Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

Colonel William C. Braly



Colonel William Braly was stationed at the Harbor Defense Command Post in Corregidor, where he worked in the Operations Office, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Colonel Braly received the news in the early morning hours of December 8 via a telephone call placed by Captain Bob Brown, personal assistant to Major General Moore, the Commanding General of the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays. All units were already at battle stations, and now they were ordered to assume war positions.

Later in the morning of December 8, the first air raid alarm sounded, and a few hours later, one Japanese bomber was damaged by the Harbor Defenses. Nevertheless, over the next several days, Japanese bombing continued in areas such as the Cavite Navy Yard, Neilson Airport, Nichols Field, and the area surrounding Manila Port. Then on December 14, the Harbor Defense Command Post was moved from its previous location at Topside to Lateral No. 2 in the Malinta Tunnel.

On December 16, the inter-island steamer SS Corregidor, loaded with civilians trying to escape the war zone, hit a mine and sank in only three  minutes, leaving only 280 survivors. The Harbor Defenses had not been alerted regarding the departure of the Corregidor, nor had its departure been approved by the Navy.

On December 24, 1941, Manila was declared an open city, and the troops there were ordered to join the defenses on Bataan. Meanwhile, the High Command--including MacArthur and his family, the U.S. High Commissioner, and President Quezon and his family--came to Corregidor from Manila. Other parties arrived shortly thereafter, and the 4th U.S. Marines regiment, along with Coast Artillery troops, assumed Corregidor's Beach Defenses. Simultaneously, Fort Wint was ordered to evacuate and join the forces in Bataan, and Commander Napoleon Boudreau rejoined the Harbor Defenses.

The Japanese attacked Corregidor on December 29, bombing all sections of the island. On December 30, the Inaugural Ceremonies of the President of the Philippine Commonwealth were held, and the oath of office was issued to Manuel Quezon, who then became President of the War Cabinet. On January 2, the impending attack by the Japanese was realized, and Topside was heavily bombed, and bombing continued for several days. Battery Geary and the Quezon yacht Casiana were struck during this period.

On January 5, the men's rations, including Braly's, were cut in half, and most men began receiving two meals per day. The anti-aircraft regiments initially managed to inflict heavy casualties among the Japanese bombers, and the attacks were momentarily discontinued. However, on January 14, two bomber flights returned and struck Topside. Subsequently, on January 26, Battery Geary successfully fired upon an enemy concentration on Longaskawayan Point, and on January 31, Battery Koehler and Battery Frank North fired upon a Japanese concentration near Ternate.

A fleet submarine from Honolulu brought 3" anti-aircraft mechanical fuze ammunition on February 3, thus allowing the Anti-Aircraft Defense Commander to outfit the C-60th Battery with longer-range ammunition. Three days later, Forts Drum and Hughes withstood enemy artillery fire.

On February 13 and 14, Braly went on a staff visit to various Coast Artillery organizations in Bataan. While Braly was at the 200th Coast Artillery unit, headed by Colonel Gurdon Sage, the Japanese executed a bombing raid on Cabcaben, employing white phosphorous incendiaries and incinerating the town. When Braly returned to Corregidor, he discovered that Forts Drum and Frank were under attack. Batteries from the fortified islands daily returned fire. In the ensuing days, the Japanese sank the harbor boat Neptune as it drew near Fort Frank to deliver supplies and launched an attack on a volunteer working party at Calumpan barrio (a Filipino native village), although the latter managed to drive them off and return to Fort Frank. 

On February 22, Lt. Col. Armand Hopkins, who was commanding Fort Hughes, reported that the construction of a new battery, Battery Williams, was completed. A few weeks later, General MacArthur was ordered to leave for Australia, which he and his family and staff, along with Admiral Rockwell and his 16th Naval District staff, did on March 11, 1942. At this time, the Japanese had managed to set up a blockade of the entire Philippine Islands with air supremacy and navy "Wild Eagles" which made daily rounds. With MacArthur's departure, General Wainwright assumed command of what was now the United States Forces in the Philippines, or USFIP (formerly known as the United States Army Forces in the Far East, or USAFFE) and moved from Bataan to Corregidor.

Braly was with General Moore at a station atop Malinta Hill when the Japanese began shelling Fort Frank on the morning of March 15. Forts Frank and Drum received the heaviest barrage, with damage inflicted to many of the batteries, and a week later, Forts Hughes, Drum, and Frank were again assaulted. Then, on March 24, Corregidor witnessed a ten-day air raid attack with aerial bombardment as well as artillery fire from Cavite. Braly was making his rounds as Operations Officer when the air raid alarm sounded on the morning of March 26. Battery B commenced firing, and one of the Japanese bombers toppled into Manila Bay.

