Chapter 6: Pearl Harbor and Clark Field
At 1405 on 7 December the Japanese emissaries Nomura and Kurusu arrived at the State Department in Washington, By orders from Tokyo they had originally arranged the appointment for 1300 but had subsequently requested the postponement. Fifteen minutes later they presented the Secretary of State Cordell Hull a memorandum which concluded with the regret that the Japanese government considered it “impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.” The hour’s delay in the meeting – explained by the Japanese as having been consumed in decoding the Tokyo message – rendered that conclusion a masterpiece of understatement. Half an hour earlier Japanese aircraft had attacked naval and military installations in Oahu.
The attack achieved perfect tactical surprise: neither the exact day nor the location of the initial Japanese blow had been correctly estimated. But that Japan would strike soon and probably without a previous declaration of war had for some time been appreciated both in Washington and in the Pacific. After the diplomatic impasse of 20–26 November, war had seemed inevitable; Mr. Hull had told the President’s War Council that the matter of safeguarding our national security was in the hands of the Army and the Navy.1 It was this estimate of the situation which had caused the Army, and the Navy, to send to commanders in Hawaii and the Philippines the warning messages of 27 November described in the previous chapter.*
Because of the overwhelming success of the Japanese attacks of 7 December and of the handicap imposed thereby upon American defense forces, the events of that day and of the preceding weeks
* See above, p. 190.
have been the subject of repeated official investigations. The professional reputations of the highest civil and military leaders have been at stake, and the chief emphasis of the investigations has been to fix responsibilities for our defeat – and indeed, for the very war itself. Thus political considerations have often transcended in important a mere recital of the sequence of military events; “ultimatums” and “magic” and wind messages” and “war-warning messages” have loomed larger in the reports than the desperate but futile efforts of Army and Navy personnel in Hawaii, and our initial defeat in the Philips has come in for little attention. For want of sufficient precise contemporary evidence and because of conflicting statements subsequently furnished by responsible officers, a few crucial points have never been satisfactorily explained.
The general pattern of events in Oahu and Luzon can, however, be established, and that is the purpose of this chapter. Happily, there is no need here to attempt more. The diplomatic and political issues which brought on the war are clearly out of the ken of the AAF historian. And because the chain of command in both Pacific areas and in Washington vested ultimate control of Army Air Forces in Army commanding generals, the graver responsibilities lay with the latter. Nothing in the record indicates that the story would have been substantially better had airmen been in full control of their own forces, whatever minor differences that might have meant. Wherever the fault lay, the AAF in Hawaii, and the fleet whose defense was its chief mission, suffered an overwhelming defeat.
Defeat on Oahu
On 26 November a Japanese task force sailed from Hitakappu Bay in the Kurils. The force included, in addition to its train, six aircraft carriers, two battleships, two cruisers, nine destroyers, and three submarines. They reached position approximately 200 miles north of Oahu before dawn on 7 December (Hawaiian time.)2
Plans for the strike had been initiated during the previous summer, completed by early November. In September picked crews – with pilots who averaged better than 800 hours’ flying time – from the Japanese First Air Fleet had begun a period of intensive training in horizontal and dive bombing and in the technique of torpedo attack in shallow waters. En route to the rendezvous above Oahu, with the ships under radio silence, the pilots were briefed on their coming
mission. The primary target was the naval base of Pearl Harbor, the design to cripple the Pacific Fleet. It was hoped that at least four aircraft carriers and four battleships could be sunk or rendered useless for a long period. Postwar interrogations of enemy personnel indicate a lack of precise information as to U.S. naval vessels then at Pearl Harbor, but each pilot received charts marking off definite areas of attack.3
Exactly on schedule, at 0600 on the 7th, orders for the take-off were given. Shortly thereafter the first wave – fifty fighters, fifty horizontal bombers, forty torpedo bombers, and fifty dive bombers – roared off the carriers and headed toward Oahu. Forty-five minutes later fifty horizontal bombers, eighty dive bombers, and forty fighters followed as the second and last wave of attack.4
The arrival of the first wave over Oahu was not entirely unheralded. About 0630 a small submarine had been sighted in a restricted zone off Pearl Harbor. By 0650 it had been sunk by the U.S. destroyer Ward, whose commander had immediately reported the action to the
watch officer at the naval base and had begun a methodical search of the restricted area. The six radar detector stations of the Hawaiian Interceptor Command had been in operation since 0400; at 0700 they reached the prescribed limit of their regular morning alert. on this occasion, however, the Opana station at Kahuku Point remained open to provide additional instruction for one of the operators. At 0702 the station plotted a group of airplanes at approximately 130 miles, bearing 0° to 3° east of north. This fact was reported by telephone to the information center about fifteen minutes later. Because of the expected arrival of B-17’s from the mainland and the probability of search operations by U.S. naval aircraft, an Air Corps officer who was on duty at this time “solely for training and observation” did not consider it necessary to take any action.5 Meanwhile the Opana station had tracked the planes toward Oahu and had lost them. Two opportunities for an eleventh-hour reprieve had been forfeited.
At 0755 single-engine planes were observed southeast of the Hickam Field hangar line heading for Pearl Harbor. Almost simultaneously the naval base and Hickam Field came under attack.
For approximately thirty minutes units of the Pacific Fleet were subjected to the savage blows of wave after wave of enemy planes. It is impossible to determine precisely the sequence of the enemy’s actions; they included eight attacks delivered by some thirty dive bombers, low-altitude attacks by more than twenty torpedo planes sweeping across the harbor in four waves, and level bombing from about 10,000 feet by perhaps fifteen aircraft. Then came a quarter-hour of comparative quiet. At 0840 horizontal and dive bombers renewed the attack. This action lasted about an hour.6 At its end the Navy had suffered a crushing blow.
