery fire on the beaches once it was clear that the landing had failed. This new barrage caused thirty deaths and a hundred wounded among the Allied soldiers, exposed in the open after their counter-attack. It also cost the lives of a number of Japanese stragglers, but the remaining boats – more valuable than men, from the Japanese point of view – were able to leave the island's waters without further loss.
By dawn, the fight was over. The Imperial Army had suffered a new defeat, which added to the misadventures experienced in Indochina and the virtual rout suffered before Singapore.
No doubt Homma and his staff could plead that they had been betrayed by the sea currents and that they had learned their lesson. On the next try, they wouldn't repeat any of the mistakes they made that night of June 3-4. But the price to pay for this lesson was high: more than five hundred of the best Sons of the Sun lay dead on the beaches of Corregidor or floated, their bodies torn apart by the shells, on the waters of Manila Bay. Lack of preparation, disorderly execution: Homma's position at the head of military operations in the Philippines was seriously threatened. “Is it for such a pitiful result that I have been deprived of precious naval transports and that guns and shells which should have been sent to my troops have been diverted from Malaya? Yamashita could exclaim to the General Staff.
Far removed from these mediocre quarrels, MacArthur drew up a victory bulletin as bombastic as usual and had it distributed to the men at the same time as he sent it to Washington. “At dawn on June 4, 1942, its text said, thanks to MacArthur and his heroic soldiers, the glorious Stars and Stripes of the United States of America still floats proudly on the walls of the old fortress of Corregidor.”
Second intermission: June 5-June 27 – Last break before the End
Birth of a myth

In Singapore, the British and their Empire resisted the Japanese brilliantly. In Indochina, the French and the local populations had not given up harassing the Imperial Army. In the Mediterranean, the English, the French and even the Greeks and Yugoslavs had regained a foothold on the European continent, in the Peloponnese. In the Russian steppes, the Soviet Union faced the Panzers in a titanic struggle. But in the Pacific?
But the Americans?
The outcome of the Battle of the Coral Sea had hardly struck popular imaginations, although the strategists were satisfied. Then came the defense of Corregidor. After the victory of June 4, the name of the islet, so exotic, splashed the front pages of the United States newspapers and that of MacArthur, the self-confident and swaggering comedian who led its defense, became synonymous with courage, while that his image was transformed into an icon.
As the siege dragged on, American popular culture responded in its characteristic way. Alabama had a MacArthur scrap drive day, Georgia promoted voluntary blackouts on its behalf to save electricity. A New York restaurant named a sandwich after him, and a Kansas farmer earned moments of notoriety for calling MacArthur a newborn foal. It would not be an exaggeration to speak of a real “MacArthur Mania” (a MacArthur obsession) in the United States.
Among the men besieged in Corregidor, opinions of their leader were more realistic. That said, morale had been high since the first success in the defense of Bataan, at the Battle of Spikes and Pockets, had briefly restored hope to the Allied troops, before hardship set in. It had now been nearly seven months since America entered the war. Surely it was only a matter of time before the island could be rescued! The predicament of American forces in the Pacific was hardly something one could confess to the average GI. MacArthur himself received mostly evasive responses when he inquired about the possibilities of helping him. In general, he kept to himself what he thought of his future prospects.
On the other hand, the face he presented to the outside world through his daily radio releases was a real theatrical mask. MacArthur behaved like a leader in the absolute belief that his men would be rescued, and his ability to present to the press a perfect image of himself in his role as a resolute defender of Corregidor made him, in the eyes of the Americans, a a veritable one-man propaganda system. In front of their radios, people listened religiously to MacArthur's latest statements in casual mode, interspersed with historical analogies and commentary on the course of the war in other theaters and on events to which, no doubt, he would not have deigned to associate his name.
The attention given to these statements was not without embarrassment to the government. Nevertheless, this embarrassment had nothing to do with the impossibility of helping the garrison. It was simply impossible. On this, we do not have the slightest doubt today. In the middle of May, the American general staff carried out a series of tests according to the supposed Japanese forces in the area. The conclusion of these wargames - hasty as they were - was that a concentration of three aircraft carriers, three fast battleships, a dozen cruisers, a host of destroyers and countless submarines would be needed to escort a few large rapid transports capable of evacuating garrisons from island fortresses in Manila Bay. It was unimaginable to have such a force before November for such an operation, and it would have no military value. It would be a gesture of pure propaganda, which would not be worth the risks it would cause the forces involved to take.
However, MacArthur himself knew nothing of these studies. This fact has led historians to question (and sometimes argue) about the specific morality of this decision. Some authors affirm that, pertinently informed of the putting out of action of the battleships of Pearl Harbor and the defeats suffered by the allied fleets, MacArthur was convinced that Corregidor would be his tomb from the fateful March 11 when he had decided to stay with his men. , "as his father would have done". But others believe that if MacArthur had known for certain that it would be impossible to come to his aid, if he had known that his situation was hopeless, he might have agreed to surrender, thus sparing the life of a important part of the garrison, which was to perish during the second Japanese assault.
This second hypothesis gives too much credence to the existence of a feeling of humanity in MacArthur. While acknowledging his very real qualities, we must not close our eyes. The facts are there. Not once did MacArthur consider surrender. All the survivors of the garrison agree on this point. This was not an acceptable eventuality, and his power over the minds of his men was so powerful that it made any other choice impossible until his death. MacArthur led the defense of Corregidor considering that if no one rescued them, then all would perish. The only thing we can say here for him is that he was willing to die alongside the men he had condemned, and that he proved it by actually succumbing.
Either way, on June 5, 1942, MacArthur was confident he could hold out for quite a while. As soon as he had confirmation that the garrison had successfully repelled the Japanese landing attempts, he returned to his routine, his only distraction being his usual self-satisfied declarations to the American people. For the defenders of the island, nothing changed. Severe provision-saving measures were maintained and repairs to damaged entrenchments were carried out. On the personal initiative of several officers, improvements were made to the defensive positions where the Japanese attacks had revealed weaknesses. Nothing else was done.
Life in Corregidor was like an old fort on the Indian Frontier, such as the one where MacArthur had grown up. The most recent attack had been repelled, so the situation was back to normal. When the next one came, it would be high time to worry about it and we would deal with it as usual. The thought may have been coldly comforting, but supplies were limited and the Cavalry was not arriving.
The Japanese want their revenge
The Japanese immediately began to heal their wounds. The fact that the tides and currents had thwarted their attack had been apparent to them almost from the start. To remedy this, we went to Japan to find an expert in the field. He was, of course, a civilian scientist. This was an Imperial Army operation and the idea of consulting the Navy about the planned landing had obviously not occurred to the officers of the Army staffs, either in the Philippines or in Tokyo. There was also no need to rush to study the currents, because it took time to deal with the many problems that remained to be solved.
Losses in landing craft had been heavy. The Japanese needed small ships of all kinds and anything that floated in the area was requisitioned. Filipinos, however, were not as supportive as Japanese propaganda claimed of the cause of the Rising Sun and the Co-Prosperity Sphere, especially after the horrors inflicted on both Filipino and American prisoners during the Bataan Death March. . Rumors of requisitions spread rapidly and many fishermen and owners of small coasters chose to destroy their boats rather than let them fall into the hands of the occupiers. Others hid their boat by ballasting it with rocks and sinking it in a quiet creek. Homma tried to get a few barges in Indonesia or elsewhere, but without success: Yamashita had gone before him and had taken everything to facilitate the operations of his army in Malaya.
In total, the second landing flotilla would hardly have more boats than the first. At best, by tightening, a company could be added to the two battalions of the first wave.
All preparation for the second attack was, however, to be delayed by the inevitable result of the failure of the first. The units commanded by General Homma had been thrown into doubt by the failure of June 4, which occurred when the expected date for the completion of the conquest of the Philippines had already passed. Manila Bay was still not usable for navigation and far too many resources - in men, guns, planes, ammunition and logistics - had been swallowed up in this operation which was still not finished. Corregidor had to be removed, but how much would it cost to take it?
Such a fiasco required the head of Homma, at least hierarchically, if not literally, and considerable changes in the staff of the Philippine Operational Region.
The days following the failed attack saw a whirlwind of messages between Tokyo, Manila, Malaysia (Yamashita) and several Imperial Army command centers in China (mainly in the Kwantung Army), regarding operations against Corregidor and the fate that had to be reserved for Homma, who could not make up his mind to do his enemies a favor by graciously opening his stomach. We now know that Tojo himself hated Homma, but within the Army itself, several officers were desperate to get rid of him.
Colonel Tsuji Masanobu was at the forefront of the maneuvers to have Homma removed. This man in the shadows, who remained legendary even after the war for his role in a series of secret operations in Southeast Asia, had done everything to terrorize the Filipinos by showing the greatest brutality towards the population, because he felt it was the most effective way to gain blind obedience. He had been extremely irritated with Homma because of his efforts to obtain pardons for a series of Filipino officers and politicians, who would otherwise have been executed.
This attitude also earned Homma the anger and contempt of General-Count Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Southern Army, extremely weakening the position of the commander of the 14th Army. But it was of course his failure to capture Corregidor that ensured his removal. On June 10, Homma was removed from his post and sent back to Japan, where he was never granted a command again.
His replacement at the head of the 14th Army was Major General Kureo Tanaguchi, whose recently arrived units had been used in the attack. This appointment is said to have been made on the recommendation of Colonel Tsuji. It implied that Homma's subordinates in charge of the organization of operations remained in place and that the arrival of Tanaguchi would not lead to a disruption of command.
Tanaguchi decided to launch his attack eighteen days later, on June 28. The Japanese force would land on a single beach and the operation would be carefully timed according to the schedule of the tides, the amplitude of which was one of the reasons for launching the assault precisely on June 28. Two fresh battalions were to be used, as well as a company formed with the remnants of the first battalion landed on June 4. These men, supposed to know the area, would disembark first, as scouts, to clear the way for the two battalions.
