The Sinking of SS Corregidor

SS Corregidor photo provided by Chad Hill for the Philippine Diary Project

Looking for an idea for this issue’s column, I reviewed my e-mail files and came across what a friend and classmate, Capt. Frank Bessenger USN (Ret) sent me in April 2011. He recalled his last tour of duty working for the late VADM John D. Bulkeley, USN as a member of the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) in Washington, DC. They conducted all of the USN underway contract acceptance inspections of new ships and submarines and INSURV trials underway on all active duty ships and submarines of the US Navy.

SS Corregidor photo provided by Chad Hill for the Philippine Diary Project

SS Corregidor photo provided by Chad Hill for the Philippine Diary Project

In 1979, they did underway trials on two Destroyers out of Subic Bay and on a Sunday between trials, they visited Corregidor Island where as a PT Boat CO John D. Bulkeley had taken General MacArthur off thru the minefields to be transferred to a submarine in Mindanao, destined for Australia. An account of that visit may be found in http://corregidor.org/chs_mac/bulkeley.htm, where Bulkeley commented on the erroneous identification of the pier from where MacArthur boarded his PT-Boat. But my subject is not about Bulkeley.

In 1940, my father was appointed Asst. City Engineer of Davao City, to where the family moved from Manila. Within a couple of months upon arrival there, he was called to active duty as a First Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, Philippine Army, which was newly-organized, and given command of the Second Davao Training Cadre to prepare recruits for war. To brief all commanders about MacArthur’s War Plan Orange, they were asked to report to Manila for a few weeks’ session in early December 1941. Thus LT Carlos G Agustin PA was there when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 6, 1941 Manila time. All the personnel were inducted into the USAFFE and ordered to report back to their units, and as there were no airlines or military aircraft flying to Davao, it took 10 days before he was able to board the steamship SS Corregidor, jam-packed with passengers and troops.

For some reason, the liner hit our own defensive mine off Corregidor on December 17. My father was never to be found and we only learned that he had perished with the SS Corregidor after the war, when the Philippine Army was able to determine all the facts. His remains, or as far as I know the SS Corregidor itself were never recovered, although the US and Philippine governments did a lot of salvage work after the war. I even remember a neighbor in 1969 who worked for the Central Bank (CB) and was once assigned to be a CB representative on such a project, in case they salvaged gold or currency.

In 2003 I learned that the Manila-based Malayan Towage Co. had a deep submergence vehicle (DSV) coming in, and had gotten a commitment from one of its executives that they would consider a sortie between La Monja Islet and Corregidor Island to seaward. That was the safe channel, with the floating mines used as a gate controlled from Corregidor by the Army. Accounts about the 17 Dec 1941 incident vary, as I later discovered. minefield

Sketch of minefields around Corregidor Island provided by Peter Parsons for
the Philippine Diary Project of Manuel L. Quezon III

In January 2016 an associate led me to a website, www.corregidor.org that contains lots of information, accounts and opinion about the forces and the life on Corregidor, including the Corregidor’s sinking. I recommend that site to US and Philippine historians and researchers.

Perhaps someday, we can find out where the Corregidor lies, and maybe recover much of what perished with it. The Titanic took almost a century; the Musashi, off Romblon took 70 years. The Corregidor, with much lesser area and depth, should have taken much less time.

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