In early April, the Japanese turned their attention to Bataan. On the night of April 8, the G-60th and C-91st anti-aircraft gun batteries were withdrawn. Bataan fell the next day, and General Wainwright ordered that only the 45th Infantry, the aforementioned gun batteries, and the nurses were permitted to be brought to Corregidor, although some men managed to escape from Bataan and find temporary refuge in Corregidor. Meanwhile, Corregidor faced four bombing attacks and Topside received artillery fire from Cavite. The artillery men from Bataan were assigned to artillery missions and the rest joined the Beach Defense, while civilians were drafted as laborers for the Quartermaster, the Army Transport Service, or the Engineers.

The Japanese continued to bombard Corregidor from their observation points on Bataan. On April 17, three B-17s bombed the Japanese at Clark and Nichols Fields, coming from Australia through Mindanao, expending the little remaining stock of aviation gas there. Everything visible from Bataan was being destroyed, and Braly suggested that 155 mm positions defiladed from Bataan be selected. General Moore approved, and ten were selected. Some were positioned with guns to fire counter-battery, and they were moved to different positions each night, hence the designation "roving guns."

Corregidor underwent multiple bombing raids in the days leading up to and encompassing April 29, Emperor Hirohito's birthday. Bombers struck Fort Hughes, Malinta Hill, Bottomside, the Middleside barracks, and North Point. On the night of the 29th, two naval seaplanes, undetected by the Japanese, came from Australia through Mindanao and brought hospital supplies and 740 mechanical fuzes for 3" anti-aircraft ammunition and took back with them fifty passengers, including 38 American nurses.

Bombardment of Corregidor continued around the clock from artillery on Bataan and Cavite and from bombs dropped on Corregidor and Fort Hughes. On May 2, the Coast Artillery Mine Planter Harrison was struck and burned, and the Crockett-Geary was fiercely assaulted, resulting in the shelling and destruction of Battery Geary. On May 3, a U.S. submarine picked up a dozen army and navy officers and approximately 13 American nurses, along with official records, sent out to meet it via Navy small boats.

The next day, May 4, the assault was moved to the Corregidor beaches facing Bataan, and on May 5 all four fortified islands were attacked. At the time, Braly was on duty at the Operations Desk in Harbor Defense Headquarters, and word was received from North Point that some 600 Japanese had landed. The first wave of enemy troops yielded 800  who made it to shore, while 6,000 survived from the second wave. Batteries in the area fired upon the landing party, and the beach defenses engaged in hand-to-hand combat on shore. Meanwhile, Fort Drum fired upon the Cabcaben dock as a wave of landing boats was spotted near the north dock area. Several other batteries took up the fight and were able to repel this attack. However, other landings near Infantry Point compelled the withdrawal in the direction of Malinta Hill. Furthermore, enemy landings near Kindley Field provided the final impetus for Wainwright to inform General Moore that he was going to surrender at noon on May 6, 1942 in order to prevent needless loss of life.

General Wainwright was taken to Bataan to meet with General Homma, the supreme Japanese commander in the Philippines. At 4 p.m., the Japanese took control of the Philippines and landed at Fort Hughes a few hours later, followed by Forts Drum and Frank.

Braly spent the next three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war of the Japanese in various camps. After the surrender of Corregidor, he was taken by boat to Manila. Faced with the decision of what to take with him, he chose his violin, which he had kept in the Malinta Tunnel. He was able to keep it because it had become unglued and was in pieces, therefore discouraging the Japanese from confiscating it.

The men were forced to endure what would become known as the "March of Shame" through Manila to Bilibid Prison. At a Tarlac camp in northern Luzon one month later, Braly was able to obtain "fish" glue from a Filipino cobbler and thereby repair his violin. Braly and the other men from his group were transferred to Karenko on Formosa, and Braly played his violin during short religious services. During the Christmas of 1942, Braly was permitted to assemble a small choir and lead them in singing carols, repairing his broken bow tip with adhesive tape. Later, he was asked to play for the civilian interpreter, Mr. Koga ("Mortimer"), and Lieutenant Wakasugi. Braly's violin even reached Lieutenant "Boots" Nakashima, who told him that he could play despite the restrictions on music. As more men arrived in the camp, Braly assembled and led an orchestra which stayed together through transfers from Formosa to Japan to Manchuria, helping to bolster the otherwise sagging morale of the imprisoned men.

On August 15, 1945, "Victory Over Japan Day," the orchestra performed the national anthems of the POWs' respective countries. Then Braly packed up his faithful fiddle and began the journey homeward. After a month, he reached the seaport of Dairen and boarded a Navy hospital ship to Okinawa. He was then transported to Manila and finally back to the United States, where he debarked with his violin under his arm. In subsequent years, Braly attended an annual reunion instituted by General Wainwright, and he always took his fiddle with him.

Read Braly's full account of the experience on Corregidor prior to surrender

Read Braly's short story entitled "Fiddle and Me"