Once a solid bridgehead had been established, new troops could be brought in. The preparation for the attack would be entirely different this time. Instead of a massive pre-landing barrage, there was to be no change in the daily bombardment that would be inflicted on Corregidor for the two weeks before the second assault, and the troops would attempt to cross discreetly. The landing point was also moved a little beyond Kindley Field, to bring the Japanese closer to the widest part of the island and reduce the length of the narrow strip of ground on which the defenders could more easily attempt to hang on.
The Twilight of a Demigod
For their part, Americans and Filipinos were simply trying to survive. The reduction in rations inevitably exerted its debilitating effect and as the weeks passed, this effect became more and more severe. In the three weeks and three days between the two attacks, the list of men suffering from one disease or another doubled. On the day of the second assault, more than a thousand garrison men were in the recovery rooms of the Malinta tunnel.
MacArthur seemed indifferent to the outside world, but the men around him then remember something else. He was now emaciated and haggard. His physical condition suffered from the inability to leave the tunnels to take the exercise that had so long helped him maintain his health and fitness. His mental state was gradually becoming questionable. He was gradually losing his sense of reality, insofar as he had ever truly enjoyed it.
As the days of bombardment and starvation passed over Corregidor, a feeling set in that the Commander-in-Chief was going completely mad. Was it a real mental illness or not? We do not think so. Surely, as June rolled on, shells rained down and nothing changed in the messages from Washington, MacArthur had finally admitted that he would not be rescued. His behavior then became that of a man preparing his own funeral. When the Japanese returned, everything that was part of the end of the battle, including the lives of each of the men under his command, was given a part in the tragedy he wanted to stage around his own end.
Douglas MacArthur fought his last fight to adorn himself with a reputation worthy of the Iliad.
His choices ceased to have tactical significance and became the resolutions of a man determined to transform his death into a kind of epic poem.
June 28-29 – The Japanese return
On June 28, well after nightfall, the Japanese set sail, taking advantage of a favorable tide. Disembarkation was scheduled for 11:00 p.m. Staying in close formation and in good order, the boats carrying the entire first wave went unnoticed until they were very close to the beach. They had only 150 meters to go when a 37mm gunner spotted the first boat, indistinct in the cloudy night.
The alarm that followed was taken seriously and the Japanese were quickly the target of a machine-gun fire from cannons of all calibers. On the Bataan side, the Japanese gunners could clearly hear the rampage of the big American guns and the counter-battery fire was greatly intensified. The battle had begun.
However, the firing from the shore was not triggered soon enough to prevent the experienced troops of the forward company from disembarking. These men thought they recognized the beach on which they were disembarking, although they had disembarked and re-embarked at the beginning of the month a few hundred meters further on. Shouting “Banzai!”, they rushed across the beach in a bayonet charge that was to remain forever imprinted in the memories of the surviving defenders (slightly outnumbering the Japanese survivors). The sentries were swallowed up and the defenders of the sector had very little time to react and organize a line of defense on the beach.
The American guns, however, caused havoc and inflicted significant casualties on the rest of the first wave, which followed two minutes after the leading company. These two minutes were enough for the artillery of Corregidor to effectively coordinate its fire and bring down on the Japanese a rain of shells which disorganized the two battalions as they landed. The latter spent valuable time reorganizing under fire and advancing inland, where the Allied forces were concentrated against the first company, well ahead.
MacArthur, awake as soon as his PC heard the news of the landing, ordered an immediate counter-attack. This was very close to succeeding. Primarily made up of Filipinos, the counter-attacking force outflanked the leading Japanese company, threatening both flanks. The Japanese were pushed to the breaking point, and reports reaching MacArthur might lead him to believe that this Japanese attempt, like the previous one, was going to be thrown back to sea. But the bulk of the first wave now opposed the counter -Filipino attack. The result was a brief and brutal engagement, where the Allied troops barely had time to understand what was happening, to break free and to hold on.
Bayonet use was unusually widespread, even for the Japanese. In the darkness a lot of hand-to-hand combat took place, where grenades proved particularly useful for both sides.
Under the weight of numbers, the defenders, however energetic they put into their confrontation with the Japanese, were soon driven back in great disorder. Such was the chaos that reports of the clash only reached MacArthur's PC after the battle was nearly over. The Japanese had a clear path across the island to Battery Denver.
At 01:30 on the 29th, it was taken without having been able to offer much resistance. An important element of the defense was silenced and the island was cut in two.
The Japanese then began to reorganize their forces to advance towards San José, further west. At 02:00, before they got there, the Allied forces, commanded by Colonel Howard, launched a vigorous counter-attack to retake Battery Denver. The Japanese were surprised by the sudden resurgence of the defenders and the battle dragged on in darkness. Fighting with desperate tenacity, Americans and Filipinos used grenades to meet the fire of Japanese light mortars.
For three hours, neither side yielding, attack and counter-attack seemed to balance each other around Battery Denver. MacArthur wanted to reinforce the counterattack with the reserves of the 4th Regiment, but Colonel Howard strongly opposed it.
The two men had a violent discussion about it until a message announced, shortly after 05:00, that the Japanese had just landed a third battalion and the support and command units of a regiment. Can only see the numerical superiority of his opponents, MacArthur had to accept that the stubborn Marine, whom he had very nearly dismissed, take command of a line of defense between the Denver Battery and the western entrance to the Malinta Tunnel. . He simply ordered him to “hold on at all costs” – which Colonel Howard was beginning to consider impossible.
Nevertheless, the order was obeyed. For another hour, as day broke, the defenders kept the Japanese at bay, until the latter could mount a real assault, committing their reinforcements and calling in the air force. Repelling the Allied troops, they regained control of Battery Denver around 06:00. MacArthur refused to order a withdrawal. Until 9.30 a.m., that is, for three and a half hours, Americans and Filipinos, whose numbers were dwindling minute by minute, fought with the energy of despair, deprived of the possibility of retreating by their rear command and forced to face a very superior force in numbers.
As the fighting raged, the Japanese continued to bring in their reinforcements. They had notably embarked four tanks. Hit by several shells, the boat carrying one of these tanks was wrecked, but the others touched down around 9:00 a.m. and went into action very quickly, heading straight for the Allied lines. At 09:30, the three tanks were on the front making it impossible for the Allied troops to hold the line of defense formed east of Malinta. Colonel Howard ordered a withdrawal and went in person to MacArthur to explain it.
Only one survivor could tell this story: a Filipino scout who was on guard at MacArthur's PC. We won't go into details; suffice it to say that MacArthur received Colonel Howard in a state of cold rage, but did not depose him. On the other hand, he warned the colonel that the consequences would be appalling if the enemy managed to reach the Malinta tunnel, and that he had to be prevented from doing so. It seems that at that moment everyone thought that MacArthur was planning to surrender if the Japanese got that far.
With this in mind, Colonel Howard turned his full attention to launching into battle the 500 Marines, soldiers and sailors who constituted his last organized reserve. These men managed to hold off the Japanese long enough for others to establish a relatively strong line of defense halfway between the Denver Battery and the entrance to the Malinta tunnel. This line would stand up to all Japanese attacks until nightfall.
By the end of the day on the 29th, the Japanese had been kept clear of the Malinta tunnel and the hospital set up inside near the western entrance. The Allied forces had performed very well, but the weakened men had suffered heavy casualties. For most of those besieged it was clear that the Japanese would not be dislodged a second time and that the end was near. This is even what the official press releases in the United States suggested, stressing that the fortress had already resisted beyond all hope.
During the night, the Japanese brought four additional tanks, equipment, ammunition and two battalions to take over from the first two landed, very tested. Their goal for the day of the 30th was to debouch from the long “tadpole tail” formed by the eastern part of the island and crush any resistance.
Opposite, the defenders frantically strove all night to set up all available mobile 75mm guns around the Malinta tunnel, forming tank traps. For the moment, they were still ready to hold out "as long as possible". The only question that arose was the meaning of this expression: one day? Or, maybe, if they were lucky (or unlucky, depending on the point of view), several?
But MacArthur was not yet willing to acknowledge that his final hour was not far off (the possibility of his capture being of course entirely ignored).
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June 30 – The Malinta Tunnel Massacre
The vast Malinta tunnel was dug under the Malinta hill, separating the eastern tip of the island from the burgh of San José, itself located at the junction between the head and the tail of the “tadpole”.
The tunnel was actually a host of galleries and a maze of passages that went deep under the hill. It was artillery and bombproof, but it had a weak point: it had never been designed to withstand an infantry assault. On the east side, its entrance was gaping, and totally exposed to direct fire at close range.
The island hospital was located in this sector of the tunnel (MacArthur's PC was also close to the entrance, but installed in one of the side corridors, protected from direct fire). On June 30, some twelve hundred wounded and sick were there and new wounded were arriving every moment. Most were impossible to transport easily to safety (in San José for example), because all able-bodied men had to participate in the efforts made to stop the Japanese tide; it also seems that no one thought that it might eventually be necessary to move the hospitalized. Yet the defense in depth devised by MacArthur necessarily had to include the tunnel area.
On the morning of June 30, the Japanese returned to the attack, with the two fresh battalions arriving in the night. However, they had some supply problems, due to the small number of boats they had been able to gather. Throwing new troops onto the island (where there were already five battalions and support units) was therefore difficult. With the seven tanks available for support, it also seemed quite pointless.
At 10 a.m., the Allied defenders had finally been dislodged from their positions of the day before and the Japanese, sure of a quick end, had advanced to a last line of defense, very close to the entrance to the tunnel. MacArthur, still reclusive in his PC, now close to the scene of the fighting, seemed indifferent to their approach.