The battleship force had been most heavily hit. The Arizona, California, and West Virginia had been sunk, the Oklahoma capsized, the Nevada severely damaged, and three others damaged. Three cruisers, three destroyers, and a seaplane tender had received damages of varying degrees of severity; a mine layer and a target ship had been sunk. Fortunately no carrier was in port. Naval and naval air installations had been seriously hurt. of the approximately 169 naval aircraft in the Oahu area, 87 were destroyed. Tragically heavy to were losses in Navy and Marine Corps personnel, with 2,086 officers and men killed or fatally wounded and an additional 749 wounded.7
Although the primary purpose of the enemy had been to cripple
the American fleet, it was at the same time necessary for the Japanese to eliminate the danger of an effective reaction from the Hawaiian Air Force. Accordingly, and simultaneously with the initial attack on the fleet, twenty-eight bombers in three waves escorted by pursuits carried out a ten-minute raid on buildings of the Hawaiian Air Depot and the hangar line at Hickam Field. After a fifteen-minute lull, the attack was renewed by five or six high-level bombers which fruitlessly bombed the baseball diamond; six to nine others dropped down to 150 feet for a more damaging attack on the No. 1 Aqua System, the technical buildings immediately behind the hangar lines, the consolidated barracks, and on planes parked almost wing tip to wing tip on the warming-up apron. A third attack at approximately 0900 by from six to nine planes scored hits on technical buildings, dispersed planes, barracks, the parade ground, and the post exchange.8
At Wheeler Field, principal pursuit base, the first bombs fell shortly after 0800. Approximately twenty-five dive bombers approached the field at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, went into a dive, and released their bombs over the hangar line. Within a few minutes the air seemed full of planes circling in a counterclockwise direction but otherwise maneuvering according to no apparent pattern. Though this attack lasted for no more than fifteen minutes, other planes strafed the field shortly after 0900. Bellows Field, third of the major Air Corps installations, suffered less than did either Hickam or Wheeler. Only one plane out of the enemy’s first wave of attack, and that a fighter, directed its attention to this field. But nine more fighters came over soon after 0900 to give the field a thorough strafing for about fifteen minutes.9
In comparison with the havoc wrought by the planes that the Japanese First Air Fleet threw against Hawaiian air and naval installations, the reaction of defending air units was pitiful. The enemy had achieved the crushing advantage of surprise. Moreover, under the alert in effect since 27 November AAF planes were concentrated for protection against sabotage, with an allowance of four hours’ notice to make them ready for flight, instead of being dispersed in readiness for a prompt take-off. In the circumstances, it as virtually impossible to put up anything approaching an effective air defense. in spite of handicaps, four P-40’s and two P-36’s took off from Wheeler Field thirty-five minutes after the initial attack, and from 0830 until 0930 Army pursuit planes flew a total of twenty-five sorties. Perhaps the
most successful interception was performed by six pilots of the 47th Pursuit Squadron based on the small field at Haleiwa, the only usable airfield not subjected to serious enemy attack. Though not at their base when the attack commenced, Lts. Harry M. Brown, Robert J. Rogers, Kenneth A. Taylor, John J. Webster, and George S. Welch succeeded in reaching Haleiwa by automobile and, acting without information as to the number and type of enemy planes, carried out a number of sorties in P-40’s and P-36’s between 0815 and 1000. Welch alone claimed four enemy planes shot down. Lt. John L. Dains, another pilot participating in the action, alternately used a P-36 and a P-40 in three sorties, but on the third of these he was shot down over Schofield Barracks, apparently by antiaircraft fire. on learning of the attack on Wheeler, crews of the 44th Pursuit Squadron at Bellows Field began arming their P-40’s and by 0855 three were ready. But just as pilots Hans C. Christiansen, George A. Whiteman, and Samuel W. Bishop prepared to take off, Japanese pursuits swept over the field in a strafing attack. Christiansen was killed while getting into his plane; Whiteman was shot down immediately after his take-off; and the other P-40, severely damaged, crashed into the ocean. In spite of a wound in the leg, Bishop succeeded in swimming ashore. At about 0850 four P-36’s of the 46th Pursuit Squadron had taken off from Wheeler during a temporary break under orders to proceed to the vicinity of Bellows Field, near which they attacked a formation of nine Japanese planes. In spite of the fact that the P-36’s could not match their opponents in rate of climb, two of the enemy were shot down with the loss of one American plane piloted by Lt. Gordon H. Sterling, Jr.10
Not until 1100 was it possible for Hawaii-based bombers to get off the ground in a search for the enemy’s carriers. But the B-17’s of the 38th and 88th Reconnaissance Squadrons, which had left Hamilton Field the preceding evening on the first leg of a flight from the United States to the Philippines, arrived over Oahu in the midst of the attack. Unfortunately, the planes had been so heavily loaded with gasoline that ammunition could not be carried, and for purposes of balance the armor plate in the rear had been shifted forward. As a consequence, the pilots on reaching Hawaii could attempt no more than to escape from enemy fire. Of the first of two flights, Maj. Richard H. Carmichael, ranking officer of the 88th Squadron, and
Lt. Harold N. Chaffin brought their planes down on the 1,200-foot runway at Haleiwa; Lts. Harry N. Brandon, David G. Rawls, and Robert E. Thacker flew through antiaircraft and enemy machine-gun fire to land at Hickam; and Lt. Rank P. Bostrom played tag with the enemy almost all the way around the island before landing on a golf course. The second flight, led by Maj. Truman H. Landon of the 38th Squadron, fortunately arrived during an inactive period in the attack, but one of the B-17’s was badly shot up and two of its crew members were seriously injured. Considering the fact that the planes were entirely unarmed, had just completed a flight of more than 2,000 miles, and were forced to land either on inadequate or pock-marked fields, the bombers suffered surprisingly little damage. A final accounting showed that of the fourteen planes which left Hamilton Field, two had turned back early in the flight, and of the remaining twelve which reached Hawaii, one had been destroyed and three badly damaged.11
Throughout the remainder of the day, P-40’s, P-36’s, C-47’s, A-20’s, B-17’s, and B-18’s continued a fruitless search for the enemy’s carriers, flying a total of forty-eight sorties between 0930 and 1520. The aircraft warning system had been put back into operation shortly after 0800, but could provide no assistance in this effort.12 Apparently the course of the invaders plotted earlier in the morning was not utilized as a clue to the probable locations of the carriers.13 The Japanese fleet had come and gone unseen by American patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.
It is now known from enemy sources that Japanese flyers of the first attack wave had returned to their carriers by noon, and that within two hours thereafter all but twenty-nine of the planes sent out against Hawaii had found their way back. But as the day advanced the sea had roughened, and approximately fifty planes were smashed in landing, with twenty or more representing a total loss.14 This was a small price to pay for the damage done to the Americans. In addition to the losses suffered by the United States Navy, 64 of the 231 aircraft assigned to the Hawaiian Air Force as of 7 December 1941 had been destroyed, and no more than 79 of the remaining planes were reported as usable.15 At Hickam Field some of the more important administrative and engineering files, the base parachute section, and the overhaul and assembly sections of the Engine Repair Branch had been wiped out. Test equipment, about 75 per cent of the equipment of the
Aero Repair Branch, and more than half of the depot property stocks were destroyed. AAF casualties, especially at Hickam Field, were heavy, reaching a total of 163 killed, 43 missing, and 336 wounded.16
A tentative plan to strike at Midway on the return voyage was abandoned by the Japanese because of the unfavorable weather. Except for two carriers dispatched for participation in the attack on Wake, the enemy fleet returned to the Inland Sea of Japan.17 Japanese officials interviewed after the war indicated that they had at no time contemplated a landing in Hawaii. Nor apparently was the capture of Midway included in their original plans. The major Japanese drive, as had been anticipated by the associated powers, would be directed against the Netherlands East Indies and the Malay Peninsula, and in its course would absorb the American-held Philippine Islands. That drive would not be impeded by the fleet based at Pearl Harbor, The enemy’s victory had been perfect as few military operations are. Its early consequences were to follow closely enough Japanese hopes.
Defeat on Luzon
According to the Japanese plan for the capture of the Philippine Islands, naval air units would assume the initial responsibility for destruction of defending air and naval forces and for cover of the landings. When beachheads had been established and Philippine airfields had been captured, army air units would move in for the purpose of supporting the ground forces. The first air assault was scheduled for early morning on the same day of the attacks in Hawaii.18
Preparations had been well under way by the opening of November. During the first two weeks of the month, land-based naval air units of the 11th Air Fleet were transferred to Formosa, where with approximately 300 planes they entered into intensive training in day and night bombing, long-range reconnaissance, air coverage, and strafing attack. As December came in, the Third Fleet was engaged in assembling its main forces at Formosa for the amphibious invasion of the Philippine; and to the naval air strength deployed at Formosan bases were added 150 to 175 planes of the Fifth Army air force. The main weight of army aviation was deployed in the south for support, initially from Indo-Chinese bases, of the conquest of Malaya.19
For defense of the Philippines, the Far East Air Force had in commission thirty-three B-17’s, of which sixteen were at Del Monte and the rest at Clark Field, and approximately ninety pursuit aircraft.20
The 3rd Pursuit Squadron at Iba and the 17th at Nichols each had eighteen P-40E’s; the 20th at Clark was equipped with the same number of P-40B’s. The 21st and 34th Squadrons, respectively based on the Nichols and Del Carmen fields, had arrived in the Philippines only in late November and did not receive their planes until 7 December, when the former was assigned approximately eighteen hastily assembled P-40E’s and the latter took up its duties with P-35’s, each of which had an average flying time close to 500 hours. zzl Also available were a miscellaneous assortment of noncombat aircraft and twelve P-26’s flown from Batangas by pilots of the Philippine Air Force.21
Had the Japanese been able to keep to their schedule, the attack on the Philippines would have coincided much more closely than it did with that at Pearl Harbor. But inclement weather above Luzon delayed execution of the plan for an early morning attack, and gave the Americans advance notice of several hours.22 In fact, the major attack on Clark Field, where virtually half of our total bombing force was destroyed on the ground, did not develop until after noon, some nine hours following the initial bombing of Oahu.
