The principal U.S. units involved in the Battle of Manila, the 37th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division, had not fought in cities before, but they apparently had to some extent been trained for city fighting and followed established doctrine for urban warfare (see Figure 1).  Their methods differed from doctrine on only two points: air strikes were not allowed within the city, and artillery fires in the early phases of the battle were prohibited except against observed pinpoint targets known to be enemy positions.  Both the 37th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division had had abundant recent experience in jungle warfare and were trained, organized, and equipped for fighting in restrictive terrain.  While jungle fighting and urban fighting differ in many respects, tactically both fights have an important similarity in that both take place in restrictive terrain.  Although by happenstance more than planning, these units were fairly well prepared for the kind of tactical fighting they would face in Manila. [xii]

MacArthur set the Manila operation in motion personally on the night of 31 January by visiting 1st Cavalry Division headquarters, then still in the vicinity of the Lingayen beachhead.  The division set out for Manila at one minute after midnight on 1 February, without 24-hour reconnaissance or flank protection.  It employed “flying columns,” battalion-sized forces entirely on wheels to expedite the advance, covered the 100 miles to Manila in 66 hours, and entered the outskirts of the city on 3 February.  MacArthur visited the other major unit that would assault Manila, the 37th Infantry Division, on 1 February and set it in motion toward the city.  It reached the Manila area on 4 February. [xiii]

MacArthur ordered the 1st Cavalry to seize three objectives: Santo Tomás University, where U.S. and Allied internees were held by the Japanese; Malacanan Palace, the presidential residence; and the Legislative Building.  The division’s flying columns moved easily to capture the first two of these, but heavy Japanese resistance kept it from reaching the Legislative Building which lay south of the Pasig River. [xiv]

On 3 February, the 8th Cavalry Regiment entered and liberated Santo Tomás at 2330.  The guards, mostly Formosans, offered little resistance.  Some 3,500 jubilant internees were freed, but 275 Americans were still held hostage in the education building by 63 Japanese troops.  On 5 February, these 63 were escorted through American lines in exchange for release of the hostages.  Suddenly, the 1st Cavalry Division was responsible for feeding and otherwise accommodating the 3,500 freed internees.  This task was complicated by the fact that Japanese forces had cut the division’s lines of communication, by blowing up the Novaliches bridge.  By 5 February, the 1st Cavalry was very low on food for both itself and the internees.  The division was surrounded, as historians of the plodding 37th Infantry Division point out.  The 37th Infantry Division had to “rescue” the 1st Cavalry Division on 5 February by breaking through Japanese positions and reestablishing 1st Cavalry’s supply.  A convoy with food and ammunition reached the division on the evening of 5 February.  The division’s lines of communication continued to be insecure, however.  Japanese forces killed twelve 1st Cavalry drivers during these weeks. [xv]

Administering a city requires not only looking out for the needs of the individual inhabitants, but also safeguarding city functions such as water and power.  Lt. Gen. Krueger was therefore eager to preserve the water and power supplies of Manila as U.S. forces entered the city.  Manila’s steam power generating plant was on Provisor Island, on the south side of the Pasig, and elements of the 37th Infantry Division would not reach it until 9 February.  Manila’s water system lay northeast of the city, and securing and protecting it was one of the first missions assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division.  The main features of the system were the Novaliches Dam, the Balara Water Filters, the San Juan Reservoir, and the pipelines that carried water among these and to Manila.  From 5 to 8 February, the 7th Cavalry Regiment captured all of these facilities intact, despite some being wired for demolitions.  They spent the rest of the battle for the city guarding these installations. [xvi]