The defenders fought to the last limit, knowing that the wounded and a crowd of civilians were right behind them. Some of the 75 mm guns moved in the night were able to engage the Japanese tanks, whose armor proved unable to withstand their fire, even in the absence of specifically anti-tank shells. One of the seven tanks was destroyed by 75mm fire and another by a demolition charge set up by a group of particularly brave Marines. The others backed off for a moment.
What seemed to be the Philippines' last line of defense held out until late morning and most of an interminable afternoon. At least a hundred Allied fighters fell there, in increasingly desperate fighting.
All restrictions on the use of ammunition were dropped and all the operational guns of the batteries still in Allied hands began to fire at the highest possible rate on all the enemy concentrations they could reach, whether in the part occupied from Corregidor (which was also the target of the guns of the other islands, if possible), on the shore of Bataan or on the waters of Manila Bay.
For its part, the Japanese artillery firing from Bataan concentrated most of its fire in a massive barrage over the entire west of the island, while the air force strove to support the troops fighting on a front still narrow. Casualties were piling up everywhere on the unoccupied part of the island, the only Japanese target, apart from sporadic counter-battery fire against Fort Frank and Fort Hughes (Fort Drum was ignored, as the Japanese had lost all hope of pierce his monstrous concrete armour).
It is in itself extraordinary that, under these conditions, the exhausted and malnourished men who protected the entrance to the tunnel were able to hold their position for more than seven and a half hours. It was not until 5.40 p.m. that the Japanese, supported by the five remaining tanks, succeeded in breaking through.
Colonel Howard immediately ran to warn MacArthur that the defense was collapsing and enemy tanks were approaching the tunnel entrance and the hospital. The general is said to have taken the news calmly and observed familiarly, "Don't worry, Sam. We're going to fall back to the Malinta Hill military ridge and the Japs aren't going to play around taking that position." It must be said that it is impossible to say whether these are MacArthur's own words or a paraphrase. The quote is second hand at best.
We don't know much about Colonel Howard's reaction. As for that of the Malinta Tunnel men, we know from the survivors that they were mostly appalled.
We barely had time to evacuate about a hundred men to San José and there remained at least eleven hundred wounded in the galleries of the tunnel, as they were about to turn into a battlefield.
MacArthur, whose headquarters was about to be stormed, evacuated his staff to the rear. As for himself, he accompanied Howard to control the defense of Malinta Hill in person, either to encourage his men or to ensure that the colonel would obey his orders exactly. Once again the elusive MacArthur was leaving his lair to step up to the front lines, for reasons only he knew.
He chose to settle with the Filipinos assigned to the "4th Regiment" of Malinta Hill, on whom his presence had an electrifying effect. Despite their exhaustion, they redeployed several 75-guns by force of arms to positions from which they commanded the treacherous slopes of the hill and prepared large boulders to be hurled down the slopes towards the enemy. Meanwhile, dynamite charges set up the previous night were being ignited to block coastal roads under heaps of rock.
Further down, the Japanese had reached the entrance to the tunnel. Machine-gunned from above the slopes, they entered the tunnel expecting to have to fight. What was really the opposition? In the confusion that followed, it is impossible to know. Several survivors testified that some of MacArthur's most obsequious minions, members of his staff, detonated explosives and forced the docile Filipinos to fight in the tunnel, immobilizing Japanese assets but ensuring the slaughter of the wounded. Others say that no American officer would ever have dared to do such a thing and that the Japanese simply took no prisoners.
On the Japanese side, General Tanaguchi, who survived the war, of course claimed at the Malinta Tunnel Massacre trial that his men had been the target of heavy fire from inside the tunnel and drawn into a dubious combat, where it was inevitable that there would be heavy casualties among the wounded. This testimony was exactly what MacArthur's detractors wanted to hear, but in the eyes of MacArthur's defenders, the word of a Japanese general trying to evade the war crimes rope was certainly not to be trusted. There were none of the Japanese officers who had taken part in the action at trial – several members of Tanaguchi's staff survived the war, but like their leader, they were on Bataan on June 30 – and none surviving Allied officers had been concerned with the fighting in the tunnel. The testimony of a few soldiers from both sides could only provide a chaotic and confused picture of events.
What we do know for certain is that of approximately 950 wounded and sick who remained in the tunnel at the time the Japanese arrived, at least 700, helpless and unable to fight back, were killed. Were they killed on the spot by enraged Japanese, as is most often estimated? Were they caught in the crossfire because MacArthur allegedly ordered the hospital part of the tunnel to be defended, as some have claimed?
We have no record of such an order; no evidence exists that it was ever given. We only know that at least seven hundred unfortunate wounded who should have been made prisoners of war were killed. Whether it was the act of Japanese brutality or a decision by MacArthur to turn the hospital into a defensive position is a fact lost to history and remains to this day one of the most controversial points in the whole of history. history of the war in the Philippines.
By evening, however, MacArthur had managed to cling to his new positions. The Japanese did not try to take advantage of the end of the day to launch an assault on the slopes of Malinta Hill. Their tanks could not venture over the collapsed sections of the coastal road much less attempt to scale the steep slopes of the hill. On the other hand, a night attack was launched, according to the Japanese manual, and duly repulsed by the defenders of the hill, firing with all their weapons and, in addition to grenades, throwing at the attackers the blocks of rock prepared in the aftermath. -noon.
The night passed. The Japanese had not yet completed their task. July had come and MacArthur was still holding on. His situation, however, was extremely precarious. Most men doubted they would hold out until Independence Day, though the Americans certainly had the will to prevent the Japanese from sullying that national holiday with a defeat of the United States. To this end, some of MacArthur's subordinates suggested surrendering on the 3rd, if one had not been forced to do so earlier. MacArthur angrily dismissed the idea and claimed, from his new PC in the ruins of San José, that he was determined to hold Malinta Hill as long as possible.
It doesn't seem that he ever cared about the Malinta Tunnel deaths; that is why he was most hated after the war. His only statement on this matter was a self-glorifying proclamation about enemy war crimes, which inflamed the American populace in yet another propaganda effort by America's most political general. The staggering number of wounded massacred in the tunnel did not bother him; he hadn't cynically wanted them dead, he just wanted to cling to his Rock as long as he could. Also, that civilians were killed was irrelevant to say the least. It was the hour of his military heroism, nothing else.
July 1 – The fall of Malinta Hill
More than four thousand Japanese were preparing to attack. The Allied position on Malinta Hill could certainly be considered perfectly impregnable by infantry, but the Japanese had abundant artillery and the steep, steep slopes of the hill were a very poor place to entrench. The fifteen hundred Americans and Filipinos deployed in defense would soon realize this.
After their failure at the start of the night, the Japanese attacked again before dawn, without making any progress. At the first light of day, they interrupted their effort, having lost a good hundred men in these attacks.
In the early morning they retreated even slightly, moving away from the foot of the hill. General Tanaguchi planned more than a blind rush to storm its slopes.
With the infantry retreating to a safe distance, all Japanese artillery pieces that could reach them were trained on the imposing, impossible-to-miss mass of Malinta Hill, dominating the island of Corregidor.
Its shooting facilitated by the light of a beautiful day, the entire mass of Japanese artillery unleashed the most violent barrage possible. Most of the small caliber shells were shrapnel; only the large caliber ones were high explosive (HE). From dawn to dusk on July 1, more than nine thousand shells were fired at Malinta Hill alone, ignoring the rest of the island, although counter-battery fire from American guns located elsewhere than on the hill caused some losses to the Japanese artillery.
The result of this barrage was truly appalling. With very little earth to absorb the shrapnel, most of the vegetation already swept away by previous bombardments, and many rock masses on which the shrapnel ricocheted or which the explosive shells turned into shrapnel, the shelling reached a kind of perfection in the horror. He decimated all the units deployed on the hill, which had only the most mediocre trenches and a few rock faces to protect themselves. No doubt Malinta Hill was ideal for repelling an infantry assault, but against a concentration of modern artillery worthy of the First World War, it was an open slaughterhouse.
In fact, the bombardment was very similar to certain clashes on the peaks of the Alps between Italy and Austria-Hungary during the First World War. In both cases, the rocks flew into deadly shards under the shock of the shells, in both cases, in the absence of earth, it was impossible to dig protective trenches and in both cases the losses were appalling. By the end of the day, the Allied positions had been literally demolished and it was visible that the Japanese were preparing to take over the cannonade with a night assault with all their forces.
Even MacArthur understood that after this terrible shelling, his men were no longer in a condition to hold Malinta Hill. As he explained in his statement to Washington the next day, he understood that if he tried to hold the hill, his men would be routed "just as the Confederates holding Missionary Ridge inevitably yielded to the charge that my father was part” and would have cracked, forced to beat a disorderly retreat. The defenders therefore withdrew at nightfall, and the hill was occupied without real resistance by the Japanese in the middle of the night.
The last defensive position the ill-fated 4th Regiment could hope to hold was at “Bottomside” – the small town of San José, or rather its ruins. MacArthur was now effectively leading the battle at the tactical level and staying close to the front, although it was not necessary. Beyond this point the island widened and the terrain became too extensive to defend. When the Japanese broke through there, the end would be near and inevitable.
Meanwhile, the Japanese had begun, not without difficulty, working night and day, to clear the Malinta tunnel. To the west of the hospital, the galleries were blocked by blocks of rock or trapped by explosives, so that movement there was very difficult. In fact, they had not been completely destroyed to allow time for the evacuation of a few hundred walking wounded from the hospital. The Japanese were to suffer at least as many casualties there as they had in their effort to take Malinta Hill on the night of the 30th on the 1st – and probably more. A high price, yes, but it is clear that the tunnel had been much less strongly defended than other positions would be during this war, including this same tunnel when the Japanese later decided to fortify it against the Americans.
Moreover, many supplies having been stored in the Malinta tunnel, the position of what was left of the garrison was all the more bad. There was not much food left, and stocks of heavy machine gun ammunition (.50) were limited (.30 caliber ammunition for small arms was plentiful). Even if the Japanese could be more or less contained, the island could only continue to resist for a few days at best.