In the Philippines, which lie on the other side of the international date line, it was Monday, 8 December, when shortly after 0300 (0830 in Hawaii) a commercial radio station picked up a report of the Pearl Harbor attack.23 Though no official confirmation was immediately available, base commanders received prompt notification and all units were placed on combat alert. Within thirty minutes of this first warning, the radar set at Iba plotted a formation of aircraft about seventy-five miles offshore headed toward Corregidor. The 3rd Pursuit Squadron immediately sent out planes for interception. As the radar followed the course of the outgoing P-40’s, it showed them making contact with the approaching aircraft, after which the latter swung off to the west and their plots disappeared. It was later learned that our pursuits actually had made no interception. Apparently, the P-40’s in the darkness had passed underneath the enemy planes.24 There were not other alarms prior to receipt of official confirmation of the outbreak of hostilities with Japan by 0500.
A plan of action which had been considered for this eventuality by the Far East Air Force was an American air attack against Formosa, the natural point of concentration for a Japanese invasion of the Philippines.25 Objective folders, although without calibrated bomb target maps or aerial photographs, had been prepared,26 and Col. Francis
M. Brady, chief of staff to General Brereton, promptly took the initial step toward mounting the operation by ordering the B-17’s at Clark Field prepared for the mission.27 Brereton himself reported at about 0500 to General MacArthur’s headquarters at Fort Santiago, where he requested permission of Brig. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, chief of staff, to carry out offensive action as soon as possible after daylight.28
That request, unhappily, has become a subject of controversy. Conflicting statements have been made and the historian is left to find his way without the aid of a complete record. Indeed, only a few fragments of the official records of the Far East Air force survived the initial engagements and movements of the war, with the result that chief reliance must be placed on the recollections of its personnel. It would appear that the files of General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area, are also incomplete.29
Since the question turns so largely on evidence drawn from the memory that men carry of the first hectic hours of war, it seems pertinent to observe here that there can be little doubt that to the airmen of General MacArthur’s command the logical defensive use of the long-range heavy bomber in the circumstances existing was to strike at the enemy’s concentration of air and naval power on Formosa, and to strike before the enemy could attack.30 Not only would this have been in accord with standard AAF doctrine and with the mission in defense of our own shores for which the B-17 originally had been designed, but Formosa lay well within the range of the plane, which incidentally had been built for missions extending beyond the distance for which fighter escort could be provided by current models of pursuit aircraft. It is true that the number of planes available was nowhere near that required for a decisive striking force, but the defensive value of the B-17 lay almost entirely in its offensive power and the alternative to its use in that manner was to save it for possible destruction on the ground. Moreover, the mission presumably would serve useful purposes of reconnaissance, and it would have been accordance with the recent revision of RAINBOW No. 5.* If General Brereton did not propose an early undertaking of offensive action against the enemy on Formosa, as both officially and publicly he has stated he did, it would be surprising indeed.
Following the publication in 1946 of The Brereton Diaries, in which
* See above, pp. 184–85.
for the first time General Brereton publicly stated the facts as he recalled them, General MacArthur announced that he had received no such recommendation and that prior to that publication he knew “nothing of such a recommendation having been made.”* This statement lent special weight to the testimony of General Sutherland, who during the preceding year had stated in an interview that the responsibility for holding the bombers on the ground that morning was entirely Brereton’s.¶ It was Sutherland’s recollection that the air commander agreed that there would be no point in attempting a bomber mission without advance reconnaissance. The interview did not indicate whether the question of an immediate reconnaissance mission was considered, but General Brereton, in reply to a request for information on that point, has indicated that no authorization for reconnaissance was received until later. “At the first conference,” he wrote, “General Sutherland approved my plans for an attack immediately after daylight, instructed me to go ahead with preparations and that in the meantime, he would obtain General MacArthur’s authority for the daylight attack.”31
* The Brereton Diaries (New York, 1946); MacArthur’s statement of 27 Sept. 1946, in New York Times, 28 Sept. 1946. In response to a request for information, General Brereton several months earlier had given the Historical Office a statement of developments on the first day of war that was substantially the same as that subsequently published. [1st ind., Brereton to Paul (ltr., Chief, AAF Historical Office to CG Third Air Force, sub.: Air Defense of the Philippine Islands in December 1941, 30 Jan.. 1946.].)
¶ The record of an interview by Walter D. Edmons with Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland in Manila on 4 June 1945 (copy supplied the author through the courtesy of Mr. Edmonds) reads on the question of “Why was Formosa not bombed?” as follows:–
Gen. Sutherland began by saying that all the B-17’s had been ordered to Del Monte some days before. On a check it was found that only half had been sent. GHQ wanted the planes in Del Monte because they would there have been safe from initial Jap attacks – they could not have been reached at all – and they could themselves have staged out of Clark Field to bomb Formosa. This direct order had not been obeyed. And it must be remembered that GHQ gave out general orders and that the AFHq were supposed to execute them. As Sutherland recalls, there was some plan to bomb Formosa, but Brereton said that he had to have Photos first. That there was no sense in going up there to bomb without knowing what they were going after. There were some 25 fields on Formosa. On December 9th and 10th, photo missions were dispatched – Carpenter going on the first and returning with generator trouble; Connally going on the second but being turned back by fighters. Holding the bombers at Clark Field that first day was entirely due to Brereton. (Italics mine, WDE.)
General Sutherland’s statement that all B-17’s had been ordered to Del Monte (subsequently confirmed in MacArthur’s statement of September 1946) and General Brereton’s account of the move have been discussed above in Chap. 5, pp. 188–89. On the immediate question of the employment of the planes at Clark Field on 8 December, the question of a prior order for their transfer is a side issue.
