Friday, February 26, 2016

David and the SS Corregidor

It was a long time ago in a place far, far away.   It was the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

This is where David Goodman and the crews and boats of the U.S. Navy Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3 were on the night of Tuesday, December 16, 1941.   It was a new moon that night which meant that there was no moonlight thus making it a very dark night.   He and his crew mates were asleep in nipa huts in Sisiman Cove on the southern end of the island of Luzon.

                      Sisiman Cove

                            Nipa Hut
The PT Boats were normally based at the Cavite Naval Base near Manila Bay.    But the base had been attacked and destroyed by Japanese airplanes on December 10, 1941, so they shifted their base of operations to Sisiman Cove.   David was the radio man for torpedo boat PT-34 which was part of a squadron of six PT-boats:   PT-31, PT-32, PT-33, PT-34, PT-35, and
PT-41.   PT-34 was a famous PT boat and was featured on a poster during the war.
And it even had its own story in a comic book.

The residents of Manila were in a panic after the attack on the Cavite Naval Base.   They were trying desperately to escape the coming Japanese invasion.   The luxury liner SS Corregidor was an inter-island ferry traveling between Manila, Iloilo, Cebu, and Surigao.   Instead of departing at 3:00 pm as it usually did on its Tuesday schedule, it waited until 10:00 pm to depart so as to avoid a daytime air attack from Japanese planes.

The ship was leaving Manila on that dark Tuesday night loaded with approximately 1000 to 1500 passengers fleeing the coming Japanese invasion.   They were seeking safety on the island of Cebu further to the south.   The ship departed at 10:00 pm and was heading across Manila Bay on its way to Cebu.   The entrance of the bay was heavily mined.    These mines could be switched "on" or "off" from the Seaward Defense Command on shore.   Ships leaving the bay were required to notify Seaward Defense Command so that the mines could be switched "off".  Apparently Captain Apolinar Calvo of the SS Corregidor had not given any notification of their departure.   Around 1:00 am a gunboat, the USS Mindanao shined its lights

at the SS Corregidor as a warning that the SS Corregidor was off-course and heading for the armed minefield.   At around 1:00 am that night David and his crewmates were awakened by an enormous explosion.   They looked out over the black waters of Manila Bay and saw the dim outline of a ship sinking at the entrance to Manila Harbor.   It was the SS Corregidor.    It had struck one of the mines that were protecting the entrance to Manila Bay and harbor.   It was a 200 pound mine and the SS Corregidor sunk in four to five minutes.    David and his crewmates on PT-34 along with PT-32 and PT-35 left for the harbor entrance.   When they arrived there were numerous people in the water.   The water had a thick layer of oil on it from the SS Corregidor.   And the people in the water were covered with this oil.    The crewmen of the PT-boats put ladders over the sides of the PT-boats as well as casting ropes out into the water for people to grab onto and then they would haul the rope to the ship with the people holding onto the rope.   They would then lift the people onto the PT-boat which was difficult because the deck of the PT-boat was about three feet from the surface of the water.   It was a long distance to lift someone, especially when they were covered with oil and very slippery.    The other problem was that the deck of the PT-boat flared out slightly beyond the hull.   In the picture below the PT-boat is doing a daytime rescue with a pole and a rope loop.  You can see how the deck of the boat flares out from the hull.   On the PT-32, 34, and 35 boats they were trying to get the people in the water onto the boats as fast as they could before they drowned.
But as the people were pulled up, their life belts would catch on the lip of the deck making it even more difficult to get the survivors on board.    The cork blocks of the life belts were bulky and cumbersome as seen in the picture below.
The fabric of some of the life belts was so worn that the cork blocks could be seen through the fabric.   Each time a passenger was lifted aboard a PT boat their life belt would be thrown back into the water in the hopes that someone else in the water might be able to use it.    They worked all night and were exhausted when morning came and there were no more survivors to be rescued.    Of the 1000 to 1500 passengers, only 280 were saved.   The ship sank quickly, in about 5 minutes, and many were trapped below decks with insufficient time to reach the deck of the SS Corregidor.    Many owed their lives that night to David Goodman and his fellow crewmates on that dark night   To them, the sailors of the PT-boats were lifesavers, and were all heroes in their own right.   Some of the survivors were taken to Corregidor and some to the French ship SS Sinkiang.
                       SS Sinkiang
All of the survivors were eventually transferred back to Manila which is where they started from.   Seems like it was all for naught.    But there was a good ending for the survivors, they were eventually taken to Ilioli on the island of West Visayas which was their original destination.
Sometimes heroes are forgotten with the passage of time.   Let us not forget the heroes of the sinking of the SS Corregidor in Manila Bay at the outbreak of World War II in the South Pacific.    They all deserve to be remembered.
David Goodman then.
David Goodman in old age.   Still a hero.   Yeah, that is his wife making "bunny ears" with her fingers behind both their heads.   She had a terrific zest for life.