The Fourth of July Battle
The day of July 2 was marked by a certain calm, contrasting with the storm of the previous days. Indeed, the Japanese had to take the time to clear the Malinta tunnel of debris, booby traps and remnants of dams in order to provide a supply route for their forces that had crossed the hill, as the coastal roads were completely blocked. The opening of the tunnel was also to allow them to pass their five tanks through it (the tunnel was wide enough for an electric railway to pass through it), to support the assault against San José.
Tokyo was exerting considerable pressure on General Tanaguchi to end July 4, because of the huge propaganda victory it would represent. This implied that it was best to attack San José on the 3rd. The problem was that the only supply route for the troops deploying down the western slopes of the hill to attack San José was through the Malinta tunnel. It was perfectly possible that the whole of it had been booby-trapped, and huge amounts of explosives were just waiting for the opportune moment to blow up. Unaware of how desperate the Allies' situation was, Tanaguchi still feared a counterattack. Little did he suspect that his men might have been content for this last effort with the meager quantities of ammunition and supplies carried on men's backs through the steep paths of Malinta Hill (and that, in any case, the tunnel was not so trapped that it was in danger of collapsing). He therefore proposed not to launch the attack on San José until July 4, his sappers estimating that the coastal roads would then have been more or less cleared and that the way would be clear in the tunnel to allow the tanks to pass (one by one). , to prevent everyone from being buried by a hypothetical explosion causing the total collapse of the tunnel). With supplies assured and five tanks in the front line, Tanaguchi flattered himself that he would be victorious that day.
This plan prevailed, and July 3 was another day of relative calm, although, as on the previous day, the Japanese continued to bombard the western part of Corregidor. Seven to eight thousand shells fell that day, like the day before. American ripostes were becoming rarer: on average, half of the guns of each battery had been destroyed (some batteries were annihilated).
On the Allied side, MacArthur seemed in a frenzy, well aware that his reputation would be severely damaged if he allowed Corregidor to fall on the Fourth of July. He paced the front lines, promising with great fanfare the Medal of Honor to any man who put a Japanese tank out of action. The food that remained was generously distributed, until the reserves were completely exhausted; some men were sick from eating so much after months of deprivation, but most felt ready to fight again. As usual, the mere presence of MacArthur inflamed the Filipinos, and many Marines seemed to realize that national prestige would be at stake in the clash that everyone was planning for the next day.
The dawn of the 4th of July finally broke. There seemed no better day to attack with all the rage of impatience, no better day to defend with all the energy of desperation. The Japanese attacked at the first light of day and maintained their effort all morning, under the sun which rose in a clear sky, indifferent to the carnage. Allied troops held firm. Men were recruited from the neighboring artillery batteries, half destroyed; they left their useless cannons in place, received a rifle and were sent straight into the fight, desperate reinforcements at the very last hour. Men from the rear echelons were readily employed to close breaches, despite their complete inexperience in combat. Suddenly, the Allied losses climbed out of proportion to the small number of combat units.
Of the five Japanese tanks operational at the start of the assault, two were quickly destroyed by the fire of the last 75 mm ambushed in San José. The other three got bogged down in the piles of rubble invading the ruins of the Barrio and other towns on the island.
MacArthur stood again in the midst of his men, as at Bataan, ostensibly exposing himself to enemy fire. In the afternoon, however, in spite of all their efforts, the Allies were thrown back from the Barrio proper and forced to fall back on the ridge behind it, towards the widening "collar" between the "tail" and the "head" of Corregidor, where their line of defense should be widen, thus thin and soon collapse.
However, the Japanese still had to climb the ridge and the defenders prevented them, by dint of courage. Americans and Filipinos, now fraternally mingled, fought side by side, postponing the moment of being buried by their adversaries in common graves, regardless of origin, nationality or religion. And standing in the midst of them was their general, lean and grizzled, calmly pacing the battlefield, his pipe clenched between his teeth, again and again provoking Japanese fire, again and again sharing in the dangers run by his men, as he had done it so rarely in this war and so generously in the previous one.
At the end of the day, the Japanese assaults lost vigor, but this time MacArthur and Howard agreed that they should not be taken in. The enemy was merely mustering their forces for a supreme charge against the weakened ranks of the defenders once darkness fell. The Fourth of July had not passed!
The defenses were prepared to support this final attack and, as expected, it came.
Allied lines were broken at many points and nothing was sacred. MacArthur equaled in infamy the Habsburgs, who were said to be the most ungrateful of all masters: he forced his unprepared and (relatively) corpulent staff officers into battle, doing kill a good half of them that night. But Filipinos and Marines competed brilliantly in defense. These brave among the brave managed, who knows how, to break the momentum of the Japanese charges, mowing down the waves of assault screaming "Banzai", then counter-attacking to plug the holes in their lines despite their exhaustion and often their wounds.
Midnight came and the most terrible Fourth of July in the history of the United States Army was over.
In the early hours of the 5th the attack died down and MacArthur, his command post's long-range radios having been destroyed, used Colonel Howard's radio operator to send a message to the other Forts in the bay, who were to relay it to the World. At this crucial moment, his usual flowery prose failed him. His message was simply a laconic expression of Caesarean arrogance mixed with a kind of sardonic false optimism: “MacArthur held on. With the passing of our country's birthday, may help come soon. That was the last time he mentioned relief, but, again, he had four days to live.
July 5 – From stubbornness to madness
This situation could not continue. Even counting the desperate and unprepared reinforcements that had been thrown into the battle to be crushed, the number of defenders had fallen to less than a thousand—probably a mere nine hundred. Opposite, reinforced by fresh troops, the Japanese lined up more than three thousand five hundred men. The positions of the defenders were entirely improvised and, their front being wider than any from which they had been dislodged the day before, their lines were all the thinner.
Tanaguchi's men went on the attack. This time, their overwhelming superiority pushed the Allies well past the breaking point.
By noon the end was near and, symbolically, MacArthur himself was injured - though it was only a scratch on the left arm. Seeing the line about to collapse, Colonel Howard ran to ask his commander to lay down his arms, fearing that in the absence of an organized surrender the Japanese would massacre his soldiers. His subordinates reported that he seemed ready to shoot the general in cold blood, if that was the only solution. As hard as it was to believe, MacArthur again refused him. Yet there was no longer any reason to stand up to the Japanese; the very last line was cracking and men were dying every moment to continue futilely holding on, as if that could change anything. But MacArthur would not hear of surrender, and in a fit of rage he removed Colonel Howard from his command. The Marine colonel reacts with dignity, even as MacArthur looked set to have him arrested by his loyal Filipinos (whose presence, gun drawn, may have prevented Howard from attempting his superior's life ). Howard, standing at attention, demanded permission to join his men fighting on the front line. MacArthur let him go and we do not know what happened to Colonel Samuel Howard next. Those of his subordinates who survived did not see him again, as they hoped to see him regain control of the Marines and offer the Japanese an honorable surrender, no matter what the general wished. His removal was never officially formalized by MacArthur, although MacArthur's last message was not sent until the following day.
MacArthur now personally commanded all that remained of the defense. His tactic was simply to refuse any surrender and to order his men to stand their ground. He sent the survivors of his staff – who remained slavishly loyal to him – to the rear of the front line, armed with pistols, to fire on anyone who tried to flee. He continued to set an example by offering himself to enemy fire, but the situation was hopeless. His men were driven away from the coast at either end of a front far too long for them to defend, and the Japanese began to outflank the last organized Allied force on Corregidor on either flank.
Despite the looming double envelopment, MacArthur refused to consider surrender. He sent by runners message after message to the whole line and constantly repeated his leitmotif: "Hold on at all costs!" But there was nothing left to pay that price.
When the men realized they were enveloped on both flanks by the Japanese, they began to flee or surrender individually or in small groups.
The collapse that Samuel Howard had feared had arrived. Instead of a formal surrender, the soldiers tried to survive as best they could and the Japanese present decided at random to pardon them or massacre them, on the pretext that those who surrendered without orders were traitors without honor.
As for MacArthur himself, he did not share the fate of his men. We do not know how many he had his agents shoot down, but the number of fugitives was too great to be able to hold them back. With a hundred Filipino Pathfinders, thirty Marines and ten members of his staff, MacArthur managed to escape. The general barely commanded a company.
In the dead of night he slipped with these men to the western end of the island, while the Japanese dispersed and took out each small group of Americans and Filipinos one by one. Most of these groups offered no more resistance, because no more resistance was possible, on the part of anyone. What MacArthur was doing could no longer be called resistance.
Now it was sheer madness.
July 6-8 – Douglas MacArthur's Last Stand
On the 6th, the Japanese forces spread over the whole island and occupied the majority of the tunnels and batteries almost without firing a shot. It seemed that all organized resistance had ceased and the Japanese had only to clean out a few small pockets, take a few dozen men prisoner, and get their hands on what was left of the supplies, equipment, and information that might be useful to them. serve.
However, the question of MacArthur's hiding place was an vexation to all Japanese officers. They so wished they could force him to order the surrender of the other forts in the Bay and even of all the Allied troops in the Philippines, of which he was still technically the commander-in-chief. They feared that his death would make this surrender impossible.
But it was MacArthur himself who made it impossible. He still had a radio capable of reaching the other forts and, at 6:10 p.m., he sent them a message which the Japanese detected and could decipher without difficulty because, ultimately, it was in the clear!
“MacArthur hereby relinquishes the command of Forts Drum, Hughes and Frank, giving them as a last order to resist each on their own to the last extremity. MacArthur also hereby relinquishes command of all allied forces in the Philippines and entrusts this task to General Wainwright, to be carried out according to our previous agreements. MacArthur will fall back with all the fighters remaining on Corregidor and will defend the soil of the Philippines as a Marshal of the Philippine Army must do, until the end. »
The Japanese now knew that MacArthur was still alive, but they were denied the reward of his capture. Furious, wanting to at least take the all too famous general prisoner, they scattered their forces all over the island to find him.