It is difficult even to establish the chronology of events for that morning or to give anything more than the approximate time of those events on which agreement exists. The most detailed general account is that of Brereton, and for much of the detail given by him there exists independent corroboration.32 On the main points at issue, moreover, support for much of his account is provided without complete agreement by a file of the daily Summary of Activities of the Headquarters, Far East Air Force, extending from 8 December 1941 to 24 February 1942, when General Brereton relinquished command in Java on the even of his departure for India to assume command of American air operations in that area. These daily summaries leave little if any question that they represent a detailed record complied closer to the events described than any comprehensive account known to exist. in the following narrative they have been weighted according.*
After his early morning report to General Headquarters, General Brereton states that he returned to his own headquarters at Nielson
* These summaries acquire in the absence of other comparable records such an importance as to justify at this point an attempt to describe them and the way in which they reached the files of the Air Historical office. They were transmitted to that office after the termination of hostilities by AAF historical officers assigned to the China–Burma–India theater. Presumably, they represent a record carried to India by General Brereton or by other FEAF personnel who accompanied him to India, and presumably they were left there at the time of his hurried departure in June 1942 for the Middle East. (See below, pp. 512–13.) Similarly, records of early activity in India reached the Air Historical Office through the efforts of the historical officer of the Ninth Air Force, which General Brereton later commanded in ETO. The FEAF summaries, which are typed out on loose sheets of two different sizes and of varying weight and texture, all of them carbon copies except for the inserted notes of a staff conference held on 19 December, are bound together by an acco fastener within an ordinary manila cover. on the cover has been written in ink, possibly by historical personnel in the theater, “Early History 10th AAF”; but that has been struck out and in its place appears “General Brereton’s Headquarters diary 8 Dec 41–24 Feb 42,” and below that in pencil is written “Activity Report of FEAF.” Other markings were apparently made by the filing personnel of the historical office. The historian is given some pause by the fact that the daily summaries from 8 December through 13 December give the year as 1942 with corrections in ink for 8, 9, and 10 December. The year appears without change as 1941 for 14 December at which point the weight of the paper changes, but reverts thereafter to 1942 until the entries for 16 December. From that date forward the year is rendered correctly in the original typing. Since one often writes by mistake the preceding year but rarely if ever puts down the new year ahead of time, the likelihood that entries for the earlier dates were compiled at some later time must be considered. Perhaps they represent a compilation taken from available records for assistance in the preparation of such a report as is understood to have been made by General Brereton in late January or early February (see note p. 32); perhaps they are copies made from the original by a careless typist; perhaps there is some other explanation. Whatever the case, the fullness and exactness of detail given, together with the fact that at so many points independent corroboration can be had, lead to the conclusion that the document represents a valuable record compiled closer to the events described than any other known source of comparable scope.
Field under instruction to take no offensive action until so ordered.33 The Summary of Activities for that date has as its first entry the following notation: “07:15 General Brereton visited No. 1 Victoria and requested permission of General MacArthur to take offensive action. He was informed that for the time being our role was defensive, but to stand by for orders.” And at 0900 appears this entry: “In response to query from General Brereton a message received from General Sutherland advising planes not authorized to carry bombs at this time.”
The second of these entries is probably to be interpreted in the context of development occasioned by an impending enemy attack. While air force officers awaited orders, the aircraft warning service had reported enemy aircraft proceeding south over Lingayen Gulf toward Manila.34 All B-17’s at Clark Field were ordered into the air without bomb load to avoid being caught on the ground and were instructed to patrol the waters off northern Luzon.35 The 20th Pursuit Squadron, also based at Clark, was dispatched to intercept the approaching formation, and at Nichols Field the 17th, under command of Lt. Boyd Wagner, received orders to cover Clark. At 0910, Col. Harold H. George, chief of staff, V Interceptor Command, reported to headquarters, “that there are 54 airplanes in the air and 36 airplanes in reserve and that no contact with hostile aircraft has been made.” At 0923, he reported “approximately 24 bi-motored enemy bombers near Tugeugarao and 17 near Baguio.” Simultaneously, another report indicated that “Tarlac and Tuguegarao were being bombed.” Planes of the 20th Pursuit had expected to make contact with the enemy north of Manila over Rosales, but the Japanese escaped interception by swinging east to direct their main effort against Baguio, summer capital of the Philippines.36
Following this attack, Brereton by telephone renewed his request for authority to take offensive action. According to the Summary of Activities the time was 1000, and the “Chief of Staff informed General Brereton that all aircraft would be held in reserve and that the present attitude is strictly defensive. General Brereton stated to General Sutherland that if Clark Field was taken out we could not operate offensively.” To the same entry is appended: “Bomber command recommends bombs not be loaded at this time due to danger of extensive damage by enemy air action.” At the same hour but under separate entry appears this brief notation: “24 enemy bombers reported in Cagayan Valley proceeding south in direction Manila.”
It is General Brereton’s recollection that shortly before 1010 he received authority to undertake a reconnaissance mission to Formosa; that Lt. Col. Eugene L. Eubank, bomber commander, promptly took off from Neilson for Clark Field to assume personal direction of the preparations; that Colonel Eubank on his arrival at Clark recalled the bombers from patrol to prepare for the execution of orders which called for three planes to fly the reconnaissance mission “and the rest to be briefed for an attack”; that, at about 1100, GHQ authorized bombing missions; that he then instructed Eubank to load all available B-17’s with 100- and 3000-lb. bombs and to brief the crews for attack of airdromes in southwest Formosa; and that he ordered the two squadrons of bombers at Del Monte to move their B-17’s at dusk to San Marcelino, a pasture-like emergency field lying near the coast of Luzon west of Clark, whence they were to proceed during the night to Clark Field as a staging point for a mission at daybreak.37 It is with more than ordinary interest, therefore, that one reads the following entries in the daily summary:
10:10 Colonel Eubank left for Clark Field to take charge of operations from Clark Field with instructions to dispatch a photo reconnaissance mission in force at once to southern Taiwan area.
10:14 General Brereton received a telephone call from General MacArthur. General Brereton stated that since the attack was not made on Clark Field that bombers will be held in readiness until receipt of reports from reconnaissance missions. Lacking report of reconnaissance, Taiwan would be attacked in late afternoon. The decision for offensive action was left to General Brereton. All bombers were ordered to arm and be on alert for immediate orders.
10:20 Report of planes coming south proved erroneous. Planes reported coming south from Cagayan Valley turned around and are now proceeding north. The staff was called in and informed of General Brereton’s telephone conversation with General MacArthur. General Brereton directed that a plan of employment of our Air Force against known airdromes in Southern Formosa be prepared.
10:45 Employment of Air Force directed by General Brereton as follows: Two (2) heavy bombardment squadrons to attack known airdromes in Southern Formosa at the latest daylight hour today that visibility will permit. Forces to be 2 squadrons of B-17’s. Two (2) squadrons of pursuit to be on the alert to cover operations of bombardment. Pursuit to be used to fullest extent to insure safety of bombardment. Two (2) squadrons of bombardment to San Mencilino [sic] at dusk. To Clark Field after dark prepared for operations at daybreak.
11:10 Report received from Clark Field that airdrome had not been bombed.
11:20 Field Order No. One, confirming Colonel Embank’s instructions to 19th Bombardment Group sent by teletype.
