Japanese Tanks on Corregidor

A captured M-3 light tank and two Type 97 Kai medium tanks of the Matsuoka Detatchment, 7th Tank Regiment (Sensha Rentai in Japanese) outside the West Entrance of Malinta Tunnel after the surrender on Corregidor. Note captured Navy Dodge ambulance with Japanese Kanji (probably "Mukai Photo" but unclear if that is on the vehicle or added later). When the Japanese landed in Lingayen Gulf in December 1941, Colonel Seinosuke Sonoda (1895-April 6, 1942) the commander of the 7th Tank Regiment quickly alerted his superiors in Japan that the 57mm (2.24 inch) main gun on the Type 89b tanks were inadequate to defeat the armor on the American M-3 light tank. Sonoda was aware of the Type 1 47mm (1.85 inch) anti-tank gun produced in 1941, and urged that it be mated to a new tank design. As a stopgap measure the Japanese put the Type 1 gun into a new turret for the Type 97 Chi-Ha ("Medium [Tank] Third [Design]) from 1937. The turret was redesigned and manufactured by Mitsubishi and the new tank was accepted into service at the Akabane Arsenal, which delivered the new tank to the 2nd Tank Regiment. The new tank was designated the Type 97 Kai ("Restoration") and later the Shinhoto ("New Turret"). In early March 1942, a composite unit of personnel from the 2nd Tank Regiment and the Chiba Tank School were rushed through a familiarization course with the Type 97 Kai and left Japan on March 20, arriving in the Philippines nine days later. Major Hisashi Matsuoka (died June 5, 1942), the detachment commander, affected the link up with the main body of the 7th Tank Regiment on April 1, just in time to assist with the final assault on the Allies' Bataan garrison. Sonoda himself was killed in action on April 6 and Matsuoka took command. He was quickly invalided - most of the 7th Tank Regiment had dysentery or dengue fever - and sent to the hospital. The actual landing on Corregidor on the night of May 5, 1942, fell to the commander of the 2nd Chutai (squadron), Captain Hideo Ho. Ho selected a captured American M-3 tank as his mount while Lieutenant Shigeo Tsuchida and Lieutenant Takahisa drove Type 97 Kais. The Matsuoka Detachment embarked from Lamao. Type 95 light tanks under Lieutenant Akio Waizaumi never made it to the beach. Private First Class Silas K. Barnes of the 4th Marines heard the boat motors from his machine gun position on Infantry Point and for a few moments was able to hit the approaching landing craft that were illuminated by the search lights. He effectively enfiladed Cavalry Beach and cut down many of the Japanese soldiers as they came ashore. The Japanese struggled in the layers of oil that covered the beaches from ships sunk earlier in the siege and experienced great difficulty in landing personnel and equipment. Barnes's gun and one other machine gun position were all that remained of thirteen machine guns from Infantry Point to North Point. The rest had been destroyed by the Japanese bombardment. Tank commander Teruo Izami, in one of the other Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks, later told the Domei New Agency that his tank was hit over 200 times before a "huge shell struck the port side of our boat forcing it to settle gradually. As there was no time to lower our tank, our crew, armed with pistols, swords, and hand grenades plunged into the water." Izami and his crew were wounded and exhausted; they were evacuated to Bataan the next day. Only Captain Ho's three tanks - his one M-3 and two Type 97 Kais - made it ashore. The beach was very rocky and faced a steep cliff. The infantry quickly moved on to engage the Americans. The Type 97s could not climb the cliff, but the American M-3 could. Once Captain Ho's tank surmounted the cliff, he pulled the two Type 97 Kais up by 0830 Hours. At 0900, Master Gunnery Sergeant John Mercurio reported to Malinta Tunnel the presence of enemy armor. Mercurio would die a prisoner of war during the bombing of the "hell ship" Enoura Maru on January 9, 1945. At 1000 4th Marines on the north beaches watched as the Japanese began an attack with their tanks, which moved in concert with light artillery support. Barnes fired on the tanks with his machine gun to no effect. He watched helplessly as they began to take out the American positions. He remembered the Japanese tanks' guns "looked like mirrors flashing where they were going out and wiping out pockets of resistance where the Marines were." The Marines had nothing in operation heavier than automatic rifles to deal with the enemy tanks. Barnes was bayoneted in his position and captured, but he would survive the war as a prisoner of the Japanese. Captain Ho and his tanks began to methodically eliminate American positions with direct fire from their tanks. The Type 97 Kais engaged American soldiers at the Japanese-designated "Sakura position" near Water Tank Hill. They began to climb towards Malinta Tunnel and the Japanese tankers could see Topside and Mile Long Barracks. Allied General Jonathan M. Wainwright had decided to surrender at 1200 Hours. Wainwright agonized over his decision and later wrote, "It was the terror vested in a tank that was the deciding factor. I thought of the havoc that even one of these beasts could wreak if it nosed into the tunnel, where lay our helpless wounded and their brave nurses." Men in Malinta Tunnel were told that tanks were about to breach the complex. Signal Corps radio operator Irving Strobing (March 24, 1920 - July 8, 1997) later wrote, "Someone said a Jap tank was coming up the road to the tunnel, and we all figured he would just drive down the main part of the tunnel and turn the turret from side to side and shoot down and kill us all. So I went to the back of Lateral 12 to take cover. But then they said the tank wasn't coming, and we were called out into the main tunnel for the surrender formalities, and some Jap officers appeared." Strobing survived the war. The disposition of the tanks landed on May 5-6, 1942 is not known. This image appeared in Hitō Hakengun ("Philippine Expeditionary Force") a pictorial history of the Japanese invasion published in Manila in 1943. 930 Type 97 Kai medium tanks were built through 1943. They engaged American M4 Shermans during the Marianas battles in June 1944 and again on Luzon in 1945. The Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto were no match for the American M4 Sherman tanks of the United States Army and Marines. Thanks to axishistory.com for their assistance researching this photo.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
Archival Identifier: 
Hito Hakengun
West Entrance, Malinta Tunnel
Fort Mills