13 - 22 February, 1945

The Battles at the Strongpoints


A Forecast

After 12 February XIV Corps troops found themselves in a steady war of attrition. Street-to-street, building-to-building, and room-to-room fighting characterized each day's activity. Progress was sometimes measured only in feet; many days saw no progress at all. The fighting became really "dirty." The Japanese, looking forward only to death, started committing all sorts of excesses, both against the city itself and against Filipinos unlucky enough to remain under Japanese control. As time went on, Japanese command disintegrated. Then, viciousness became uncontrolled and uncontrollable; horror mounted upon horror. The men of the 37th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division witnessed the rape, sack, pillage, and destruction of a large part of Manila and became reluctant parties to much of the destruction.

Although XIV Corps placed heavy dependence upon artillery, tank, tank destroyer, mortar, and bazooka fire for all advances, cleaning out individual buildings ultimately fell to individual riflemen. To accomplish this work, the infantry brought to fruition a system initiated north of the Pasig River. Small units worked their way from one building to the next, usually trying to secure the roof and top floor first, often by coming through the upper floors of an adjoining structure. Using stairways as axes of advance, lines of supply, and routes of evacuation, troops then began working their way down through the building. For the most part, squads broke up into small assault teams, one holding entrances and perhaps the ground floor--when that was where entrance had been gained--while the other fought through the building. In many cases, where the Japanese blocked stairways and corridors, the American troops found it necessary to chop or blow holes through walls and floors. Under such circumstances, hand grenades, flame throwers, and demolitions usually proved requisites to progress.6

Casualties were seldom high on any one day. For example, on 12 February the 129th Infantry, operating along the south bank of the Pasig in the area near Provisor Island, was held to gains of 150 yards at the cost of 5 men killed and 28 wounded. Low as these casualty figures were for a regimental attack, the attrition--over 90 percent of it occurring among the front-line riflemen--depleted the infantry companies' effective fighting strength at an alarming rate.

Each infantry and cavalry regiment engaged south of the Pasig found a particular group of buildings to be a focal point of Japanese resistance. While by 12 February XIV Corps knew that the final Japanese stand would be made in Intramuros and the government buildings ringing the Walled City from the east around to the south, progress toward Intramuros would be held up for days as each regiment concentrated its efforts on eliminating the particular strongpoints to its front. There was, of course, fighting practically every step of the way west from Estero de Paco and north from Pasay suburb in addition to the battles at the strongpoints. This other fighting was, however, often without definite pattern--it was laborious, costly, and time consuming, and no single narrative could follow it in detail. It was also usually only incidental to the battles taking place at the more fanatically defended strongpoints. In brief, the action at the strongpoints decided the issue during the drive toward Intramuros.