It required some time to bring in all of the bombers from patrol, but shortly after 1130 all American aircraft in the Philippines, with the exception of one or two planes, were on the ground. Recently recalled B-17’s at Clark were being made ready for the Formosa mission;38 planes of the 20th Pursuit Squadron at Clark and the 17th at Nichols had returned to their bases for refueling; those of the 3rd at Iba, the 21st at Nichols, and the 34th at Del Carmen stood ready to take off upon receipt of orders.39 And just about this time the plotting board at Nielson Field began to receive reports of a formation of enemy aircraft coming in over northern Luzon. Unlike other flights reported that morning, this one did not break up as it proceeded south. Warning was sent to Clark Field by normal teletype channels, and acco to Col. A.H. Campbell, then chief of Aircraft Warning Service, its receipt there was confirmed.40 Back at Nielson, an entry in the Summary of Activities reads: “11:37 Operations Board report flight of enemy planes, number unknown now located about 70 miles west of Lingayen Gulf, headed south 11:27 A.M.” As soon as the enemy force was believed to be within operating range of American pursuit planes, Colonel George of V Interceptor Command took necessary steps to provide protection for vital points.41 For the approaches to Manila, the 17th Squadron was ordered to cover Bataan peninsula, the 21st to patrol the Manila area itself, and the 34th to provide a cover for Clark Field, where the 20th, just in from patrol, was being refueled. The 3rd Squadron, at Iba, was dispatched on what proved to be a fruitless flight over the South China Sea, where an enemy formation had been reported.42
From this point on, a confused record reflects chiefly the gzz confusion and bad luck which attended the American air effort on that first day of hostilities in the Philippines. The Summary of Activities for Headquarters, Far East Air Force, notes: “11:56 General Brereton communicated with General Sutherland and complete report was given General Sutherland of the air situation at this time including fact that it was planned to move the B-17’s now at Del Monte to San Marcelino and to bomb Taiwan fields at late afternoon today.” Then the summary jumps to 1240 to record a report that “10 planes, 6,000 feet, nationality unknown, headed for Manila. This information from the Navy.” Under 1255 appears another report that “large force of planes, about 25, heading south reported in vicinity of Tarlac at 12:25.” Under 1257 one reads of a Japanese propaganda mission
earlier in the day: “Said planes dropped leaflets which read as follows: Way to permanent peace causing this conflict between Japan and the U.S. Roosevelt attempt curve our independence stop we all know than unless the US has not oppressed Japan, this war has not been started stop Our mission is to end this war as fast as possible and in order to achieve this end we should cooperate with Japan fully unquote.” Then: “13:00 Reported by G-2 that Fort Stotsenburg is being bombed”; and again – “13:00 Report received from Stotsenburg many bombers very high bombed Clark Field at 12:35 P.M.”
It is not even certain that the record thus provided clears up the much debated question of just when the Japanese attack on Clark Field began, for there is rather specific evidence which argues for a time some fifteen minutes earlier. No clarification, moreover, is provided for the controversial question of why our bombers were caught, apparently without warning, on the ground.* There is reason to believe that a warning message had reached Clark Field, but the warning evidently was not received by bomber personnel there. In response to a specific question from the Air Historical Office which indicated the existence of information that a warning had been sent and acknowledged by Clark Field, General Eubank under date of 5 August 1947 made the following statement:–
Information of the Japanese formation which attacked Clark Field about noon, 8 December 1941, was not received by the Bomber Command prior to the attack. The formation was almost directly overhead at the time the air raid warning siren was sounded and the bombs began exploding a few seconds thereafter. One or two false air raid warning messages had been received earlier in the day.43
And there the question must be left. Colonel Campbell is emphatic in his recollection that a prior warning was both sent and acknowledged; General Eubank is equally emphatic in stating that no information reached V Bomber Command. I is entirely possible that both officers are correct in their recollection, but in the absence of further evidence there would appear to be little advantage in attempts to speculate on the probabilities of misinterpretation or other human failure that might reconcile the two accounts.
In any case, the Japanese enjoyed a good fortune of catching the two squadrons of B-17’s on the ground at Clark Field. this had been the enemy’s hope when he originally scheduled an attack for the early morning, but after a postponement of several hours, he had no reason
to expect anything other than that the Americans would have been completely alerted by the news from Pearl Harbor.44 Actually, not only did he find all save one of the Clark Field bombers on the ground, but for the moment the field was almost unguarded by pursuits. A thick haze of dust at Del Carmen had delayed execution of orders to the 34th Squadron for cover of Clark Field, and at 1215 the 20th Pursuit, whose planes had not yet completed their refueling, was hastily ordered to cover its own base. Within five minutes the four planes had taken off, but just then, a V-shaped formation of twenty-seven Japanese bombers attacked the field with bombs varying in size from small fragmentation to 100-pounders. Following this formation came another of comparable size, which continued the attack for fifteen minutes. And, almost before the last bomb had been dropped, Japanese fighters swept in to pick out the grounded American planes in a low-altitude strafing attack that lasted more than an hour.45 Though every advantage lay with the attacking enemy, desperate attempts were made by the 20th Pursuit Squadron to get its P-40’s into the air. Five were smashed by bombs while taking off; five more were destroyed in strafing attacks, but Lt. Joseph H. Moore, squadron commander, succeeded in leading three others into the air. There Lt. Randall B. Keator attacked a flight of three enemy pursuits and acquired the distinction of shooting down the first Japanese aircraft over the Philippines; Lieutenant Moore in a series of dogfights destroyed two others. At Del Carmen Field, some fifteen miles away, pilots of the 34th Squadron, on seeing great clouds of smoke and dust billowing up from Clark, immediately “took to the air” in their P-35’s to engage other enemy fighters. The P-35’s were consistently outmaneuvered and several of them were seriously damaged, but the pilots claimed on return three of the enemy aircraft.46
Two B-17’s were off the ground during these attacks. One, piloted by Lt. John Carpenter, was on reconnaissance and landed at Clark after the raiders had disappeared.47 Another, commanded by Lt. Earl Tash, had arrived over Clark Field from Del Monte during the height of the low-level strafing to be pounced upon by three enemy pursuits, but Tash managed to pilot the severely damaged B-17 back to Del Monte.48
Meanwhile, the planes of the 3rd Squadron returning from their search over the South China Sea, where they had found nothing, had run into the worst possible luck. With their fuel dangerously low, the
P-40’s, which numbered perhaps twelve reached their base at Iba just ahead of a heavy enemy attack. The American planes, in fact, were slowly circling the field preparatory to landing when a number of Japanese bombers estimated at from twenty-seven to thirty-four and their fighter escort attacked. The American planes tried to ward off the Japanese attack and succeeded in preventing the low-level strafing which proved so destructive at Clark Field. Lt. Jack Donalson probably destroyed two of the enemy planes, but five P-40’s were shot down and three others crash-landed on near-by beaches when their fuel gave out.49
On the ground, personnel of the Far East Air Force fought back as best they could in a hopelessly unequal struggle. Though some units almost completely disintegrated during nearly two hours of attack, there were countless examples of outstanding leadership and heroism. With few exceptions, antiaircraft gunners stood by their guns in the face of effective enemy strafing. Ground and combat crews turned the machine guns of grounded planes on low-flying Japanese aircraft, or undertook to rescue from flaming buildings such valuable equipment as they could. Among the many officers and men subsequently cited for their efforts were Lt. Fred Crimmins, who received severe wounds in a vain attempt to save a B-17; Chaplain Joseph F. LaFleur, who repeatedly ignored low-flying strafers to minister to the wounded and dying; and Pfc Greeley B. Williams, who from a gunner’s post in one of the B-17’s kept up a steady fire on Japanese planes until he was killed. Medical personnel of the four emergency first-aid dressing stations t Clark Field maintained their greatly needed services throughout the time.50
As the enemy planes returned to their Formosan bases, it was clear that they had won a tremendous victory. At Clark Field, high-level bombing had destroyed hangars, shops, mess halls, barracks, and supply buildings. The communications center had received a direct hit which cut off the field from other points and prevented any attempt to control pursuit operations. As a result, planes of the 17th and 21st Squadrons continued their assigned patrols of the Bataan and la Bay areas, unaware of the Japanese attack being carried out no more than sixty miles away.51 The B-17’s, in spite of being incompletely dispersed, suffered relatively little damage from bombs, but
enemy pursuit pilots had so systematically chosen their targets that seventeen or eighteen of the bombers were destroyed.52 Damage at Iba was, if anything, even more severe. Of the 3rd Squadron’s P-40’s, apparently only two escaped destruction. Bombs crashed into barracks and service buildings. Much of the airplane maintenance equipment was lost, and with it the entire radar installation. Ground crews, who had thought the approaching planes friendly, suffered heavily.
