09 Aug 22
Posted by: ANDY FIELD

I enjoyed looking at both of these books, which put me in mind of the paperbacks Purnell used to publish in the 1970s, to support their part-work History of the Second World War. In both cases, the books were highly illustrated with a good, serviceable text as a commentary.

Corregidor: Siege and Liberation covers the Japanese capture of the American fortress, a defeat which ranked in significance with that at Singapore and which was no less traumatic. The first five chapters take us through why the Americans were in the Philippines, Japan’s successful assault, compounded by General MacArthur’s mistake of attempting to halt the invaders on the beaches, contrary to orders, and the campaign which subsequently forced the garrison of between 60,000 – 80,000 US and Filipino officers and men and a further 40,000 civilians to surrender at Bataan, leaving 4,400 US Army personnel, 1,352 US Marines, 1,715 US Navy and Filipino personnel and 2,000 civilians to hold out on Corregidor  for five months, only surrendering in May 1942 after being subjected to constant aerial and artillery bombardment.

The last three chapters cover the liberation operations carried out in 1945, following aerial and naval bombardments. Spearheaded by a US paratrooper assault, US forces doggedly ground down the Japanese, whose defence is described as ferocious, but uncoordinated and disjointed. And, ultimately hopeless. The deliberate detonation of an underground arsenal on 26th February killed the last 200 defenders, as well as 50 US personnel.

Battle of Leyte Gulf starts with an introductory chapter outlining the invasion of the Philippines, followed by a chapter on the Leyte landings and a third covering the Japanese naval forces available. The next three chapters cover the battles of the Sibuyan Sea on 24th October, Sulu Sea and Suriago Strait on 24th-25th October, Samar on the 25th and Cape Engano on 25th – 26th October. The real value here is seeing all of these engagements “of a piece”, so to speak, all a part of a bigger naval campaign, including the use of Japanese aircraft carriers as decoys, the famous defence of the escort carriers of Taffy 3 and the controversy (covered extensively in other works) surrounding Halsey’s signals regarding his intentions to form his fast battleships into TF34, and the subsequent misunderstanding by Admiral Kinkaid. This issue is covered in the final chapter.

Overall, the authors conclude that the net result was a series of devastating US victories. As the authors point out, over 200,000 men were involved in a series of battles that spanned more than 100,000 square miles and saw 254 ships employed. Of these, the Japanese lost three battleships, one large and three light carriers, six heavy, and four light cruisers and nine destroyers, losses that  that effectively ended any further serious opposition from the Imperial Japanese Navy, forcing them onto the defensive and to the use of suicide attacks on US and RN ships.

Kinkaid was, with justification, angered by Halsey’s actions and by his not being officially sanctioned for, in effect, contributing to the loss of 1,583 sailors from Taffy 3, unlike ‘Ziggy’ Sprague, the force’s commander, who apparently bore Halsey no malice. Although debates still continue, the authors have made the decision not to become further embroiled. Sprague and Halsey ending their differences is a good point for them to stop.

I enjoyed both books. I’m always in awe of the photographers who risked their own lives, at times, to chronicle these events. Some of the photographs have appeared in numerous other books, journals and articles, but several were new to me. Most tellingly, for me, was the contrast in the faces of Alfred Sorenson, a released POW, captured on Corregidor in May 1942, pictured eating a full meal  onboard the hospital ship, Benevolence, on page 180,  with that of Chief Yeoman Edwin D Williams, pictured on USS Rescue, one month later. Surely a study in contrasts.

I think this is an excellent series and I’d thoroughly recommend both books, not just for their photographs, but to anyone who wanted an introduction to either campaign.