The Fall of Fort Frank

 

The Americans had systematically retaken first Fort Wint in Subic Bay, then Corregidor, that famed bastion to Manila, its near-by companion Caballo, then Drum, but off Cavite Province stood the last of the coastal defenses yet in the hands of the Japanese.

Like the other islands in the Manila Bay defenses, it was largely rock, but afforded only one landing place, a concreted ledge which long before the assault had been pounded to dust. For several days before the date decided for the assault the island had gone through the usual softening-up process by air and naval bombardment.

On 16th April, came the invasion of Carabao Island (Fort Frank), where the network of tunnels rivalled those at Fort Mills on Corregidor and Fort Hughes on Caballo.

On D-Day the preparation for the landing increased in intensity for one and a half hours, when a cruiser on the north, a destroyer on the west and another on the east trained their guns on the fortress. On the mainland 155's and 105's howitzers, a cannon company with its sawed-off 105's, plus 87mm, and a battery of 4.2-inch mortars boomed out their destruction.

Beside this barrage from the shore, .50-cal. machine guns kept drumming fire on the island, a unique note in the cacaphony of sound, their stuttering voices continuing during the lulls in the bedlam. These guns were firing tracers into the tunnels and caves with visible accuracy.

During the preparation so many incendiary bombs and phosphorus had been used that no vegetation remained.

H-Hour was at 0930, the naval bombardment commencing at 0800, and LCM's used as assault boats. The assault boats had left Corregidor before dawn, about 0630, and had bounced about the bay with the assault troops nervously sweating it out during the bombardment. In view of what had occurred at Corregidor and Caballo, everyone thought this operation was going to be as one soldier put it, "a massacre for us," as there was no place except the landing platform to make the assault, and when the Americans set up the defenses of the island, one could be assured that they had designed them well to take care of this vulnerable spot.

Jap guns trained here could have held up the invasion for days as had occurred at Caballo.

As the assault waves made for the jutting rock—two LCM's to each of three assault waves—the island was almost mass of white phosphorus, a beautiful pyrotechnical example of modern warfare.

The waves were to land at three minute intervals, followed by headquarters and reserve troops. In all, seven waves were to land on Carabao. Troops ashore scrambled over a mass of wreckage — some which had been tractors, trucks, field pieces — as they began their ascent over the broken and shattered rock.

Coast Artillerymen who at some time past in their careers did a stint of duty on this rock will remember the landing platform, which is on the side toward Manila, and the steep ledge-like pathway that leads to the top.

Previous to the assault, troops to be engaged in the operation had been thoroughly briefed. The island had been built in exacting miniature scale by Master Sergeant Erwin Lederer and Technician Fourth Grade Peter R. Detz, of the 38th Division's G-3 Section.

The job was to be done by the 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry, by now veterans in this type of warfare. Brigadier General Robert H. Soule, a native of Wyoming, was in command, with Major Morton K. Sitton, Battalion Commander, leading the assault. Major Sitton was later killed by a Jap sniper on Caballo, some weeks after its capture.

Immediately after the landing under a continuous rolling barrage of shell fire, one platoon of A Company rushed up the rock pathway bearing to the right. After reaching the top, they continued right, or eastwardly, holding the flank, and breaking out into a skirmish line.

When B Company came up, this platoon was relieved and the advance was continued, securing that end of the island. A Company's other three platoon's made a turn at the top of the hill, advancing left just under the crest, and continuing this advance to the top of the second hill, maneuvering around the draw where the tunnels are connected with a causeway near the west end of the Island. Here one platoon detached itself, crossed the causeway and went to the top of the hill on the other side.

C Company landing as the third wave, repeated what A had done, advancing across the causeway, relieving the platoon there, and securing the rest of the island.

All during the operation the troops had kept up a stream of machine-gun, BAR and rifle fire into the tunnels and caves, while two out of three of the infantrymen carried 25-pound satchel charges which were tossed into every opening found. If a Jap had raised his head it would have been his finish.

Engineers, A Company of the 113th Battalion, following the infantry, closed the holes with more systematic demolition. The operation lasted between two and three hours after the landings.

Our intelligence reports held that the island was occupied by between 300 and 500 Japs. If they had elected to defend the rock with the determination they had displayed on Corregidor and Caballo it would have been a bloody operation.

However, Carabao was just another example of the unpredictability of the Japanese. There was no way of knowing beforehand whether the Japs were there or not. The operation had to be carried out just as if the Japs were in the tunnels.

It was believed they had decided to pull out three or four days before the landing, swimming ashore to the mainland in the night — a distance of only a few hundred yards. They could also from their CP's atop the island have viewed the earlier cremation ceremonies at Drum, and obtained radio communication of what had happened on Corregidor, even if they had not watched it through their glasses.

As it was we lost five men killed, and eighteen wounded. This occurred in an unusual explosion about one and a half hours after the initial landing, and its cause was never determined.

Some thought that an artillery shell fell short, others believed a demolition charge carried by the engineers had exploded prematurely, or that a land mine had been stepped on. Probably among those killed one might know the answer.

Two Japs were found dead. The only living thing found on the island after the bombardment and assault was a pig.

 

 

The Author, later a Captain, died 9 April, 1980.

THE ROCK RETAKEN | RETAKING FORT WINT | THE FORT HUGHES OPERATION
THE ASSAULT ON FORT DRUM | THE FALL OF FORT FRANK

 
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