Spanish colonial era
The island fell under Spanish sovereignty in May 19, 1570 when Manila Bay (Luzon) was taken by the advancing forces of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Legazpi was authorized by the Spanish Crown to establish the capital in Manila and expelling or converting the Muslims from Mindanao and Luzon. Corregidor was used as a support site for the nine Spanish galleys used during the campaign.
Under the Spanish rule, Corregidor served not only as a fortress of defense, a penal institution, and a station for Customs inspection, but also as a signal outpost to warn Manila of the approach of hostile ships. Corregidor came from the Spanish word corregir, meaning “to correct.” One story states that, due to the Spanish system wherein all ships entering Manila Bay were required to stop and have their documents checked and corrected, the island was called Isla del Corregidor (literally, Island of Correction). Another version claims that the island was used a penitentiary or correctional institution by the Spanish and came to be called El Corregidor.
On November 23, 1574, the Chinese pirate Limahong and his 65 vessel fleet, with 3,000 men anchored between Corregidor and Mariveles. From that site he launched two successive attacks against Manila, commanded either by Limahong himself or the Japanese Sioco. Both of them failed their purpose before a fierce battle defense led by the governor Juan de Salcedo.
In November and December 1600, the surroundings of Corregidor Island were used as berth by the Dutchman Olivier van Noort. His sailboats Mauritius and Hendracht were engaged in pirate activities on the sailing route to and from Manila. This situation was overcome after the naval combat of Fortune Island on December 14, 1600. As a result, Spain lost its ship San Diego but captured the Dutch sailing boat Hendracht and Oliver van Noort retired from the Philippines.
As a consequence of these events, and also to prevent a sneak attack by the Muslims from Mindanao, a watch vessel was settled in Corregidor to control the entrance to the bay. According to data from 1637, this vessel had a crew of twenty men, who were paid 540 pesos a year to perform this vigilance task.
Corregidor Island was taken over by the Dutch in June 1647 and from there they launched an offensive against Cavite which was repelled by the Spanish garrison, under command of Andre Lopez de Azalduigui. However, the Dutchmen would remain in the island for seven more months as it served them well as an operations base to intercept Chinese merchant traffic in the vicinity of Luzon and Cebu. Finally they withdrew with little of heir expectations fulfilled.
During the British attack and its following invasion of Manila and Cavite in October 1762 by the Royal Navy and the British Army troops of Admiral Cornish and General Draper, Corregidor was used as a anchorage for warships, particularly the HMS Panther and the captured warship, the Spanish galleon Santisima Trinidad, during November 1762.
The arrival of the Spanish fleet, led by General Ignacio Mario de Alava, with the mission to place the Philippine Islands on alert, did not affect the luck of Corregidor Island. He limited his activity to the setting up of a naval station at Cavite.
On January 18, 1853, the Corregidor Island Lighthouse was first lit on the highest part of the island to mark the entrance of Manila Bay to vessels coming in from the West Philippine Sea(South China Sea). The Spanish government built the Second-Order light, which is situated 639 feet (195 m) above sea level and visible for 20 miles (32 km).
Corregidor Island was included in the Philippines defense plan presented in 1885 by General Cerero, but no action was taken. When the U.S. Navy’s attack was thought to be imminent, a 12 cm gun, the “Hontoria System”, which came from the Spanish Navy’s cruiser Antonio de Ulloa and two shorter ones of the same caliber, from the Spanish warship Lezo, were installed on the rocky island El Fraile. On the south side of Corregidor, the Spanish army installed three 18 cm artillery pieces which came from the Spanish navy cruiser Velasco which was undergoing reparation works.
On the midnight of April 30 to the 1st of May 1898, U.S. Navy Commodore George Dewey led his naval squadron, with his flag hoisted on board the armored cruiser USS Olympia, eastward along the southern coast of Corregidor Island, beyond the reach of Spanish batteries and with no navigational lights on.
At a distance about one mile off El Fraile, Dewey’s fleet changed course to the North East, steaming towards Manila. When they were discovered, the Spaniards fired from El Fraile’s artillery. American response followed immediately, first by the McCulloc and then by the Boston, Raleigh and Concord. Since the fleet speed was ten knots, they were soon far away from the Spanish batteries. Dewey sailed for Cavite where he destroyed the naval forces of Admiral Monojo.
Once the Cavite shipyard was subdued by means of a Stipulated Pact, two American ships went ashore at Corregidor Island on the 3rd of May forcing the Spaniards on the island to surrender. Colonel Garces, chief of the coast batteries at the entrance of Manila’s Bay, and the island’s governor, First Class Naval Lieutenant, Augusto Miranda, were urged to come to terms with the Americans, and so they did. Therefore, Miranda remained on the island with only 100 soldiers and the Spanish Flag on top; Garces and officers under his command, as well as 292 men with their weapons and ammunition, were transferred to the Mariveles port. From there they were conducted along the provinces of Bataan and Pampanga until they reached Manila on the 5th of May. There they joined the Navy battalion which was already quartered in Sampaloc.