But it was not until late at night from the 6th to the 7th that they located the place where his small band had taken refuge and where he had decided to fight his last fight.
Dawn on July 7 found MacArthur occupying with less than 150 soldiers a position at the top of Crag Hill, near the Hern Battery. The number of men surrounding MacArthur surprised the Japanese, who expected to find him wandering virtually alone on the island. Their units were scattered, busy securing the ground and rounding up the prisoners; MacArthur's pursuit was more of a manhunt than a military operation. They needed a few hours to concentrate a force large enough to attack Crag Hill and the assault was not made until the afternoon.
The very few Allied survivors of this action agree that the Japanese acted with unusual precautions. We know they were taking such precautions because MacArthur continued to brazenly expose himself to their shots, even though they had been ordered to take him alive. This situation not facilitating their task, the besieged were able to send at 7:05 p.m. a new radio message, which was weakly picked up by the forts of the Bay and affirmed: “MacArthur continues to resist the enemy. These were the last words received from Crag Hill and the last we can attribute with certainty to MacArthur; what he said at the time of his death is a matter of hearsay and conjecture.
On the evening of July 7, the besieged had nothing left to eat. It was with empty stomachs that they were going to face their last eighteen hours of struggle. During the night, several "probing shots" launched by the Japanese were repelled with energy and with a considerable expenditure of ammunition, while the reserves were of course very limited. It was these shots that made the men at Fort Hughes think that heavy fighting was going on that night, as they reported in a message that later reached Fort Drum and then the rest of the world.
The Japanese had refrained from launching a general attack during the night, as their orders remained to attempt the propaganda coup that the capture of General MacArthur would have represented. The general himself had anticipated the assault on his position by exposing himself personally throughout the day. At night, of course, things were even worse.
Nevertheless, by the morning, the small Allied troop had had 35 dead and a good number of wounded and numbered only about 70 men in a condition to fight. As for the Japanese battalion which surrounded it, if its prudence had made it lose time, it counted at most only forty dead and wounded.
At dawn on July 8, the Japanese immediately, albeit still cautiously, resumed their advance towards the top of Crag Hill. Someone had hoisted a starry flag over the broken flagpole of the Hern Battery. All morning the Japanese marched on, hoping to force the surrender of the man they would have liked to drive to Tokyo laden with chains for a travesty trial. He opposed it and his men shared his privations. It is certain that at this moment MacArthur was well aware that the enemy wanted him alive. His remaining men were firmly backed by the ocean, so he confidently paced the rock of Crag Hill under the noses of the Japanese, daring them to shoot him down.
This ridiculous pseudo-battle went on all morning. It was hardly the heroic and desperate struggle that authors who were not there were able to describe. For the Japanese it was rather a kind of dancing combat, a careful maneuver of encircling this tiny pocket, trying to bring down one after the other the few madmen who defended it, without reaching the proudly erect figure of MacArthur.
However, when a man stays for hours in the middle of the bullets, in the end, even if the weapons are not pointed at him, his luck is bound to change. The result was arguably inevitable. According to the testimonies of the last faithful Filipinos, which could be collected, we can thus reconstruct the death of the general. Around 12:30 p.m., when a burst had just grazed him, he seemed for once to duck quickly to avoid the shots. The Japanese, who were only a few tens of meters away, began to open heavy fire on his position, perhaps to prevent him from recovering. Defying death, MacArthur simply straightened up in the midst of the gusts. He was immediately hit in the stomach by three bullets, which killed him instantly.
About a quarter of an hour later, the Japanese realized that MacArthur must be wounded or dead. The battalion commander released his men and ordered them to take the hill.
The last defenders, Filipinos and Marines, saw the Japanese running up with fixed bayonets instead of advancing step by step as before. Some pounced on them, taking a few of their enemies to a swift death. Most of them, having seen their leader fall, mortally wounded, suddenly seemed deprived of all energy. They dropped their guns and raised their hands waving anything they could find that looked like a white flag. Unfortunately, the Japanese were exasperated by the endless hours of waiting in hopes of capturing MacArthur or forcing him to surrender, and enraged to find that it had been for naught. At least two-thirds of the last survivors of the small group were immediately put to bayonet. Only two men, two Filipino Pathfinders, subsequently survived the Japanese prison camps.
General Douglas MacArthur was dead about thirty minutes after noon on July 8, 1942. Less than twenty minutes later, all resistance had ceased on Corregidor.
The MacArthur Myth
What we know today of the actual unfolding of the struggle and which we have just exposed had to be reconstructed from the most tenuous sources. However, the consequences have been described by other authors with great precision. We will therefore only briefly deal here with the tactical and strategic questions that arose after the general's death.
The Japanese needed a little time to breathe before attacking the other forts, which, having no civilians to protect and feed, were in a much better situation than Corregidor as far as their supplies of water and food.
From July 11 to 15, Fort Hughes and Fort Frank were subjected to a heavy artillery barrage. On the 16th, Fort Hughes was attacked by Japanese forces coming from Corregidor, while troops coming from Bataan landed at Fort Frank. Both forts resisted vigorously at first, causing serious losses to the Japanese, but once they were firmly established on the two islands, the demoralized and shell-worn garrisons offered their surrender to the overwhelming forces of the attackers.
The infantry could not land at Fort Drum, the “concrete battleship”. The Japanese therefore began to bombard it. It underwent nine days of bombardment by nearly one hundred and fifty guns, without flinching, although it suffered serious damage. His surrender on July 25 was due to a less spectacular cause. The defenders of the fort had nothing left to eat, even if they still had the will to hold its immense ramparts. Manila Bay was finally open to Japanese naval traffic.
On the island of Mindanao, General Wainwright continued to successfully resist powerful Japanese attacks until the end of August, at the head of regular and organized American and Philippine forces.
On September 1, his forces weakened by fighting and disease, Wainwright ordered his remaining men to break up into small formations and disperse into the jungles of Mindanao, as General MacArthur had planned and as the agreements made with the Moros chiefs allowed them to do so. Since the start of the war, nearly 9,000 American and Filipino soldiers had died in Mindanao, in combat, of starvation or disease. The Japanese then took 3,000 prisoners, sick or wounded and too ill to be evacuated to the villages of the jungle. But the rest of the Allied troops, totaling 15,500 to 16,000 men, were to form the backbone of a guerrilla organization united with that of the Moro people, whose leaders were ceremonially made American officers.
General Wainwright led the guerrillas himself until October 29. He was then evacuated by the USS Nautilus submarine. The officers he left behind recounted how, when he left, he had whispered to them, very moved, these simple words: “I shall return! We dare not think of the impact that the great propagandist MacArthur would have given to this scene and this short sentence.
It is known that Wainwright was to take command of United States ground forces in the South Pacific. Throughout the war, until General Wainwright kept his promise, the troops he had left on the island and their Moros allies – fifty thousand men in all – were to deny the entire interior of Mindanao to the Japanese. The latter would be forced to maintain nearly a hundred thousand men on the island so as not to be driven out, but apart from punitive expeditions of great savagery, they would have to content themselves with controlling the coastal fringe.
As for MacArthur, everyone knows how he was transformed into a hero comparable to a demigod following his battles at Corregidor. Any sensible discussion was swept away and the facts forgotten.
Douglas MacArthur was posthumously promoted to General of the Army, and it was also posthumously that he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the medal his father had won during his lifetime. His widow played an important role in the subscription of Defense loans and remained a very popular personality until her death, although she resented the loss of her adored Douglas and ceased all public life at the end of the war.
Many today regret the tributes paid to the memory of an enigmatic personality, which seem to them entirely undeserved, but in the context of the war effort of the time, they had an appropriate and salutary effect for American propaganda.
On the other hand, one cannot overlook the fact that MacArthur certainly prolonged the resistance of the Philippines and that the men, the guns, the ammunition and the means in general expended there by the Japanese failed them elsewhere. In the words of one loyal to the general, "the shells which fell on Bataan in April, on Corregidor in May and June and on the bay forts in July did not fall on Guadalcanal, on Singapore, on Burma, on Dien -Bien-Phu ni on the Chinese front. »
The Japanese found General MacArthur's body on Crag Hill and, in accordance with their traditions, showed far more respect for this great fallen warrior than they gave to their prisoners who had made the mistake of staying alive. Two days after his death, on July 10, he was buried on Corregidor with full military honors by the Japanese, before General Tanaguchi and his entire staff at attention. According to Tanaguchi, MacArthur's sword, found in his Malinta Tunnel CP, was buried with him in his coffin.
It was only after this funeral that the Japanese declared that the fighting was over and the island was secure. Perhaps because of MacArthur's suicidal defense, the prisoners taken on Corregidor were initially treated better than those on Bataan (but that cannot distract from the murder of thousands of men attempting to surrender – murder than an organized surrender probably could have been avoided).
Per his widow's wishes, Douglas MacArthur's body was not exhumed from the grand tomb given to him by the Japanese. We contented ourselves with replacing, in 1946, the tombstone written in Japanese. Thus ends the story of one of the most bizarre and flamboyant generals in the United States Army.
Squadron 109 and the VHA bombers / Always higher!
Squadron 109 and the VHA bombers / Always higher!
Source: H.22 lecture at RAF College, 1982.
Birth of a special unit

Extracts from “Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft”, by P.J.R. Moyes, MacDonald ed., London 1964.
Originally, 109 Squadron (motto: Primi hastati, after the name of the Roman legionnaires fighting in the front rank) was a bombing unit created during the First World War and disbanded in 1919. The squadron was reconstituted in December 1940 to the Wireless Intelligence Development Unit (WIDU), whose HQ was located at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire. The squadron was then stationed at Stradishall and left a flight there when the unit was redeployed to RAF Tempsford in early 1941. Tempsford had recently been completed and was intended to be the base for covert testing and special operations of the RAF. The squadron was at this time in charge of development work, both at Tempsford and at Stradishall.
