Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Fort Drum (Manila Bay)

The U.S. Army's "concrete battleship," part of the Corregidor fortifications guarding Manila Bay. The unique shape of this coastal fortification, which indeed resembles a dreadnought battleship, was dictated by the narrow island on which it rests. With a length of 350 ft and a maximum width of 144 ft, Fort Drum's main deck towered 44 ft above low water. The exterior walls of this concrete wonder were some 20 ft thick. Drum was armed with 4 twin-turret–mounted 14-inch rifles in a super-firing configuration. Secondary armament was 4 x 6-inch rifles in two double-decked steel casemates.

When Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941, Drum's guns swung into action. The fort's effectiveness was limited by the fact that it was primarily stocked with armor-piercing shells to fight off enemy battleships that never came. Nonetheless, Drum's batteries fired continuously at the Japanese invaders; until late 1942, Drum had the largest guns on land or sea on any front firing at America's enemies. On one occasion, the guns of Drum were supposed to have broken up a Japanese division-sized assault on U.S. forces dug in on Bataan.

During the Japanese attack on Corregidor, not a man of the Fort Drum garrison was killed, and only one was slightly wounded, although the fort was pounded steadily by Japanese shells that ranged up to 240 mm howitzers. The great concrete structure fairly shook under Japanese pounding, but it suffered no major damage.

On 6 May 1942, as a part of the general U.S. capitulation in the Philippines, Drum was ordered to surrender along with the remainder of the Corregidor forts. Filipino-American forces on Bataan had already surrendered the previous month. Fort Drum's garrison had just 20 minutes to disable the fort, but they did it so well that the Japanese were never able to put Drum back into commission, even though one of the main batteries still had its carriage and recoil system intact and its breechblock lying on the turret floor.

With the return of the Americans to the Philippines, Fort Drum became a major target. After intense U.S. air bombardment and one repulsed reconnaissance by a U.S. Navy party that thought the fort abandoned, an American landing party poured diesel oil into the structure and touched it off. The resulting explosion killed the entire Japanese garrison of 70 survivors of the Japanese super-dreadnought Musashi.

Fort Drum still exists, the victim more of inveterate scrap-metal merchants (although the fort is a protected landmark for both the Philippines and the United States) than of the weather or World War II. The main concrete structure seems as imperishable as the Pyramids.

Stanley Sandler


Further Reading
Allen, Francis J. The Concrete Battleship: Fort Drum, El Fraile Island, Manila Bay. Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1989.; Bunker, Paul D. Bunker's War: The World War II Diary of Col. Paul D. Bunker. Keith A. Barlow, ed. Novato, CA : Presidio Press, 1996.; Sandler, Stanley. "Defiant Fort Drum." MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 12, no. 2 (Winter 2000): 98–101.
 

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