On the 4th of May, the American ships opened fire against the 100 men who, according to the pact had been left on Corregidor and demanded the garrison forces be reduced to 25 men. The Spanish governor consulted Manila authorities, and they ordered the evacuation of the island. The troops were sent to Naic, Cavite on boats while the governor was transferred to the American cruiser USS Baltimore and became a prisoner with his family. The Americans offered to liberate him but the Navy Lieutenant rejected. Shortly afterwards, he was disembarked in Balanga, Bataan. In this way, the Spanish presence on Corregidor Island, which had lasted 328 years, came to an end.
American Colonial Period
In 1902, the island was organized as an American military reservation. In 1903, a convalescent hospital was established by the United States Army.
In 1908, a Regular Army post was established on the island, designated as Fort Mills, in honor of Brigadier General Samuel Meyers Mills, Jr., Chief of Artillery of the U.S. Army from 1905 to 1906. By early 1909, H Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Corps of Engineers was assigned to Corregidor and started on the construction of concrete emplacements, bomb-proof shelters, and trails at various parts of the island. This pioneer engineer company left Fort Mills on March 15, 1912. All or part of 35 different numbered Coast Artillery Corps companies served tours at Fort Mills between 1909 and 1923.
The defense of Corregidor was the immediate responsibility of the Philippine Coast Artillery Command, commanded by Major General George F. Moore at the start of World War II. Stationed on the island after the return to the regimental system in 1924 were the following regular units:
- 59th Coast Artillery (U.S. Regular Army)
- 60th Coast Artillery AA (U.S. Regular Army)
- 91st Coast Artillery (Philippine Scouts)
- 92nd Tractor Drawn Coast Artillery (Philippine Scouts)
- Headquarters, Harbor Defenses of Manila and the Seaward Defense Command.
The Army post on Corregidor was named Fort Mills, that on Caballo Island (Fort Hughes), on El Fraile Fort Drum, and on Carabao Island, Fort Frank. According to the war plan, these forts were supposed to be able to make a six-month stand, after which aid would presumably come from the United States. The fortifications on Corregidor were designed solely to beat off a seaborne attack. When American military planners realized that airplanes would one day render Fort Mills obsolete, the United States was restricted from improving the fortifications by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. After this, the U.S. Army constructed the Malinta Tunnel, with its series of related laterals, to protect its military stores and vital installations in the event of war.
The island, which sheltered Fort Mills, was a prized piece of real estate. Its defense installations had cost the U.S. government more than 150 million dollars. This amount did not include the expenditure for fortifying the neighboring islands of Caballo, Carabao, and El Fraile.
There were 65 miles (105 km) of paved roads and trails on the island and 19.5 miles (31.4 km) of electric railroad track. The latter were used largely to haul heavy equipment and ammunition from Bottomside to the different Batteries. The Corregidor High School was where children of both Filipino and American servicemen assigned on the island studied. The island also had an electric trolley system as public transport, a movie house (Cine Corregidor), a baseball field and a swimming pool. The business and social center of this community was found on Topside.
Before the war and during the siege, Corregidor depended most of its potable water from Bataan. For this purpose, barges were used to haul water either from Mariveles or Cabcaben, Bataan.
World War II
During World War II, Corregidor was the site of two costly sieges and pitched battles—the first during the first months of 1942, and the second in January 1945—between the Imperial Japanese Army and the U.S. Army, along with its smaller subsidiary force, the Philippine Army.
During the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42), the Japanese Army invaded Luzon from the north (at Lingayen Gulf) in early 1942 and attacked Manila from its landward side. The American and Filipino troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, retreated into the Bataan Peninsula, west of Manila Bay. The fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 ended all organized opposition by the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) to the invading Japanese forces on Luzon in the northern Philippines. They were forced to surrender due to the lack of food and ammunition. Eventually, Corregidor and its adjacent islets at Manila Bay became the final bastions for holding out against the enemy, antithesis to being the first line of defense for Manila.
Between December 24, 1941 and February 19, 1942, Corregidor became the temporary location for the Government of the Philippines. On December 30, 1941, outside the Malinta Tunnel, Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osmeña were inaugurated respectively as President and Vice-President of thePhilippines Commonwealth for a second term. General Douglas MacArthur also used Corregidor as Allied headquarters until March 11, 1942. The Voice of Freedom, the radio station of the USAFFE (United States Army Forces in the Far East) broadcasted from Corregidor, including the famous announcement of the fall of Bataan. In April 1942, one Battalion of the Fourth Marines, were sent to reinforce the island’s beach defenses.
The Battle of Corregidor was the culmination of the Japanese campaign for the conquest of the Philippines. The island bastion of Corregidor, with its network of tunnels and formidable array of defensive armament, along with the fortifications across the entrance to Manila Bay, were the remaining obstacle to the 14th Japanese Imperial Army of Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma. The American and Filipino soldiers on Corregidor and the neighboring islets held out against the Japanese to deny the use of Manila Bay, but the Japanese Army brought heavy artillery to the southern end of Bataan, and proceeded to block Corregidor from any sources of food and fresh water. Japanese troops forced the surrender of the remaining American and Filipino forces on May 6, 1942.
The battle for the recapture of Corregidor occurred between 16th and 26th of February 1945, by American and Filipino forces which liberated the island fortress from the Japanese hands.