MANILA: THE LAST RESISTANCE
 

 

by
Robert Ross Smith

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After the fighting at the strongpoints, the seizure of Intramuros must in some ways have been anticlimactical to the troops involved. Clearing the Walled City was primarily a victory of U.S. Army artillery, tanks, and tank destroyers over medieval Spanish walls and stone buildings. The subsequent reduction of the government buildings represented the triumph of the same weapons over modern, American-built, reinforced concrete structures. Thus, the investiture of Intramuros and the government buildings was a classical siege conducted with modern weapons. But this is not to detract from the part the infantry--and the dismounted cavalry fighting as infantry--played in these final phases of the battle for Manila. The artillery alone could not win the fight; as usual the last battle belonged to the infantry. Infantry had to move in to secure the ground the artillery had prepared, and infantry took many casualties before the battle ended.

Intramuros

 

Plans and Preparations

Plans for the attack on Intramuros were long in the making, and from the beginning planners had to take into account a number of closely interrelated tactical considerations.1 Available information led to the conclusion that the Japanese defenses were strongest on the southern and eastern sides of the Walled City and that the Japanese expected attack from these, the most logical directions. Japanese garrisons in the Legislative, Finance, and Agriculture Buildings just across Padre Burgos Street southeast of Intramuros could cover these approaches. The 37th Division could, of course, take the government buildings before launching an assault on Intramuros, but it would be easier to attack the government buildings after Intramuros fell.

Conversely, planners deemed it feasible to strike into Intramuros from the west, since Japanese defenses along the west wall, across Bonifacio Street from the Manila Hotel and the South Port Area, appeared weak. But in this case, American troops would first have to clear the South Port Area and then, advancing from the west, would have to attack toward much of their own supporting artillery. The artillery's best positions for close support were on the north and northeast, across the Pasig, and on the east, in the area south from the General Post Office to the City Hall, and much of the artillery ultimately did fire from these areas.

About halfway from the northeast to the northwest corner of Intramuros the ancient wall ended, providing direct access into the Walled City at the Government Mint. The only other obstacle on the north was a low sea wall running along the south bank of the Pasig, and Japanese defenses along the north face appeared weak except at the northeast corner. Planners therefore decided that there would be an excellent chance to execute a successful amphibious assault from the north bank of the Pasig against the north-central side of the Walled City. The planners realized that a prime requisite to such a move would be the emplacement of artillery, tanks, and tank destroyers to provide extremely close support for the attacking infantry.

Since the 37th Division knew that the Japanese had devised an elaborate tunnel system to move troops quickly from one section of Intramuros to another, the division considered it necessary to make more than one assault in order to keep the Japanese off balance and to divide their forces. The division selected a point near the northeastern entrance, Quezon Gate, as the site for the second assault. Because the Japanese blocked and covered both Quezon Gate and Parian Gate, 200 yards to the south, from strong pillboxes just inside the walls, the division decided it would have to employ heavy artillery to blast an additional point of entry through the thick wall just south of Quezon Gate.

An assault near Quezon Gate would require especially strong artillery support, because the Japanese had major defenses near the gate and because they could subject the attacking troops to enfilade fire from the three government buildings to the south. Therefore, artillery would have to neutralize the government buildings during the assault on Intramuros, and smoke would be laid between the government buildings and the east wall of Intramuros to conceal the attackers' movements. Finally, the 1st Cavalry Brigade, operating to the west and southwest of Intramuros, would thwart any attempt of Japanese troops to escape from the Walled City.

Planners devoted considerable attention to the problem of timing the attack. They gave thought to night operations, both to achieve surprise and to ease some of the problems of amphibious assault. Earlier artillery fire had crumbled the sea wall in many places along the south bank of the Pasig and, as a result, much of that bank along the north side of Intramuros was rubble strewn. At high tide, which would occur during the dark of early morning and again in the early afternoon of 23 February, LVT's could make their way across the rubble, while landing craft could float over it in some places to put troops ashore on the quay that ran along the north side of the Walled City.

But the tide could not be allowed to become the controlling factor. The element of surprise to be achieved during the night high tide was not of great moment, for the Japanese knew an assault was imminent and would be prepared for it no matter what the hour. Moreover, a two-pronged attack into such a small area demanded the closest possible co-ordination between artillery support and infantry action, as well as among the various infantry units. Such co-ordination could not be achieved in a night assault.

Planners also decided that the attack could not wait for the afternoon high tide. If the Japanese defenses proved especially strong the assault troops might be unable to gain a foothold within Intramuros before dark, a circumstance that might well lead to the inevitable shambles of a night withdrawal. Having weighed all the factors the 37th Division, with XIV Corps concurrence, finally decided to launch the assault on both the north and the northeast at 0830 on 23 February.2

Having disposed of the problems of time and place, corps and division planners still had to determine how to prepare the way for the infantry. General Beightler, who realized that the attack on Intramuros and the government buildings would probably prove costly, began to think in terms of employing aerial bombardment to raze the Walled City and the other objectives as well. Griswold, the corps commander, agreed to this plan with some reluctance after he had concluded that Intramuros was so strongly defended that the assault there might produce prohibitive casualties unless preceded by intensive aerial bombardment.3

After XIV Corps had made unsuccessful attempts to induce the Japanese within Intramuros to surrender or at least to release the many Filipino civilians they held hostage, General Griswold informed Krueger of the aerial bombardment plan. The corps commander asked Krueger for all the dive bomber squadrons of Marine Air Groups 24 and 32 (from Mangaldan Field at Lingayen Gulf) and for a squadron of Fifth Air Force P-38's equipped to conduct napalm strikes.4