Tojo's troops seemed a little discouraged by their setbacks early in February, and for several weeks left us in doubt as to whether their policy might not have been changed in favor of a starving-out process. Scouting planes and occasional light bombers were still seen almost every day, mostly over our front lines or air fields, but nothing was attempted that could compare with earlier attacks. Perhaps the answer was that the Japs were busy on other projects -- it was during this period that drives on Singapore and Java were in full fury.
Whatever the reason, Navy men in the Mariveles area frequently found themselves on the verge of boredom, and even though the Canopus repair men had plenty of work, other ratings sometimes found time for idle speculation and conjecture. The radio brought us daily news of fighting on other fronts, and broadcasts were always followed by meetings of amateur boards of strategy, intent on devising ways and means by which relief could be sent to the Islands, or routs by which the marooned ships could escape from the trap, to rejoin the Fleet fighting far south of us.
After all, if little merchant ships could slip through to southern Philippine ports and return, as they did several times during this lull, why wouldn't the Canopus or any of the smaller ships have a chance of getting through to Australia? Nevertheless, the answer from the high command was always an emphatic "no", and that was that. Undoubtedly, the Army needed us, and perhaps the soldier's morale might have suffered if they felt the Navy was deserting them. McArthur had said "We sill all stand and fall together." If that was to be the order of the day, so be it -- there must be no question of the Navy's willingness to do its full share.
In spite of rebuffs, our men never quite gave up hope that the situation would some day change so that they could sail the seas again, and they were determined to be ready for that day -- if it came. The fuel in the Canopus tanks was hoarded like gold, representing as it did even more value in terms of possible salvation. The ship's boats were kept tuned up, and many plans laid for just such a dash as Lt. Cmdr. Morrill and his men later made when capture was imminent. Almost anything that would float was an object of speculation as to its possible value in escaping capture if worst came to the worst.
Our prize entry in the "Dunkirk Sweepstakes" was a forty five foot sloop, one of several yachts which had escaped from Manila. This one had come to grief on the rocks of Bataan, to be salvaged later, in spite of many difficulties, by a few officers of the Canopus and Army Engineers. Her bottom was badly pounded, and she had been completely stripped of her fittings. However, our amateur yachtsmen were not to be stopped by such minor obstacles. There was an overturned cargo lighter nearby, which had resisted all efforts to right it. A miniature dry dock was built on the exposed bottom of this lighter, and the sloop was hoisted aboard it for extensive overhaul. An auxiliary engine was gotten from a wrecked automobile, and a new suit of sails and rigging were fitted by loving hands. Rechristened the "Novia," and back in her native element, the dainty little craft was the central figure in many a dream of adventurous passage through the southern seas. On moonlight nights, visiting Army officers and nurses were treated to romantic little cruises in the channels near Corregidor, perhaps helping them forget for a moment the grim realities of war.
The "Novia" was still afloat until the last desperate hours of Corregidor, but no word has come through as to her eventual fate. Perhaps when the War is over, we will learn whether she carried a desperate crew to their deaths in a final effort to win freedom.
Nearly every evening, Army officers and nurses who were able to snatch a few hours leave from their duties, gathered on board the Canopus. We had refrigeration, excellent cooking facilities, and decent living quarters, which seemed heaven to them compared to their hardships in the field. To enjoy a real shower bath, cold drinking water, well-cooked meals served on white linen with civilized table ware, and greatest luxury of all, real butter, seemed almost too much for them to believe. When these favored ones returned to their primitive surroundings and described these "feasts topped off with ice cream and chocolate sauce, they were often put in the same "dog house" as the optimists who claimed to have seen a fleet of transports steaming in.
Our visitors repaid us in full for any hospitality with tales of their own adventures. Captain Wermuth, the famous "one man army" often regaled us with graphic, even grewsome accounts of his many encounters. General Casey, Major Wade Cochrane, Major Kircher, Major Lauman and many others kept up in touch with affairs at USAFFE headquarters and the front lines. Occasionally Marine officers from Corregidor would manufacture reasons for visiting Bataan so that they could visit the Canopus and refresh their memories of better days. Bulkeley and other torpedo boat officers in particular enjoyed our ice cream desserts. We were only sorry when our supplies began to fail toward the end, and we could no longer maintain quite as good hotel service for our friends.
During February the Japs started feeling out the defenses of Corregidor and the other fortified islands. They mounted gun batteries on the south shore of Manila Bay, which made a practice of banging out a few quick shots, then shifting their positions before the ponderous guns of our forts could be brought to bear effectively on them. They would also try to confuse the issue by setting off several false flashes in other locations at the same time their guns were fired. The batteries were usually cunningly concealed behind foliage, or in valleys were they could not be seen from the Army's spotting stations.
Little actual damage was done by these sporadic shellings, but they served to remind the garrisons that they were still in a war, and that the trap was still sprung.
Early in March Bulkeley's torpedo craft slipped out of the harbor on their famous dash to the southern Philippines, carrying as passengers General McArthur and Rear Admiral Rockwell, with their staffs. A few days later, the Japanese learned of their departure, and started a leaflet propaganda campaign among the Filipinos, claiming that our troops had been deserted by their leaders, that further resistance was foolish, and similar arguments. Fortunately, most of the poison had been extracted from their propaganda by the fact that General McArthur's departure had already been announced to the troops, as well as the reason for it.
Occasionally, our submarines, which were prowling the sea lanes looking for Jap ships to sink, would pay us a visit while en route from patrol stations back to their new southern bases. Other submarines also made special visits when required, bringing in vital medical supplies or ammunition of any kind which happened to be urgently needed. Nearly all of these submarines took out passengers when they left - high political personages, Army and Navy officers, and specially trained enlisted men who were badly needed to carry on the war elsewhere. Greatest comfort of all to those left behind were the letters these submarines carried to their loved ones at home. Unfortunately, this service was never organized to bring in mail for the beleaguered forces from distribution centers in the south. Those long months with never a word from home were not the least of our trials, even though we felt that our families were making every effort to get messages to us.
- - -Chapter IX - ->