Fort Drum (El Fraile Island)
History and museums
Fort Drum (El Fraile Island), also known as "the concrete battleship," is a heavily fortified island situated at the mouth of Manila Bay in the Philippines, due south of Corregidor Island. The reinforced concrete fortress shaped like a battleship was built by the United States in 1909 as one of the harbor defenses at the wider South Channel entrance to the bay during the American colonial period. It was captured and occupied by the Japanese during World War II, and was recaptured by the U.S. after igniting oil and gasoline in the fort, leaving it permanently out of commission.
The now abandoned fort was named after Brigadier General Richard C. Drum, who served with distinction during the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War and died on October 15, 1909, the fort's year of construction. The island and the other former harbor defenses of Manila Bay fall under the jurisdiction of the City of Cavite in Cavite province.
The Board of Fortifications chaired by William H. Taft recommended that key harbors of territories acquired by the United States after the Spanish–American War be fortified. Consequently, El Fraile Island was fortified and incorporated into the harbor defenses, Manila and Subic Bays.
Initially Fort Drum was planned as a mine control and mine casemate station. However, due to inadequate defenses in the area, a plan was devised to level the island, and then build a concrete structure on top of it armed with two twin 12-inch (300 mm) guns. This was submitted to the War Department, which decided to change the 12-inch (300 mm) guns to 14-inch (360 mm) guns mounted on twin armoured turrets. The forward turret, with a traverse of 230°, was mounted on the forward portion of the top deck, which was 9 ft (2.7 m) below the top deck; the rear turret, with a full 360° traverse, was mounted on the top deck. The guns of both turrets were capable of 15° elevation, giving them a range of 19,200 yards (17,600 m). Secondary armament was to be provided by two pairs of 6-inch (150 mm) guns mounted in armoured casemates on either side of the main structure. There were two 3-inch (76 mm) mobile AA guns on "spider" mounts for anti-aircraft defense.
Overhead protection of the fort was provided by a 20-foot (6.1 m) thick steel-reinforced concrete deck. Its exterior walls ranged between approximately 25 to 36 ft (7.6 to 11.0 m) thick, making it virtually impregnable to enemy naval attack.
Construction began in April 1909 and lasted for five years. The rocky island was leveled by U.S. Army engineers and then was built up with thick layers of steel-reinforced concrete into a massive structure roughly resembling a battleship, 350 ft (110 m) long, 144 ft (44 m) wide, and with a top deck 40 ft (12 m) above water at mean low tide. The 14-inch (360 mm) M1909 guns and their two custom built turrets, dubbed Batteries Marshall and Wilson, were delivered and installed by 1916. The secondary 6-inch (150 mm) M1908MII guns, Batteries Roberts and McCrea, were installed the same year.
Searchlights, anti-aircraft batteries, and a 60-foot (18 m) lattice-style fire control tower were mounted on the fort's upper surface. The living quarters for the approximately 240 officers and enlisted men along with the power generators, plotting rooms and ammunition magazines were located deep inside the fort.
The successful invasion of Luzon by the Japanese Imperial Army in late December 1941 quickly brought land forces within range of Fort Drum and the other Manila Bay forts. Just before the outbreak of war in the Pacific on December 7, 1941, Fort Drum had been restaffed with men and officers of the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment (E Battery). The wooden barracks located on the fort's deck were dismantled to provide an unobstructed field of fire for Battery Wilson. On January 2, 1942, Fort Drum withstood heavy Japanese air bombardment. On January 12, 1942, a Model 1906 3-inch (76 mm) seacoast gun with a pedestal mount was installed at Fort Drum to help protect the fort's vulnerable "stern" section from attack, and it was dubbed as Battery Hoyle. The very next day on January 13, before the concrete emplacement was fully dry and the gun had been bore-sighted or checked for assurance level, it became the first American battery of seacoast artillery to open fire on the enemy in World War II when it drove off a Japanese-commandeered inter-island steamer apparently bent on a close inspection of Fort Drum's vulnerable rear approach. Until that time, the cage mast control tower masked the fire of the rear main turret, while the height of the gun above water created a dead space even had the field of fire been clear.
The first week of February 1942 saw the fort come under sustained fire from Japanese 150mm howitzer batteries positioned on the mainland near Ternate. By the middle of March, the Japanese had moved heavy artillery into range, opening fire with 240mm siege howitzers, destroying Fort Drum's 3-inch antiaircraft battery, disabling one of the 6-inch guns, and damaging one of the armored casemates. Sizeable portions of the Fort's concrete structure were chipped away by the shelling. The armored turrets were not damaged and remained in service throughout the bombardment. Counter-battery fire from Fort Drum's 14-inch guns and Fort Frank's 12-inch mortars were ineffective. With the collapse of American and Filipino resistance in Bataan on April 10, only Fort Drum and the other harbor forts remained in U.S. hands.
On the night of May 5, the 14-inch batteries of Fort Drum opened fire on the second wave of the Japanese forces assaulting Corregidor, sinking several troop barges and inflicting heavy casualties. Fort Drum surrendered to Japanese forces following the fall of Corregidor on May 6, 1942 and was subsequently occupied by them until 1945. The 20-ft thick reinforced concrete roof enabled Fort Drum to withstand the concentrated and long continued pounding it received from the Japanese from about February 15 to May 6, 1942. No U.S. personnel on Fort Drum were killed during the siege and only five were injured. The four 14-inch turret guns were never out and were still firing effectively five minutes before the fall of Corregidor. The surrender of the Manila Bay forts marked the end of U.S. resistance in the Philippines.
In 1945 during the offensive to recapture Manila, the heavily fortified island was the last position in the bay that was held by the Japanese. After a heavy aerial and naval bombardment, U.S. troops gained access to the deck of the fort on April 13 and were able to confine the garrison below. Rather than attempting to break in, the troops and engineers adapted the solution first used some days earlier in the assault of mortar forts on Fort Hughes. There, the troops pumped two parts diesel oil and one part gasoline into mortar pits, stood off, and ignited it with tracer bullets.
At Fort Drum, a similar technique was employed, using air vents on the top deck, but a timed fuse was used rather than tracer fire. Upon ignition, the remaining Japanese were annihilated; the flammable mixture kept a fire burning in the fort for several days. It took 14 days before the fortress could finally be examined. With the Manila Bay forts neutralized, including Fort Drum, Japanese resistance in the Bay area ended.
The ruins of Fort Drum, including its disabled turrets and 14-inch (360 mm) guns, remain at the mouth of Manila Bay, abandoned since World War II. The fort is being desecrated by looters since the 1970s seeking scrap metal inside the fort for reselling later. The activity is still going on according to a report in 2009.
An automated light was recently installed by the Philippine Coast Guard on the top deck for guiding ships entering the South Channel of Manila Bay.