The 37th Infantry Division moved into Manila shortly after the 1st Cavalry Division, on an axis of advance just west of 1st Cavalry Division’s.  On 4 February, the 37th Infantry Division moved through the working class Tondo residential district adjacent to the bay and, on its left flank, reached the Old Bilibid Prison where it discovered 1,330 U.S. and Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees left under their own recognizance by retreating Japanese.  The division left them there for the time being because the area outside was not yet secure.  On 5 February, however, fires in the city threatened Bilibid, so the 37th Infantry Division had to evacuate hastily the 1,330 internees and care for them elsewhere.  All available troops and transportation assets were devoted to this emergency move, which was complicated by the fact that many internees were unable to walk.  Divisional troops were heavily engaged in this work, and the internees were moved to the Ang-Tibay Shoe Factory north of the city -- the 37th Infantry Division’s command post.  The division provided cots and food for the internees and dug latrines.  The next day, the fires subsided and the internees were moved back to Bilibid, where their needs could finally be provided for more thoroughly. [xvii]

In the vicinity of Bilibid Prison and southward toward the Pasig, the 37th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division began encountering major Japanese resistance (see Map 1).   As the 1st Cavalry Division moved southward on multilaned Quezon Boulevard, it encountered a defended barricade just south of Bilibid Prison.  The Japanese had driven steel rails into the roadbed, wired a line of trucks together, laid mines in front, and covered the whole roadblock with fire from four machine gun positions.  The barricade of trucks was unusual in Manila, but the minefield covered by obstacles and machine guns would be a common feature of the Japanese defenses both north of the Pasig and elsewhere. [xviii]

The 148th Infantry Regiment had to cross the Estero de la Reina bridge to approach the Pasig but was stymied by mines and five 500-pound bombs on the bridge, by blazing fires in buildings to its right and front, by exploding demolitions and gasoline drums, and by machine gun fires trained on intersections and streets.  Most of the American units approaching the Pasig probably faced similar challenges.  Another feature of the early fighting north of the Pasig was that the Japanese Noguchi Detachment on 5 February set fire to major buildings near the river in order to halt the U.S. advance; the Japanese also exploded demolitions in major buildings and in military facilities.  Until these fires could be brought under control on 6 February, U.S. personnel were forced back from the river, and the U.S. advance was delayed.  The 37th Infantry Division also on 5 February faced interactions with civilians that it would see more of.  “. . . swarms of the native population . . . crowded the streets cheering the American troops, forcing gifts upon them, and . . . engaged in unrestrained looting.”  Both the jubilation and the looting obstructed military operations, and the 37th Infantry Division would see more of both. [xix]

By 7 February, U.S. forces were in control of Manila north of the Pasig.  Surviving Noguchi Detachment troops had withdrawn south across the river and destroyed all of the bridges.  On 5 February, Lieutenant General Oscar W. Griswold, commander of 14th Corps, extended the 37th Infantry Division’s area of control eastward into what had been the 1st Cavalry Division’s zone, and also gave 1st Cav responsibility farther to the east.  This change made possible the next phase of operations in which the 37th Infantry Division would fight its way across the Pasig in the downtown area while the 1st Cavalry Division swept wide around the city, east, south and west again to the bay, thus isolating the Japanese defenders from any source of resupply or relief. [xx]

Many cities contain harbors or lie on rivers so that urban warfare frequently requires some amphibious warfare assets.  On 7 February, the 37th Infantry Division began the difficult work of crossing the Pasig.  The 148th Infantry Regiment crossed first at 1515.  Troops had the benefit of an amphibious tractor battalion and thirty engineer assault boats.  They were covered by artillery fire and smoke and departed from four different concealed launch points.  The first wave crossed without incident, but the second was raked by machine gun and automatic cannon fire from Japanese positions lying to the west on the south bank of the Pasig.  These fires shattered some of the plywood boats and oars.  Troops paddled on as best they could with oar handles and rifle butts.  The landing area was the Malacanan Gardens, the only point on the south bank without a seawall that would obstruct amphibious tractors and disembarkment.  Troops found few Japanese in the disembarkment area and established a bridgehead with little difficulty.  On 8 February, the 37th Infantry Division built a pontoon bridge across the Pasig to support the bridgehead.  The bridge had two tracks, one for personnel and one for vehicles.  No sooner was the bridge built, however, than hundreds of Philippine civilians began pouring across it from south to north, trying to escape the fighting. [xxi]