This work consisted of two parts.
The first used standard Ansons and Wellingtons to develop radio countermeasures and new radar aids, such as the blind bombing system known as Oboe.
The second was high altitude operational research and development, in response to the Air Ministry's 1937 decision to produce very high altitude bombers. The first machine converted for this task was the ubiquitous Vickers Wellington.

The Wellingtons of the Stratosphere
Extracts from “109th Squadron: Developing the Very High Altitude Bomber in the RAF”, by J.P. Doakes, MacDonald ed., London 1974.
The first was the Wellington Mk V, an experimental machine with a pressurized cabin for high altitude, with Hercules VIII turbocharged engines. Built to specification B.23/39, the aircraft was to operate at an altitude of 40,000 feet, or about 12,000 meters. The cabin pressurization was set at 10,000 feet, giving a pressure differential of 7.5 psi, a very difficult requirement to meet in 1939.
Two prototypes were ordered in November 1939 and two ordinary Mk I from the Weybridge factory were converted. Due to the delays affecting the construction of the Hercules VIII, these two machines were equipped with standard Hercules III; they were nevertheless able to climb up to 30,000 feet in September 1940. These flights revealed that the terrible cold prevailing at these heights (-40°C) froze the flight controls and the tail turret. Special oils and hydraulic fluids were developed to try to solve these problems.
In March 1940, 30 production Wellington Mk V equipped with Hercules Mk VIII were ordered (Wellington Type 436) on specification B.17/40. Then, there were 30 Wellington Mk VI (Type 442) equipped with two-stage Rolls-Royce Merlin R6SM engines (1,600 hp liquid-cooled V-12s).
Sqn 109 continued its study flights at very high altitude. The Mk V brought invaluable experience to these operations and helped identify and overcome many mechanical problems. With the Mk VI, the 38,000 feet were reached… and new difficulties appeared. Ball bearing lubricants froze at -65°C, the air compressor tended to smoke up the cabin, and the constant speed propellers to race – all these problems were solved in early 1941, but the 40,000 foot remained inaccessible until the outer wing panels were extended. By March 1941, the Wellington 1 Mk VI was routinely reaching over 40,000 feet (empty).
At this time, the difficulties encountered with the tail turret proved incurable. It was decided to remove it and lighten the aircraft. After this modification, which took two months, a kit was developed for modifying the machines in the depots. The weight saving achieved was not huge, but the cone installed in place of the turret improved the airflow. Thus modified, the unarmed Wellington Mk VI could reach 40,000 feet, this time with 4,000 pounds of bombs. Its range with this load was 2,200 km. Nevertheless, the essential engines were still far from being developed (they were not until current 1942 and in a slightly less ambitious version); in operation, the Wellington Mk VI rarely exceeded 32,000 feet with its bomb load.
In order to make a defensive armament to the device while regrouping the crew to save weight, an attempt was made to install on the Wellington VHA (for Very High Altitude) a remote-controlled tail turret – the tests proved that this was possible , but very difficult. However, intelligence reported that the Germans were working on VHA interceptors with a maximum ceiling of 40,000 feet, implying a somewhat lower operational ceiling. The operational Wellington VIs therefore relied exclusively on their altitude to defend themselves.
The crews of 109 Sqn had immediately baptized “Flying Coffins” (Flying Coffins) the first Wellington VHA. Curiously perhaps, these devices proved to be safe machines (although very uncomfortable) and the squadron was not to suffer a single loss, either in training or by accident in operation. On the other hand, the anticipated returns for mechanical problems of all kinds were numerous! The “Coffins” made it possible to understand and solve a host of problems related to the extreme cold and the rarefied air. They also revealed that the machines remained much more maneuverable than expected at very high altitude, which was one of the great surprises of the program. Thanks to the Mk VI, the Merlin R6SM was broken in to become the Merlin 62, with slightly lower performance, but compatible with mass production and the duration of use between revisions. The following programs were to benefit greatly from all this progress. By mid-1941, the RAF had accumulated considerable expertise in flying at very high altitudes and evaluating aircraft systems in that environment.

How to bomb from high above
Extracts from “109th Squadron: Developing the Very High Altitude Bomber in the RAF”, by J.P. Doakes, MacDonald ed., London 1974.
Nevertheless, 109 Sqn's bombing trials were not going well. Good accuracy proved impossible to achieve with standard bombs. Discussions held at Vickers with Barnes Neville Wallis led to experiments with standard spin-stabilized bombs, which were accepted by the Air Ministry provided the aircraft remained capable of carrying all the bombs in its arsenal. This stabilization had a favorable effect, but it was soon evident that the existing bombs were too coarse in shape for this process to suffice.
By May 1941, experiments performed had determined that the smallest bomb that could be used accurately from very high altitudes was a specially streamlined, spin-stabilized 2,000-pound device. These weapons were tested and found to have very different effects from standard bombs due to their very high speed on impact, mainly related to their drop altitude. These one-ton bombs, obligatorily armor-piercing so as not to burst on impact like a watermelon, could be adjusted so as to penetrate ten meters into the ground before bursting. It was soon realized that such weapons would be very useful in attacking large buildings and heavy structures by destroying their foundations. Tests against an old bridge and a railway tunnel 2 showed that these bombs could indeed destroy the buttress of a bridge or the shoulder of a dam and cause a tunnel to collapse. Employed against a city, they could demolish underground transport (metro, road tunnels) and disable fire-fighting systems by destroying water pipes. If sufficient accuracy could be achieved, these bombs offered a means of attacking enemy infrastructure and heavy industry. But such accuracy was possible only in daylight and in very calm weather, even with the help of special sights.
The tactics devised involved sending one or two planes in advance, responsible for calibrating the bombardment of the main force. The effectiveness of this was assessed by sending ten aircraft to bomb an abandoned industrial site in a diamond formation calculated so that the impact zones of their clusters of bombs partially overlapped. The armour-piercing bombs used exploded 5 to 8 meters underground and had devastating effects, causing the collapse of heavy machinery mounted on concrete slabs and seriously damaging the massive foundations of forges, blast furnaces, etc. Nevertheless, the tests confirmed that the aiming was a most uncertain exercise, in spite of the very expensive profiled bombs of Wallis.
Despite everything, it was time to move from trials to offensive action.
Great premiere on Wilhelmshafen
Extract from “Wellington VI: the first Stratosphere Bomber”, by Wing Commander Egbert “Highwire” Deveny, Methuen ed., London, 1968.
"We waited to launch ourselves until we had absolutely perfect weather, which was not offered to us until July 20, 1941. For our big first, we had committed as many planes as possible: eleven machines, eleven only, because we We only had 22 streamlined, spin-stabilized 2,000-pound bombs, which we were going to use for the first time in operations. It was also a first for Bomber Command and the target was not chosen at random. Wilhelmshafen, by day, with Wellingtons: the ghosts of the dead of the massacred raid of December 18, 1939 accompanied us throughout this mission. A plane was flying as a scout, responsible for regulating the bombardment with its two bombs, equipped with smoke bombs. The target was the shipyard's heavy machinery workshops, specifically the turbine construction and maintenance room. For Bomber Command, it was a ridiculously small target – a single building from a shipyard! Normally, the whole city was targeted. We passed the coast at 40,000 feet. Their RDF detected us, of course, but we could quietly observe their fighters getting angry below us: they were several thousand feet away from reaching us. The calibration bomber released and signaled to the other ten aircraft the deviation of the hit point from the aiming point, which was duly noted. The Race of Lords pilots must have gritted their perfect Aryan teeth as we lined up, the leader continuing to orbit the target a little higher, pointing out corrections as they went. We formed a veritable “racetrack” above their heads, dropping a bomb each before making a second pass. The big 2,000-pounders were remarkably accurate from the first drops: all but the trim pair fell within 3,000 feet of the objective and one got a direct hit. Neither flak nor fighters could reach us at 40,000 feet, so we did not climb to the 42,000 originally planned on the way back. The shipyard was devastated. We found out after the war that the bombs had done worse than the damage our reconnaissance planes had been able to see, which was bad enough. They had completely demolished the site's underground services. All 3 water, gas, electricity supply circuits and all drainage pipes had been badly damaged or completely destroyed. I believe that the ghosts of December 18 were able to find rest that day. »
This dithyrambic account, partly taken from an article published in the Daily Telegraph the day after the operation, must of course be weighed and read in the light of its own contradictions as well as the needs of propaganda. Moreover the RAF had to return many times to bomb Wilhelmshafen! This experimental raid temporarily exhausted the reserves of 2,000 lb. streamlined bombs. This is why the following operations of Sqn 109 were reconnaissance at high altitude. Harassment raids followed, but these revealed that the bombardment of Wilhelmshafen had been fairly lucky. The bombs dropped from 40,000 feet fell at sometimes surprising points – it is true that we then knew nothing of the jet streams reigning at very high altitudes. In fact, the greatest number of war missions carried out by the Wellington VIs were electronic warfare missions. The device was indeed an excellent platform for the Oboe navigational aid system. The latter comprised two transmitting stations and a receiver aircraft; the plane knew it was over the target when it detected the crossing of the two radio beams emitted from the ground. The disadvantage of the system was that its range was limited by the curvature of the Earth, and therefore depended on the altitude of the receiving aircraft. With a Mosquito flying at 26,000 feet, it was 450 km, at best.
With a Wellington VI flying at 40,000 feet, it was about 600 km away! The aircraft could then drop its flares for the following Halifaxes and Lancasters. Alas, dropped at this altitude, the markers followed an even more random trajectory than that of the bombs, and the increase in range of the Oboe system was of little use, which meant that the Wellington VIs thus equipped were quickly returned to the units. training.
