One of the longest standing myths regarding Japanese tanks was the infamous "Tiger of Corregidor ". How come a lone Type 97 Chi-Ha was able to defeat nearly 40 American M3 Stuarts and allow the Japanese victory over the island of Corregidor? Today I want to end such myths as I go over the historical events of the engagement that led to the American's surrender of the Philippines.
Fall of LuzonAs the war in the Pacific took a turn for the worst, with the United States declaring war on the Empire of Japan on the 8th of December 1941, the Japanese high command realized they would need to act in haste after their unexpected attack on Pearl Harbour. During the month prior, the Japanese high command had created the Southern Expeditionary Force, so as to engage in the territorial capturing of various islands of Southeast Asia. Their first target was the Philippines under the protection of the United States. The final plan of engagement had been adopted in mid-November. On the same day as the declaration of war, the Japanese 14th Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, had embarked from Taiwan and landed on Batan Island. On the 10th of December, the 14th successfully occupied the Port of Aparri on Luzon and began advancing further south. The 16th Division landed on southern Luzon to force the capitulation American General Wainwright's defense forces with the aid of the 14th from the north.
|Lt. Morin's Captured M3 Stuart on Luzon.|
As the American forces retreated further into Bataan’s interior they were able to receive effective air cover, preventing the Japanese advances through the Subic bay area. This allowed General Wainwright to secure a foothold in the region while the Japanese spent the 1st through the 14th of January formulating a new battle-plan. The fighting resumed on January 23rd, and lasted just two weeks before Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma withheld further attacks due to casualties on the 8th of February. Once reorganized fully, the Japanese 14th Army during March began pushing once more against the American and 57th and 45th Infantry, coupled with the Philippine 31st Division along the Alangan River. The Allied forces could not sustain engagements with the Japanese, and were forced to surrender deeper to Corregidor Island.
Landing on CorregidorTo Japan, the island of Corregidor was of the utmost importance to the war effort; its position ultimately decided who owned Manila Bay, a strategic location in south-east of the Pacific. Beginning in early February, Japanese airstrikes targeted the island in an effort to cripple American fortifications there. While major damage was inflicted on Corregidor, the morale of the US soldiers remained high. Unlike the Japanese,however, the Americans were not used to combat and were unable to accurately hit Japanese targets in the air and ground with their coastal artillery. Because of this, Major General Kureo Taniguchi decided to strike with a landing force immediately in first week of May. Using a force comprised of 790 infantrymen and supporting armor, the Japanese attacked at midnight on the island fortress. However because of Taniguchi's lack of planning, the first landing force met stiff resistance as they were blown off course by strong winds, and struggled to get a foothold on the beach. With this temporary setback, American troops were able to inflict heavy casualties on the Japanese until they were able to reorganize. The landing succeeded largely due to the overwhelming Japanese advantage in numbers, but would come at high cost; the second landing force was almost entirely destroyed when strong winds carried it into range of US machine-guns.
Tanks on Corregidor
|Tsuchida's Chi-Ha Kai on Corregidor.|
When the landings took place at 11:00 PM on a stretch of land between Cavalry and North points, the 7th sent a platoon comprised of the two Chi-Ha Kai tanks and the captured M3 Stuart with the first landing force. Commanders Tsuchida, Takahisa, and Ho were assigned to the three tanks. Ho was commanding the Stuart, while Tsuchida and Takahisa led the Chi-Ha Kai tanks. The presence of Japanese tanks proved effective in boosting the morale of the assaulting infantry they accompanied, and led them to continue assaulting the beaches of Corregidor. Japanese tanks could not account for the weather, however; the 7th’s second tank platoon, which was landing with the second wave of infantry, were blown off course by a storm. Caught in American spotlights, they were destroyed when their transports were sunk by US and Filipino 37mm guns. The crews of the vehicles survived, however, and swam to shore with the rest of the landing troops until they were sent back to Bataan the following day. The remaining forces cleared the beach of American troops by 2:30 AM.
Earning the Title
In spite of the landing’s overall success, the three remaining tanks met with significant challenge. The exit from the landing beach was blocked by a large 50 meter hill near Denver Battery, with many large rocks and rough terrain discouraging easy passage. The Chi-ha Kais commanded by Tsuchida and Takahisa attempted to climb the hill, but met with little success thanks to teething problems and a lack of engine power. Eventually, the M3 Stuart under Commander Ho towed the two Chi-ha Kais up the hill. It was not until 8:30 in the morning that the tanks were able to completely climb the hill. Later that day, the Japanese advance was halted by American infantry counter-attacking from Denver Point on the island's plateau. Caught by surprise, the Japanese took many infantry casualties, and were pinned down by a pillbox to the right of the main axis of Japanese advance. The troops informed Commander Tsuchida of the pillbox to their right, and the Chi-Ha Kai was able to destroy it after a successful first shot, allowing the advance to continue. Commander Ho took his Stuart to move up to the right of the advance to support the infantry.
|Tsuchida's Chi-Ha Kai on Corregidor engaging American Positions.|
The second leg of the Japanese advance, towards American positions on Malinta Hill, was spearheaded by tank commander Tsuchida and his Chi-Ha Kai. As the tanks drew near to the American defensive lines there, they encountered and destroyed prepared positions containing anti tank guns and the few Stuart tanks that had survived the battles on Luzon. This second engagement took place at Water-Tower Hill. The Japanese took no casualties during this engagement since Tsuchida's Kai destroyed or forced the surrender of all resistance met en-route to the American facilities.
Having defeated all American resistance at Water-Tower Hill, the Japanese force took position some distance away from Malinta Hill and dug in awaiting further orders. Intimidated by the presence of the new Japanese medium tanks, on which the US forces on Corregidor had no information, one staff officer of the United States approached Tsuchida's tank with a white flag, asking for a compromise. Tsuchida ordered one of the infantrymen to direct the officer to the Japanese regimental HQ, where after half an hour talks ceased without a viable compromise. The HQ thus ordered for the advance on Malinta Hill to continue. Japanese forces began to open fire as the tanks continued down the road towards Mantila Hill. As they advanced,the Chi-Ha Kai tanks began targeting American pockets of troops scattered around the island's tunnels, with the fiercest fighting taking place near San Joseph tunnel.
|Japanese forces move into the American HQ in the afternoon of May 6th.|
Takahisa's Chi-Ha Kai can be seen at the rear.
Eventually the tanks reached Corregidor's highest point, Malinta Hill. Once stationed there, the two tanks had a commanding view of the remaining American facilities and barracks. To their surprise, a white flag was raised upon their arrival at 2:00 PM, officially surrendering to the Japanese forces on Corregidor. On May 7, General Wainwright officially surrendered to the Japanese landing force, and relayed orders to remaining American forces on Corregidor to lay down their arms. It was at this point that the two Kai tanks under command of Tsuchida and Takahisa were brought to the attention of the Japanese public, and labeled as the "Tigers of Corregidor" in the papers. The American intelligence committee also referred to the new and mysterious medium tank as the “Tiger of Corregidor” until it was to later be known as the Improved Chi-Ha medium tank. While commanders Tsuchida and Takahisa were received as heroes back home, they never single handedly faced endless numbers of American tanks as the myth tends to claim. However, they did force the Americans to surrender the island, a task of equal merit. Their actions were documented in Japanese and American news reports, and the exaggerations therein became the basis for the myth.