A bombing attack on Nichols Field in the early morning of 9 December created still more havoc. Bombs fell on a hangar, damaging several planes and destroying at least one B-18. Several pursuit planes had been ordered off the ground for night patrol, but the inadequacy of night-flying facilities and almost impenetrable dust at the field resulted in the loss of two or three of these planes and one pilot.53
In less than one day of hostilities the strength of the Far East Air Force had been reduced by half. Of its thirty-five B-17’s, not more than seventeen remained in commission. About fifty-five of the original P-40’s had been lost either in combat or on the ground. Of the P-35’s, no more than fifteen were operational, and perhaps twenty-five to thirty miscellaneous aircraft – B-10’s, B-18’s, and observation planes – also had been destroyed. Casualties were comparably heavy. At Clark Field alone, 55 officers and men had been killed and more than 100 wounded, to which numbers were added approximately 25 killed and 50 wounded at other points.54
The War Department had forwarded instructions to General MacArthur to carry out the tasks assigned under RAINBOW No. 5 and to cooperate with the British and Dutch insofar as it was possible without jeopardizing the accomplishment of his primary mission of defending the Philippines.55 Bomber losses, however, left little hope of effective offensive action, and comparably heavy losses of pursuit aircraft lent a new desperateness to prospects for defense against an expected enemy invasion. In a move of adjustment to the losses sustained, the remaining aircraft of the hard-hit 3rd Pursuit Squadron were divided between Lieutenant Wagner’s 17th Squadron, which now was transferred to Clark Field, and the 21st Squadron at Nichols Field. At the same time, personnel of the ground echelon were distributed among these and other units in order to bring them nearer up to strength.56 Every effort was made to strengthen antiaircraft defenses, which had proved ineffective against both high-level bombing and low-altitude attacks. The Manila area seemed particularly
vulnerable, and in the early evening of 8 December a machine-gun battery of the 60th Coast Artillery (AA) moved to Nichols Field and the port area of Manila. Additional if limited equipment was available in the Philippine Ordnance Depot, and 500 officers and men were transferred from the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment to man it. Working almost continuously for thirty-six hours, these men, who had been hastily organized into the Provisional 200th CA (AA), put together and installed twelve 3-inch guns, “3 directors and height-finders, AA searchlight units,” and twelve 37-mm. AA guns. By 10 December new 3-inch batteries were located at Paranaque, at Paco, and east of Nielson Airport, and 37-mm. batteries had been installed at Nichols Field, at Nielson Airport, and in the section of Manila known at the Walled City.57
While these defensive preparations continued and ground crews worked frantically to make every available aircraft ready for operation, the chief responsibility of the air arm was reconnaissance. Through principal reliance was placed in AAF pursuits and Navy patrol bombers, B-17’s from Del Monte also participated in the effort to gain intelligence of the enemy’s movements and intentions. At 0730 on 9 December, six of the heavy bombers, commanded by Maj. Cecil Combs and loaded each with 20 x 100-lb. demolition bombs, took off from their Mindanao base. Having reconnoitered the area in the vicinity of Catanduanes without finding evidence of enemy activity, they proceeded to Clark Field, where they landed at 1430. In an action which was representative of the desperate conditions now governing operations from bases on Luzon, the planes took off almost immediately and remained in the air until after dark to avoid attack on the ground. During the afternoon, seven additional B-17’s were dispatched from Del Monte to San Marcelino.58 A relatively respectable striking force had thus been brought into position for resistance to such invasion attempts as might be made. Through the first two days of hostilities, however, reports both from the warning net and from patrol planes revealed principally the confused and nervous state into which our defenses had been thrown by the enemy. As Admiral Hart later reported, “an extraordinary crop of incorrect enemy information” came over the warning net, and there were reports of “enemy sightings when nothing was actually sighted and when a vessel was really seen she was usually reported in one of two categories: irrespective of size, she was either a Transport or a Battleship.”59 But during the
night of 9/10 December, Lt. Grant Mahoney, flying a P-40 on reconnaissance, brought definite warning of approaching convoys.60
Units of the Japanese Third Fleet sortied from Formosa early on the morning of 10 December. Their missions were to effect a landing at Aparri in the extreme north of Luzon and another at Vigan on the northwest coast in operations preliminary to the main landing on Lingayen Gulf. For the accomplishment of these objectives, the convoy had been divided into three task forces: one for each landing and a third, which included cruisers, to provide general support as required. Alerted by the approach of these forces, the Far East Air Force determined to oppose the enemy landings as best it could with heavy bombers supported by a strong pursuit escort. Accordingly, five B-17’s and the P-40E’s of the 17th Pursuit Squadron and the P-35’s of the 34th were prepared for an early mission. At 0600 the B-17’s, led by Major Combs, took off from Clark Field and, before reaching the target area in the neighborhood of Vigan, were joined by planes of the 17th Squadron. The B-17’s, each loaded with 20 x 100-lb. demolition bombs, chose a number of transports already engaged in unloading troops and supplies. bomb runs were carried out by four bombers from an altitude of 12,000 and 12,500 feet, respectively. The fifth B-17, piloted by Lt. Eliott Vandevanter, Jr., swept in first at 10,000 and then at 7,000 feet. Though antiaircraft fire remained fierce at the completion of the bombing, the P-40’s came down for a strafing attack on the ships and on the Japanese who had already reached shore. Meanwhile, the slower P-35’s of the 34th Squadron had arrived in the scene of action. These almost obsolete planes had neither armor protection nor leak-proof tanks, but they too “strafed and restrafed the invaders.” As Lt. Samuel H. Marrett, squadron commander, led his flight in “one final and successful strafing dive,” one of the transports exploded, destroying both Marrett and his plane. Another P-35 was lost but the pilot escaped.61 Though the B-17’s had succeeded in scoring a number of hits, this one vessel apparently represented the only major loss by the enemy.62
Another mission scheduled for Maj. Emmett O’Donnell’s 14th Squadron had been delayed by the necessity of flying from San Marcelino to Clark for refueling and bomb-loading, and then had been further delayed by a warning of approaching Japanese planes. Finally, five B-17’s, having been made ready, took off individually. Three of them, piloted by Major O’Donnell, Capt. E. L. Parsel, and Lt. G. R.
