Historical Article: Blazing Sunset of the Coastal Artillery

historical-article-blazing-sunset-logoThe Siege of the Fortified Islands of Manila Bay 1942

By John Dudek @ The Wargamer

Hundreds of Japanese heavy artillery shells smashed down upon the still smoking, darkness shrouded island fortress of Corregidor in early May 1942, shattering the momentary stillness with ear shattering noise and blindingly bright, explosions. The shells landed all around the fortress’ remaining undamaged coastal gun batteries, and especially upon seacoast mortar Battery Way’s glacis wall and into the gun pit itself. To any onlooker so many staccato shell bursts must have sounded like a near endless machine gun of howling shell fire landing all around the island. As soon as this latest artillery barrage momentarily lifted, Captain “Wild Bill” Massello dashed out of the bomb proof shelter into Battery Way’s gun pit with broom in hand to sweep away this latest batch of blast-broken chunks of concrete and spent shell shrapnel from the approach leading to the last functioning 12-inch sea coast mortar remaining of the four gun battery. The other three mortars had been put out of action following a long week of sustained heavy Japanese artillery bombardment. With the approach now cleared, Massello shouted and waved to the men crouching in the shelter and to those in the nearby reinforced concrete magazine to reload the mortar. Instantly the men dashed from the shelter to service the mortar as several others wheeled a trolley carrying a single 12-inch, high explosive shell from the magazine. As the gun crew man-handled the big 650 lb. anti-personnel shell into the mortar’s breech, a second trolley arrived carrying bags of high explosive propellant. These too were methodically loaded into the breech and they quickly primed the piece before closing the gun’s breechblock. As the gunner re-set the mortar’s range and azimuth settings using his quadrant and the gun’s elevation wheels, another attached the long firing lanyard to the mortar. The gun Captain raised his arm in readiness and he took up the tension on the firing lanyard as the gun crew quickly disappeared once more back into their shelters. He yanked hard on the lanyard and the remaining mortar again roared out its defiance with a flashing, ear splitting roar as the shell arched high over Manila Bay toward Bataan’s Cabcaben Docks several miles away.

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