Battles that changed the course of history (8)

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By Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

Speaking Out

Sunday, March 1, 2015


THE total number of civilian casualties reached 100,000. An estimated 80 per cent were victims of massacres and other Japanese atrocities. The rest were collateral damage – victims of “friendly fire”. The month-long Battle of Manila rendered the city heavily devastated, next only to Warsaw in terms of destruction during World War II. In addition to private homes and property, important government buildings and landmarks with great historical and cultural value were leveled.

Initially, McArthur tried to limit the shelling of Japanese positions but as US troop casualties continued to mount, McArthur lifted restrictions in the bombardment.

As the fighting raged, civilians who could still escape from the city tried to cross the Pasig River. Ambassador Antonio Cabangon Chua (then 9 years old) recalled how he and his mother Dominga tried to make it to safety. They were joined by a stream of refugees. Behind them was South Manila going up in flames.

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“The bombs were bursting all over, but I was a child and it wasn’t the explosions of war that scared me but the sights and smells of war. What especially horrified me was the smell of death. The dead lay everywhere, blocking our path. We had to make our way to the crossing over dead bodies, bloated bodies, rotting bodies. I was crying with terror and I told my mother I didn’t want to pass that way – but there was no other way. I didn’t know rotting corpses had so strong a smell!”

Admiral Iwabuchi had ordered the fortification of several strong points in the center of Manila. Buildings of strong material were ringed by Japanese pillboxes. Streets leading to the mini-fortresses were mined and protected by barricades and barbed wire.

From several jump off points north of the Pasig, Allied troops crossed the river aboard assault boats on Day 5. From Malacanan Palace, part of the Northern Force crossed over to the Malacanan Palace ground. Shortly, the Allied troops met stiff resistance in their attempt to capture Provisor Island, site of the steam driven power plant which supplied electricity to Manila. Provisor Island was taken after four days of intense fighting.

Meanwhile, the Southern Force recaptured PGH, UP and Assumption College on Day 15. The Southern Force earlier overran the Rizal Baseball Stadium and Fort Antonio Abad. (Day 11)

One by one, Japanese outer perimeter defenses fell. On Day 17, Japanese troops retreated to Intramuros and also reinforced their “inner strongholds” at the Legislative Building, the Agriculture Building (Admiral Iwabuchi’s headquarters) and the Finance Building.

By Day 18, the following objectives were in Allied hands: New Police Station, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Manila Club, General Post Office and City Hall.

By Day 20, Manila Hotel, the pre-war residence of MacArthur, was declared cleared.

Allied troops brought intense firepower to bear on Intramuros to breach its ultra-thick walls. The Allied troops met with stubborn resistance from Japanese soldiers entrenched in Ft. Santiago, Quezon Gate, Parian Gate, Puerta Isabel, Sto. Domingo and Intendencia.

“The hardest fighting in Intramuros was the effort to capture Fort Santiago on the northwest corner of the old walls. They fought room to room, and then through subterranean dungeons and tunnels, using flamethrowers, phosphorous grenades, demolitions and bazookas.”

With the capture of Fort Santiago, Intramuros fell on Day 24. A diary belonging to one Lt. Hoichiro Miyazawa narrated what happened later that day at Iwabuchi’s headquarters just a stone’s throw away. “Admiral Iwabuchi called survivors of the Manila Naval Defense Force to his headquarters at the Agriculture Building – he apologized for placing them in the dismal situation they were in. He said: "If anyone has the courage to escape, please do so. If not, please take your lives here.’ He then went to his own room and committed suicide."

On Day 25, even while guns rumbled in the distance, McArthur turned over the reigns of government to President Sergio Osmena in a “simple, brief but impressive ceremony” inside Malacanan Palace.

On Day 26, the Legislative Building, after being subjected to continuous artillery, literally fell on its side and was retaken. On the same day, the Allied troops resumed their assault on Iwabuchi’s headquarters - the Agriculture Building. By that time, Iwabuchi had already been dead for two days.

“On February 28, the regiment returned to the Agriculture Building with a three-hour artillery preparation. Point-blank 155mm howitzer fires alternated with point-blank tank and tank-destroyer fires….. Much of the Agriculture Building thus pancaked on its own first floor, and the 5th Cavalry Regiment assaulted into what was left. ” Iwabuchi’s remains were never recovered.

The fighting flared for three more days as the Allied troops tried to retake the last Japanese stronghold – the Finance Building. On Day 29, US troops cleared the last of the Japanese defenders.

Thus, the month-long Battle of Manila ended. In the process, one-tenth of the civilian population perished. Manila, the Pearl of the Orient, was left in total ruins. But the war was still far from over.

(To be continued)

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