Montgomery, proceeded toward the enemy beachhead at Vigan. O’Donnell, first to arrive over the target area, made several runs at 25,000 feet against what was mistakenly thought to be an aircraft carrier. Mechanical trouble with the bomb racks as well as antiaircraft fire interfered with the bombing, and it took approximately forty-five minutes to drop eight 600-lb. bombs. No hits were observed. Parsel had better success. He made two bomb runs from 12,500 feet. On the first, four 300-lb. bombs were directed against a cruiser or destroyer without effect, but of the three bombs dropped during the second run, at least one direct hit on a transport was claimed. Montgomery had been allowed time to load only one 600-lb. bomb when he was ordered off Clark Field for the security of his plane. He proceeded to Vigan, however, and dropped his bomb in the water near the transports.63 The two remaining B-17’s took off from Clark Field at approximately 0930 to attack Japanese landing craft, transports, and their naval escort near Aparri. Lt. G. E. Schaetzel, pilot of one of the planes, in making a run over several transports at 25,000 feet, apparently scored a hit. The B-17, pounded by antiaircraft fire and under attack by enemy pursuit, was severely damaged, but no one in the bomber was injured and Schaetzel succeeded in reaching San Marcelino.64
Capt. Colin Kelly in the fifth bomber had been directed to locate and if possible sink an aircraft carrier previously reported along the northern Luzon coast. After a search of the target area he found on sign of a carrier, but Lt. Joe M. Bean, his navigator, had spotted a large Japanese warship which the aircrew took for a battleship.65 Indeed, early reports of the ensuing action placed the ship in either the Haruna or the Yamishiro class.66 Actually, it is now known that no Japanese battleship participated in the initial invasion of the Philippines, and that the Haruna, the favored choice in subsequent reports, was engaged until 18 December in support of the Malayan campaign. Since training in identification of naval craft was imperfect and many Japanese cruisers were as long or longer than some American battleships, it is not surprising that such mistakes of identification were made, even by the presumably better-trained Navy air personnel. At any rate, Navy PBY’s claimed on the following day to have hit a ship of the Haruna class in this same general area. Japanese sources indicate that the ship picked out by Lieutenant Bean was in fact the heavy cruiser Ashigara, flagship of the Third Fleet in its current operation.67 As it moved slowly on the outskirts of the enemy convoy it made a
good target, and the bombardier, Sgt. Meyer S. Levin, released in train the entire load of three 600-lb. bombs from 22,000 feet. Although the Japanese assert that no hits were made, the bombs scored near misses and to Kelly’s crew it appeared that one of them had struck squarely amidships. When the B-17 turned back toward its base, the warship appeared to been stopped with black smoke pouring from it. All gunners held their stations during the return flight except the radio operator, who served also as lower-turret gunner, and who left that post to receive landing instructions from Clark Field. Suddenly, as the plane neared the field, two enemy fighters attacked from the rear of and below the plane in a approach which probably would have been observed sooner had the lower turret been manned. Bullets riddled the big bomber. “The commander’s dome flew off,” the instrument panel seemed to disintegrate, a machine-gun burst penetrated the left rear gunner’s post killing T/Sgt. William J. Delehanty, the low-pressure oxygen tanks in the radio compartment exploded, and the empty bomb bay burst into flames. When the flames spread, Kelly ordered the crew to bail out. S/Sgt. James E. Hokyard, Pfc Robert A. Altman, and Pfc Williard L. Money dropped out of the rear compartment; Bean and Levin tumbled out of the escape hatch; and Kelly and co-pilot Lt. Donal D. Robins prepared to follow. The latter succeeded in pulling the rip cord of his parachute after being thrown clear of the plane by a tremendous explosion, and all those who previously had bailed out of the plane reached ground safely. But Kelly’s body was later found near the wreckage of his plane.68
The employment of heavy bombers on 10 December bore little resemblance to prescribed AAF practice, which called for their use against shipping targets in flight of sufficient size to assure a pattern of bombing large enough to cover any possible move of the target in the interval between release and impact of the bombs.69 Not only was there an inadequate number of planes available, but unsatisfactory communications with outlying fields, insufficient protection of airfields, and the consequent necessity of putting planes into the air for their security added to the difficulty of maintaining anything approaching standard operations. No experience could have emphasized more forcefully the fundamental importance to an air force of its ability to assert and maintain control of the air over its own bases. And with the rapid depletion of our interceptor forzes and with Japanese landings promising the early establishment on Luzon of
enemy land-based aviation, it was already apparent that American bomber operations would be still further restricted. Even before the completion of these missions of the 10th it had become apparent that Clark Field was no longer suited for service even as a staging point for bomber operations. By the close of the next day all of the B-17’s but one, which came in from Cebu on the 13th, had fallen back on the Mindanao base.70
If any doubt persisted as to the necessity for this move, that doubt had been removed by a heavy Japanese attack on Nichols Field and the naval base at Cavite just after midday on the 10th. At 1115, interceptor headquarters received specific warning of enemy aircraft approaching from the north, and for their interception dispatched planes of the 17th Squadron to Manila Bay, of the 21st to the port area of the city, and of the 34th to Bataan. A large number of enemy bombers escorted by an estimated 100 fighters roared over Nichols Field and Cavite, systematically bombing and strafing air installations, docks, and supply centers. American pursuits were overwhelmed in their attempts to break up the enemy’s bomber formations. The experience of the 17th Squadron, whose ten P-40’s found themselves confronted by a force of some fifty bombers and forty fighters, was typical of the action. When the Americans undertook to engage the bombers, enemy fighters thwarted almost every effort, and after some minutes the P-40’s were forced to break away because of a shortage of fuel. One pilot, Lt. William M. Rowe, shook off pursuing enemy fighters by taking “a long dive at the ground,” and made for Del Carmen Field north of Manila only to find the field under a strafing attack. Turning back toward Clark Field, he landed there safely with no more than two gallons of fuel left. In the engagement, the Americans had lost three planes with no apparent damage to the enemy.71 At Cavite the power plant, industrial facilities, and supply depots had been “completely ruined.” The submarine Sea Lion had been sunk and other naval craft damaged.72 The Interceptor Command, now left with only thirty pursuit aircraft, including eight outmoded P-35’s and not counting one or two virtually useless P-26’s, could no longer promise for either air or naval installations even a semblance of adequate protection.73 It was immediately decided to conserve the few planes remaining by using them chiefly for purposes of reconnaissance – a decision which meant that our bases on Luzon would be even more vulnerable to enemy air attack than before.74
With American pursuits held for reconnaissance and American bombers withdrawn to the Del Monte field on Mindanao, General MacArthur’s care to avoid a premature commitment of his forces left the enemy to continue his landing operations almost unopposed. While strengthening their beachheads at Aparri and Vigan, the Japanese made threatening gestures off the coast of southern Luzon and increased the tempo of their air offensive. On 12 December, more than 100 enemy aircraft were over southern Luzon picking targets at Clark Field, Batangas, and Olongapo. The same points were hit again on the following day, with the addition of destructive attacks on Nielson and Nichols fields. In spite of orders to avoid battle, American and Filipino pilots at times attempted interception. Thus on the 13th, Capt. Jesus Villamor led six ancient P-26’s in interception of some fifty-four attacking bombers; the harassing tactics of the Filipino flyers minimized damage to their Batangas field.75 But such sporadic efforts proved of only momentary and local significance.