Other electronic warfare missions were entrusted to Wellington VIs. ELINT missions were aimed at detecting and locating enemy radars, as well as classifying their emission bands to develop jammers. SIGINT missions were of the same type, but for radio transmissions.
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Avro 684 Lincoln: the “Real True Bastard of Crompton”
Sqn 109 received its first Avro 684 in August 1941. This machine had had a very turbulent existence: it was born in the form of a Manchester with Vulture engines, then its wings had been changed, transforming it into a Lancaster intended for development of this program. The aircraft was used in this configuration for trials for some time, before being extensively modified again to become the second prototype of the Avro Type 684, which the Air Ministry considered an alternative to the Vickers. planned hexaengine. The aircraft retained the Lancaster's four engines, but a fifth was added, installed in the fuselage between the wing spars and responsible for compressing the air it supplied to the carburettors of the others, which could therefore operate at higher speeds. 40,000 feet as if they were at 20,000 feet. After the first tests, it appeared necessary to replace the five engines with Merlin R6SM (then Merlin 60) like those of the Wellington VI, and to increase the wing area. In October 1941, the prototypes received elongated wings: the wingspan, increased by more than 12 meters, reached 36 meters.
This particular Avro 684 soon became known as the "Real Bastard of Crompton", after its first pilot at 109 Sqn, John Crompton, warmly observed at the end of his first flight: "It could do a real bastard of a job with the 12,000 lb of bombs it could carry to the Ruhr!
The 684 (which was baptized Lincoln at the end of 1941, when its – small – series production was approved) could carry 4,000, 8,000 or 12,000 pounds of bombs. The maximum range was 1,200 miles (2,000 km). The operating ceiling for a total weight of 60,000 pounds at mission departure was 40,000 feet, increasing to 45,000 at mission end. Expected cruising speed was 320 mph (510 km/h) at full load, up to 380 mph (600 km/h).
Much like the Wellington VI, the Lincoln was never used for heavy bombing, but more often for support missions. This is how Lincolns increasingly preceded, from 1943, the Halifax and Lancaster groups to detect and jam German radio and radar emissions from their very high cruising altitude, where they were at nearly invulnerable to all night fighters in the German arsenal. The Germans could only react by increasing the power of their radars to break through the jamming, and by experimenting with frequency changes – which also slowed down their work on the centimeter waves.
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Guns for the Lincoln
The Lincoln lacked any defensive armament, but with its elongated wings it could fly higher than any fighter known at the time. Crompton himself was talked about during training operations with the first Spitfires specially lightened for very high altitude. Exploiting the possibilities of his plane to perfection, he turned against one of the Spitfires during the interception tests at 40,000 feet and “shot it down”, obtaining the necessary proof thanks to a cine-machine gun from which the Avro 684 had been equipped during the numerous fixed armament tests he had carried out.
Excerpt from diary kept by Flight Lieutenant John “Farmer” Crompton, RAF, published in “Real Bastard for the Right Cause: War in the Stratosphere”, by Air Vice Marshal Sir J. Crompton VC, Allen and Unwin, London, 1974.
“Flying Real Bastard at very high altitude was a joy. It was the machine for which I had enlisted in the Royal Air Force, the one I had dreamed of flying. I forgot the embarrassment of breathing excruciatingly dry air in our tiny pressurized cabin, because above 35,000 feet, the behavior of the plane became extraordinary. At this altitude all that mattered was wing area and engine power and with the wings extended and the fifth Merlin feeding the others with air, we had both.
Again and again the radars guided the prototype Spitfire towards us as we sped level. From a physical point of view, these interceptions were very difficult. It was only after a long chase that the Spitfire could catch up with us. The poor pilot of the Spit had all the difficulty in the world to succeed: despite his speed, he was constantly on the verge of stalling and his machine was unable to maneuver a little tight. We knew, hearing his choppy voice and labored breathing over the radio, that he was truly on the edge of human endurance in his pressure suit, battling terrifying cold and limp, lazy controls. And we, in the very relative comfort of our cabin, still had the possibility of climbing at least 5,000 feet!
In the context of the tests we were conducting, working to make all our tools work at low temperatures, these lessons were tactically invaluable, among other things because they confirmed that we only needed, at most, turned defensive armament. rearward. But a hunting weapon could also have its interest!
On November 14, 1941, I told the pilot of the Spitfire during the briefing that I was going to try some counter maneuvers after the interception, to study the defensive capabilities of the 684. He accepted without hesitation. It was Flying Officer Ken “Shorty” Rawlins, 5 RCAF, who disappeared the following year over Greece – an amazing guy, whom we greatly missed. After the usual preamble, it was closing in from behind at 38,500 feet when I pushed all four throttles all the way in and pulled back on the stick. Real Bastard was a real acrobat at this medium altitude (for us!) and I immediately had Ken in the sights of my cinegun, after a superb Immelman. He was flabbergasted, I could circle around him and I didn't hesitate! During the debrief, he tells us that, while Real Bastard was chaining loops and Immelmans, he was barely able to keep his Spit in the air. But I have to do him justice, because he gets the credit for the sequel. Indeed, it was Ken who, that evening, spoke to me about “specters”. And the following night, we discussed the shot with the gunsmiths. »

One of the armament tests had led to equipping the Avro 684 with two Hispano 20 mm guns. We already knew that the 20 mm HS did not like the cold and had to be warmed up to work well at very high altitudes. The two guns were therefore mounted in the fuselage, near the ventral air intake of the fifth Merlin, which operated the Rotol fan. It was not difficult to channel hot air from the engine to the guns. In one trial, the guns were mounted rearward, in another, one in each direction, in a third, firing flush.
Real Bastard vs. Specters
At that time, Sqn 109 was already carrying out more or less regularly almost routine bombardments of coastal targets and some deep reconnaissance missions with Wellington VIs. However, the aircraft was not a very effective bomber. The decision to replace it with the Lincoln had already been taken: the crew was smaller, its efficiency in terms of dropped bombs was two to three times higher, it could climb to altitudes inaccessible to the Wellington VI... In addition, the Lincoln had some really unusual features.
Excerpt from the diary of Flight Lieutenant John “Farmer” Crompton, RAF (op. cit.).
“I was lucky that the Old Man was sick and let me take over. As a TCO (Tactical Control Officer), approving my own proposal felt like the right thing to do. And as Flight Commander (acting), I have carefully considered this request. For his part, Ken spoke with a WAAF he knew in Sector and we settled our case. The "wraiths" weren't very frequent, but there was one every five or six days and the Old was out of action for a good week.
The opportunity presented itself on November 19, 1941. Ken and I were beginning to get worried, as the Old Man was soon to return. When exactly, we weren't sure. Of course, we had continued the tests, but as usual, we had to cancel one or two of them due to bad luck, so we had all the margin we wanted to organize an additional flight. We took off within ten minutes of receiving Sector's message. For what they were supposed to know, we were doing a run-of-the-mill test flight and we were just going to take the opportunity to identify the spectrum. After all, Ken had an unarmed experimental Spit and Real Bastard was a Test Lank.
The radar guided interception was nothing special, we were both very used to its routine. We saw the spectrum just over 90 minutes after taking off. It was flying really high, at least 40,000 feet, and Ken was rapidly losing power as we passed the 38,000 threshold. spot him very easily), but this arrogant Hun didn't even change course. He was sure of his invulnerability. Ken hit his ceiling at 39,000 and the Hun was still a thousand feet above us. But that was nothing for Real Bastard and that wondrous zinc effortlessly soared up to 43,000. The Hun was still a mile ahead at 42,000 and I caught up to him to take some shots. It looked as 6 weird as a Mk VI, long wings, two engines and a twin fin.
I passed on the chase steering circuit, announced my intercept and shouted “TallyHo” before jumping on him, full throttle. I wonder what the poor guy must have thought when he saw a Lancaster fall on his back from a thousand feet above. My sight was a primitive contraption that my gunsmith had improvised (Flight Sergeant Michael Hammond, a fantastic guy, he became avowed after the war - it's awful). Fortunately, I had a good supply of 20 mm shells for my two guns. So I opened fire at 500 yards and walked the tracers on the Hun, which I hit several times. He tried to save himself by diving, dragging a thin gray scarf from his left wing. But I was faster and more maneuverable. I adjusted my shot, which was too long, and again sent him a long burst. I'm sure I depressurized his cabin, but even if I couldn't, it was the end of it for him, because his starboard engine caught fire. He spun and I spiraled around him following his fall. It broke around 30,000 feet, so I followed the pieces, asking Ken to help me. He pointed out the falling point of the debris for the bigheads to pick up and examine. There were no parachutes.
Sector harassed us with questions on the radio and, of course, I had trouble identifying myself. Then – well, I knew I was going to get myself in trouble, but I just couldn't resist and my elated crew was in the same mood. My young co-pilot solemnly warned me that I would risk terrible trouble if I did, so I promised to blame myself and kick my ass hard as soon as we landed. So I told Sector that I was a new top-secret experimental fighter and was going to fly over the runway before asking my controlling officer to call. It was very cheeky, but Ken, who was starting to get dry, landed quietly and cleared the landing pattern. They all thought he was the main culprit, until he announced my passing.
I had to do a little jump to avoid the tower. Ken told me that Real Bastard's underbelly was four feet off the ground and I think the ensuing barrel roll was pretty successful. For sure, the loops were! But there were still people complaining.
The next day was quite interesting. As TCO, I was summoned by Group Captain Dennison to explain the inadmissible conduct of the Avro 684 pilot. eyebrows so high they had circled his head twice. I informed him that the pilot of the Avro 684 had already been punished, as these acrobatics were completely unjustified; I had reprimanded him severely and this reprimand had been put on his file.
- You were quick! he said.
– Yes Sir, I replied, I like administrative efficiency.
