The month Manila died

Wed, 03/24/2010 - 00:00
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US Army 240 mm super heavy howziter pulverizes Manila
STM April 23 1967

For their part, the Americans, determined to save lives -- namely that of their soldiers -- lavishly used artillery to pave the way for their infantry assaults. In particular, they wheeled out the giant M1 240 mm Black Dragon Super Heavy howitzer , the largest weapon in the US Army's arsenal. The constant barrages crashed down on buildings, homes, churches, even the Philippine General Hospital. Troops on the ground used tanks, flamethrowers, bazookas, grenades and satchel charges to root out the fanatical defenders.

Breuer remarks that "for the first (and only) time in the Pacific, GIs were engaged in street-to-street, building-to-building, and room-to-room death struggles."

Manila before the war

According to Aluit, "the Americans were responsible for a major part of that rubble and a goodly portion of the blood running in the gutters." He quotes one of the American generals, Walter Krueger, admitting that "much of the destruction was caused by our artillery."

Aluit also quotes US Army historian Robert Ross Smith: "...everything holding up progress would be pounded, although artillery fire would not be directed against structures such as churches and hospitals that were known to contain civilians. Even this last restriction would not always be effective...

"The lifting of restrictions on support fires would result in turning much of southern Manila into shambles, but there was no help for that if the city were to be secured in a resonable length of time, and with reasonable losses."

Manila in 1945

On March 4, when Manila was officially pronounced "liberated", 1,000 men of the 35,000 US soldiers assaulting had been killed. Nearly all the Japanese defenders died. The number of Filipino deaths was at least a hundred times those suffered by the Americans. And the city was nearly levelled.

Nick Joaquin, in Manila, My Manila, recalls that "of the south districts, only Santa Ana remained intact after the Battle of South Manila. Paco, Singalong, Pandacan, Malata and Ermita had all been reduced to rubble. You could stand on the Herran-Paz crossing in Paco, and see all the way up to the Luneta, where the Rizal Monument alone had been left standing."

It was a foretaste of an American military maxim memorably expressed many years and another war later by one US major. Explaining why American forces had pulverized a Vietnamese village he said: "We had to destroy Ben Tre in order to save it."

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