Crossing the Pasig River

 

Provisor Island

As planned, the 129th Infantry crossed the Pasig on the afternoon of 8 February and swung west toward Provisor Island.26 One company attempted to cross the unbridged Estero de Tonque to the east end of the island that evening, but Japanese rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire pinned the troops in place. The effort was called off in favor of an assault behind artillery support the next morning.

Provisor Island, about 400 yards east to west and 125 yards north to south, was bordered on the north by the Pasig River, on the east by the Estero de Tonque, and on the south and west by the Estero Provisor. Five large buildings and many smaller shed-like structures covered almost every foot of the island's surface. Three of the large buildings were of concrete, the rest were frame structures sided and roofed with sheet metal. The Japanese garrison, probably members of the 1st Naval Battalion, fluctuated in strength, being reinforced as the need arose by means of a bridge across the Estero Provisor on the west side of the island. Japanese fortifications were of a hasty nature, most of them sandbagged machine gun emplacements within buildings or at entrances. From positions to the west, southwest, and south other Japanese forces could blanket the island with all types of support fire.

Following the scheduled artillery preparation, Company G, 129th Infantry, moved up to the mouth of the Estero de Tonque at 0800 on 9 February. The company planned to shuttle across theestero in two engineer assault boats to seize first a boiler plant at the northeast corner of the island. The first boat, eight men aboard, got across safely, but the second was hit and two men were killed; the survivors swam and waded to the island. By 0830 fifteen men of Company G had entered the boiler plant, only to be thrown out almost immediately by a Japanese counterattack. They then took refuge behind a coal pile lying between the boiler house and the west bank of Estero de Tonque.

Rifle and machine gun fire from the boiler plant and from the main powerhouse just to the south pinned the fifteen down. The 129th Infantry was unable to reinforce them, for the Japanese had the Esteros Provisor and de Tonque covered with rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire. Immediate withdrawal proved equally impossible--two other men had already been killed in an attempt to swim back across the Estero de Tonque.

With close support--so close that the fifteen survivors had to keep prone--from the 2d Battalion's mortars, Company G's isolated group hung on for the rest of the day while the battalion made plans to evacuate them so that artillery could again strike the island. After dark Company G's commander, Capt, George West, swam across the Estero de Tonque dragging an engineer assault boat behind him. Although wounded, he shuttled his troops back to the east bank in the dim light of flames from burning buildings on and south of the island. When a count was taken about midnight, Company G totaled 17 casualties--6 men killed, 5 wounded, and 6 missing--among the 18 men, including Captain West, who had reached Provisor Island during the previous eighteen hours.

For the next hour or so the 37th Division's artillery and mortar fire blanketed the island as Company E prepared to send ninety men over the Estero de Tonque in six engineer assault boats. The fires had died down by the time the craft started across the stream at 0230, but the moon chose to come out from behind a cloud just as the first two boats reached shore safely. A hail of Japanese machine cannon and mortar fire sunk the next three boats while on the island a small fuel tank flared up to expose the men already ashore. Hugging the coal pile, Company E's troops remained pinned down until almost 0500, when the moon disappeared and the fuel fire burnt itself out.

 
PROVISOR ISLAND, 
lower left center.

 

Quickly, the men dashed into the boiler plant. A macabre game of hide and seek went on around the machinery inside until dawn, by which time Company E had gained possession of the eastern half of the building. The Japanese still held the western half.

On the 10th, Company E slowly cleaned out the rest of the boiler house, but every attempt to move outside brought down the fire of every Japanese weapon within range of Provisor Island--or so it seemed to the troops isolated in their industrial fortress. Therefore, Company E held what it had while division artillery and mortars pounded the western part of the island, as did tanks and tank destroyers from positions on the north bank of the Pasig. In the afternoon TD fire accidentally killed 2 men and wounded 5 others of Company E, which, through the day, also suffered 7 men wounded from Japanese fire. During the night Company E sent another 10-man squad across the Estero de Tonque to reinforce the troops already on the island. Artillery, tanks, tank destroyers, and 81-mm. mortars kept up a steady fire in preparation for still another attack the next morning.

After dawn on the 11th, Company E found that resistance had largely collapsed on the island and that as division artillery continued to pound known or suspected Japanese mortar and artillery positions to the south and west, the volume of Japanese fire previously sent against the island had greatly diminished. Searching cautiously and thoroughly through the rubble of the now nearly demolished buildings of the power plant, Company E cleared all Provisor Island by midafternoon and secured a foothold on the mainland, west across Estero Provisor.

The task of securing the island had cost the 2d Battalion, 129th Infantry, approximately 25 men killed and 75 wounded. From one point of view the losses had been in vain. The Americans had hoped to secure the power plant intact, but even before troops had reached the island the Japanese had damaged some equipment, and what was left the Japanese and American artillery and mortars ruined. There was no chance that the plant would soon deliver electric power to Manila.

The 1st Battalion, 129th Infantry, on the 2d Battalion's left, had been stalled until the 10th both by the Japanese fire supporting the Provisor Island garrison and by lesser Japanese strongpoints in an industrial area west of Cristobal Street. But by evening on the 10th, the 1st Battalion had moved its left up to the Estero de Paco, abreast of the 148th Infantry, while its right had pushed on to the Estero de Tonque. These gains cost the 129th Infantry another 5 men killed and nearly 20 wounded.