He looked at me with a small smile.
“So what is the name and rank of this pilot, Crompton?” he asked.
I thought the dance was about to begin. In their corner of the office, Ken and the Wing Commander of his fighter unit, who witnessed my appearance as fact witnesses, were about to burst out laughing.
“He is a perfectly incorrigible head of mule by the name of Crompton, Flight Lieutenant John Crompton, Sir!
- Hmm. A family tie, Crompton? inquired the Group Captain, raising his voice slightly.
- Oh, yes sir. A very close bond. The narrowest there is, in truth. From you to me, sir, because of this bond, I had the greatest difficulty in reprimanding this idiot.
At that moment, I thought the Wing Commander was going to have an attack. Her face had taken on an interesting vermilion hue. The poor man was savagely biting the strap of his cap.
– Yes, I can imagine it, said the Group Captain, you had to jump from one side of your desk to the other between each line.
At this moment, the Wing Commander completely lost his temper and started to gasp with laughter. Anyway, we were quick to end the official session and retire to the mess to study their whiskey supply carefully. We finally had a good evening. By the next day, we were able to set up viable procedures for the interception of the Huns of the stratosphere (J. Crompton used the expression hunnish high-flyers). It turned out that the Group Captain had figured the whole thing out before Real Bastard even landed - he was an old comeback horse, an ex-RFC who had scored eight victories in the First War, he hadn't not 20 years old. All he wanted was to descend from the Hun and anything that allowed that was fine with him.
Some time later the big heads came to Tempsford with some pieces of the plane I had shot down and told us that the specter was a high-altitude version of the Ju 86 and was assigned to Aufklarsrungsgruppe Rohwehl. But by this time, I had already gone down two more. »
From Lincoln to Welkin: birth of the stratospheric fighter
Excerpt from the diary of Flight Lieutenant John “Farmer” Crompton, RAF (op. cit.).
“The rigorous tactical analyzes of the Captain James B. Dennison Group led to the recommendation of the development of a specific fighter for Very High Altitude after the tests had shown the limits of the modified Spitfires. This fighter became the Westland Welkin, derived from the Whirlwind. The decision to build it cannot be criticized, even if, in the end, this construction did not exceed a dozen pre-series aircraft before the end of the conflict, the Germans having given up undertaking offensive raids in the stratosphere. As for the reconnaissance aircraft, the replacement for the Ju 86P, the Dornier Do 217P (fitted with an engine in the fuselage to drive a compressor sending air to the two other engines), put into service at the end of 1943, was, at 16 000 yards, safe from the Lincoln, but by this stage of the war it was no more than a minor annoyance.
In 1944, Air Commodore Dennison learned that he had stomach cancer, but no one knew, except two or three of his relatives, including myself, because the Harley Street surgeon who had done the diagnosis was his own brother. This fighter preferred to choose his own destiny. He volunteered to lead a flak suppression mission for a low-level Mosquito raid in the final weeks of the war, in Denmark, in the middle of Copenhagen. As an Air Commodore, he could have his whims and he chose to take a pre-production Welkin, “to direct operations from above.” But once on the objective, after distributing the targets, he himself attacked the most dangerous, the flak tower that the recce-photo guys called the Nordberg. He made two passes of strafing, but his 20mm guns could not reach the servants hidden behind their shields. His plane had tasted and the Mosquito responsible for bombing the German command post arrived. So he threw the Welkin right at the tower.
We had celebrated with him the night before. There were five of us, counting him, all pilots. We all knew he wasn't coming back and we were happy for him. What a lamentable end such a fighter, the bravest man I have known, would have had if he had died in a bed, when he could die in battle!
From the next day, we, his brothers in arms, wanted to preserve his memory, in one form or another. The Danish government in exile heard of it and one of its first acts after the liberation of its country was to order the preservation of Nordberg Tower as it was, as a memorial to the men of the RAF who risked and gave their lives to avoid civilian casualties. The tower is still there, the remnants of its cannons still pointed skyward. Next door is now a small museum with a few aircraft donated by the RAF, selected from those that operated over Denmark: Mosquito, Beaufighter, Hornet, Beaumont, Tornado, guarding the wreckage of the Welkin. I had the honor, a few years ago, to inaugurate this place, baptized “Memorial James B. Dennison”. The Danes are very nice people. »
Vickers Victoria, the first “V-bomber”
The Victoria had a curious history. Its development had been proposed as early as 1937 by Barnes Wallis, of Vickers, who had considered the use of very large bombs against the Germans and had imagined a giant machine with six engines for this. On January 9, 1940, Lord Beaverbrook had approved the continuation of the study of this concept. On the 30th, Sir Henry Tizard had made some objections, but had approved the construction of two prototypes in several phases, Vickers being forbidden to move on to the next phase before the previous one had been approved. During this time, evidence had emerged tending to prove that bombs over 2 tons might not be as destructive as originally believed. Wallis, of course, was already considering different styles of attacks by subterranean explosions triggered by high-velocity streamlined bombs.
On May 20, 1940, Tizard received a letter from Wallis indicating that he believed that opposition to his idea stemmed from the reluctance of Bomber Command staff to the idea of overly specialized aircraft. Wallis recognized the desirability of having “all-purpose” bombers, but he noted that by their very nature these aircraft were likely to be longer and more complicated to develop. On the other hand, his “big bomber” could be developed without great risk, since it used a variant of the pressurized cockpit of the Wellington Mk VI, as well as the wing, landing gear and engine nacelles of the Warwick (Designed by Vickers as the replacement for the Wellington, which it looked a lot like, but bigger, it was only built in a few copies, which were used for secondary missions). Only the empennage was really new. In short, the plane was presented as a variant of the Warwick equipped with more powerful engines, a pressurized cockpit and a modified empennage. Tizard replied that he took good note of these arguments and that he would gladly support… a multi-purpose version of this machine, but not a single-bomb bomber carrying the Wallis ten-ton bomb. The latter decided to withdraw the time to write a memoir on the effects of the bombs, while the project continued to develop at Vickers, using as many elements as possible studied for the Warwick.
In June, when England feared to be left alone against the Axis, the project was threatened for a moment with being canceled in the name of higher emergencies, but it finally survived, like the alliance with France, and in July the wood and metal cutting of a model wind tunnel began in Vickers' experimental workshop. It was around this time that the name “Victoria” began to be attached to the project.
In September, Wallis submitted his memoir, “A Note on a Method of Attacking the Axis Powers,” which was meticulously reviewed by the Air Ministry and equally meticulously rejected.
This refusal had no effect on the development of the Victoria, because Vickers had already decoupled the plane and the bomb that Wallis wanted it to carry. Furthermore, Vickers had hedged against possible criticism by maximizing the use of components from the Warwick II, copying its electrical system and borrowing the design of the wing and bomb bay from the Warwick III (which allowed the Victoria to carry any bomb from the RAF's arsenal). Calculations (somewhat optimistic) showed that the new plane, with four Rolls-Royce R6SM engines, would be a perfect very high altitude bomber.
Designed by Vickers as the replacement for the Wellington, which it looked a lot like, only bigger, it was only built in a few copies, which were used for secondary missions. 9 The first prototype of the Victoria flew in December 1941, without a bomb bay or any military equipment. This was to prove the validity of the wing's aerodynamic design and the reliability of the airframe structure and propulsion systems. The second prototype had a bomb bay and the appropriate military subsystems. The two prototypes were modified several times, to study the effect of the lengthening of the wings and the interest of various types of engines. The choice finally fell on Pratt & Whitney 2800 engines.
The first pre-production Victorias were delivered to 109 Squadron at the end of 1942. By this time the production model had been fixed and series production had begun. The plane could carry 4 tons of bombs to 6,000 km, flying at 38,000 feet outward and 40,000 feet back. Wallis in 1940: the gestation of the Victoria had not been slowed down by the very many subsystems which made it so long to develop the classic heavy bombers.
Whatever its name, the VHA bomber truly saved Vickers, whose factory could only build its famous geodesic airframes, despite Tizard's saying, "Vickers can't go on building Wellingtons forever." This original method of construction allowed Vickers to represent at the time an industrial resource available to build a new type of device, provided that it was designed by its teams.
If the Victorias were, like the Wellington VIs and the Lincolns, employed in vital but discreet electronic warfare missions, they were also used more aggressively, although still in support of the massive Halifax and Lancaster raids.
Indeed, with guidance by OBOE (whose transmission time could be short, 7 to 8 minutes), small formations of six or nine Victorias could attack with 2,000 lb bombs the fields from which the fighters left German nights, one to two hours before the arrival of the stream of bombers on the main target. The Victorias were guided by a Lincoln Oboe, but themselves flew to 8,000 m to improve the accuracy of their bombardment (no German night interceptor soared so high). These bombardments were to seriously disrupt the operation of the German night fighter. Indeed, there were generally no more than 6 to 8 night fighter bases well placed to intercept a stream, and Victoria's manpower was enough to saturate them.
Nevertheless, from the end of 1943, the difficulties of implementing the procedures necessary to make the Lincoln Oboe / Victoria tandem work properly (still the problem of marking the targets) led to these attacks being accompanied by a Mosquito marauding night fighters, going to attack any aircraft taking off or returning to land on these terrains… Moreover, the Germans, having understood that the stratospheric bombs only rarely fell in a place where they caused real damage, continued their operations on the bases attacked . To make the English believe that these bombs were on the contrary very effective, after each attack, imposing civil engineering resources were deployed on the ground for the Allied reconnaissance planes, as well as painted canvases pretending to large craters.
Thus, the few Wellington VI raids of 1941 and the Lincoln raids of 1942 were followed by the Victoria raids in 1943 and 1944. , were never mass-produced like the Lancasters and Halifaxs. The reason, always the same: aiming was a game of chance, even with the help of target marker planes. This fact led the British to undertake important research on atmospheric currents after the war.