Planned combat missions during the period from 10 to 18 December were few. On the 12th Major Combs carried out a single-plane mission against enemy transports at Vigan. No hits were scored. On 14 December six B-17’s were scheduled for a bombing attack on a Japanese bridgehead near Legaspi in southern Luzon, but only three of the bombers, piloted by Lieutenants Wheless, Adams, and Vandevanter, reached the target. of these, Wheless’ plane became separated from the others in low-hanging clouds over Mindanao and made the attack alone from 9.500 feet. Before the results of the bombing could be observed, eighteen enemy pursuits swarmed around the plane. All four gunners were wounded, Pfc Killin fatally, but four enemy planes were apparently destroyed. Wheless in an extraordinary display of airmanship nursed his riddled bomber back toward Del Monte, but was forced to crash-land on a small barricaded field at Cagayan (Mindanao) in a drizzling rain. Of the other two planes to reach the target, Vandevanter’s escaped without being attacked, but Adams’ B-17 was continuously attacked from the time it reached the target area. Machine-gun bullets cut through the plane, wounding several of the personnel and knocking out two engines. After a forced landing n the island of Masbate, just across the strait from Legaspi, the crew ran for cover while persistent enemy fighters completely destroyed the plane by strafing.76 On 16 December, Lieutenants Wagner, Church,
and Strauss were allowed to break the routine of reconnaissance by undertaking the hazardous mission of dive bombing the enemy-held airfield at Vigan. When they had reached the target area, Wagner signaled Strauss to remain on patrol, while he and Church proceeded to bomb the airfield. As they went into a dive, Church’s plane was hit and set afire by AA, but he continued the attack, released his bombs, and crashed. Wagner meanwhile had dropped six fragmentation bombs and had strafed a fuel dump and approximately twenty planes parked on the runway. other combat activity by pursuit pilots was incidental to scheduled reconnaissance missions, as when on 13 December Lieutenant Wagner in approaching Aparri shot down four enemy fighters and went on to strafe others on the field.77
The First Withdrawal to Australia
Such isolated victories could not conceal the fact that the Japanese held unchallengeable control of the air over Luzon and, helped by the possession of such fields a those at Aparri and Vigan, were in a position to extend this control over all of the Philippines. Though the heavy bombers had already been forced to move back almost 600 miles from Clark Field to Del Monte, it was now planned to withdraw them another 1,500 miles to Darwin, Australia. in addition to the growing danger that Del Monte would soon be subjected to constant air attack, there was a general lack of maintenance facilities there which seriously limited the operations that could be undertaken. War had come at a time when little more than a beginning had been made in the effort to convert Del Monte into a major heavy bomber base. (See above, pp. 187–89.) Since then personnel of the 5th Air Base Group had worked day and night to strengthen defenses and to improve the facilities. Underground shelters had been constructed instead of barracks, and for purposes of dispersal four outlying fields within a fifteen-miles radius had been selected. But there was no radar set on Mindanao; non pursuit planes were available for defensive cover; nor did the base enjoy the protection of any large-caliber antiaircraft guns. Antiaircraft defenses were limited to water-cooled .50-cal. machine guns and a few additional air-cooled .50’s removed from B-17’s. The air warning system consisted of lookouts posted on hills north and south of the field with a telephone line to operations headquarters. Until the Del Monte base could be greatly strengthened and its facilities improved, it seemed advisable
to withdraw the bombers to a base that would afford an opportunity for a thorough overhaul of the already badly battered planes.78
The decision had been made none too soon. On 16 December, mechanics began to service the bombers for the 1,500-miles flight to Darwin. Three days later, Del Monte experienced its first serious air attack. As dusk fell that day, three B-18’s had just landed, one of them bringing General Clagett from Manila, and before they could be dispersed and camouflaged with coconut leaves, twelve enemy fighters skimmed the field to destroy the bombers by strafing. Several camouflaged B-17’s, loading for their trip to Australia, were overlooked and took off that night as scheduled to join others which had reached Australia during the preceding two days. Within another two days the last of the B-17’s, making a total of fourteen, arrived at Batchelor Field near Darwin.79
In spite of the decision to transfer all heavy bombers to Australia, there was no intention of abandoning the defense of the Philippines. The morale of officers and men on Luzon remained high, in part at least because they constantly expected the arrival of reinforcements. According to one writer, the Army at this time traveled as much on rumors as on its stomach. One day there was news that the Navy was coming to the rescue, “sweeping everything before it.” Again “someone” heard that Dewey Boulevard was lined with A-20’s. On another occasion, 27th Group headquarters was falsely informed by telephone that its A-24’s were being unloaded at the dock. A rush to the docks revealed nothing except, as the group historian recorded, “that there was probably a Fifth Columnist or two on Luzon and they had our number.”80
Hope was not confined to the rank and file. General MacArthur throughout December thought that the Philippines could be reinforced, mentioning in his communications to Washington the possibility of early air counterattacks against Formosa. It was his feeling, however, that first priority in allocations to his theater should consist of pursuit planes and bombs to be brought in by aircraft carrier. “High-flying bombardment aircraft” and ground troops were rated by him as of secondary importance.81 General Brereton also believed that hope need not be abandoned. On 14 December he listed for MacArthur ten squadrons of pursuit aircraft as an immediate requirement, indicating that in addition to the 52 A-24’s and 18 pursuit planes expected in Australia before the end of the month, it would be “advantageous”
to have 200 pursuit and 50 dive bombers delivered to the Philippines by aircraft carrier. Fields for these planes he felt could be maintained satisfactorily, and he pointed out that airdrome construction following the outbreak of war had been accelerated. His engineers had reported that Clark, Nichols, San Marcelino, and Del Carmen fields on Luzon could be maintained i operating condition, and that some eight or ten additional strips would be ready by the last of December.82 Nor had Washington abandoned plans for support of the Philippines. President Roosevelt specifically directed that reinforcements should be sent there with all speed, and MacArthur was informed on 15 December not only that the strategic importance of the Philippines was fully recognized but that there would be no wavering in the determination to provide support. In partial fulfillment of the promise, the dispatch of sixty-five new heavy bombers had been authorized in addition to fifteen LB-30’s repossessed from the British, a transfer to completed by 21 February 1942, and MacArthur was further informed on 23 December that these planes, to be ferried via the South Atlantic and India, (see below, pp. 331–33) would come under his control at Bangalore.83
It soon became evident, however, that the time factor outweighed all others. The Japanese were pressing down from their northern landings; in the south the city of Davao, with its fifth column of some 30,000 Japanese, was easily overrun on 20 December; and by that date the heavy elements of the Japanese Second Fleet had moved north to cover the main enemy landing on 20–21 December at Lingayen Gulf. MacArthur’s strategy against this assault was based upon a plan which “had been on the books” for many years. It consisted of delaying actions in central Luzon and a retreat to Bataan where, it was hoped, the limited forces available would serve as a buffer for Corregidor.84
Except for reconnaissance missions carried out by pursuit pilots, the air force could offer little support to the hard pressed infantry in this withdrawal. From its distant base at Darwin the 19th Group undertook on 22 December to mount a mission of nine B-17’s in accordance with a plan to use Del Monte as a staging point for refueling and rearming. Having taken off from Batchelor Field, they swept over Davao Gulf at sunset and dropped 30 x 500-lb. bombs on a cluster of seven ships. No pursuit or AA interfered with the attack, but visibility was poor and results were negligible. The B-17’s landed
after dark at the now much-bombed Del Monte field, from which four of them took off again shortly after midnight for Lingayen Gulf, almost 600 miles away. Again visibility was poor and although transports were bombed, no hits were observed. The Japanese put up a barrage of antiaircraft fire which did no damage, but enemy fighters pursued with such persistence that the bombers could not land at San Marcelino as had been planned. Instead, they headed for Australia. One of the planes came down for refueling at an emergency field at San Jose in Mindoro; the other three reached the Dutch base at Amboina before landing. By 24 December all nine aircraft, five proceeding directly from Del Mont, had returned to Batchelor Field.85 Meanwhile, another flight from Australia, this time of three heavy bombers, had arrived at Del Monte. There on 24 December the aircraft were loaded each with 2,100 gallons of gasoline and 7 x 30-lb. bombs in preparation for a mission against Davao harbor. All three planes returned to Darwin, though two of them had sustained considerable damage.86
The pursuit planes in their daily reconnaissance missions continued to report the steady advance of the enemy from the north and additional landings along the Luzon coast. Against one of these landings, in San Miguel Bay on the southeast coast, the Interceptor Command decided on 23 December to throw virtually all its remaining aircraft. Attrition had cut down the 24th Group’s striking power to a total of twelve P-40’s and six P-35’s, but they proved sufficient to create a gratifying confusion among enemy personnel in landing barges and around supply dumps ashore. The Japanese put up a heavy screen of antiaircraft fire. On P-35 was forced into a crash landing, and an explosive bullet, shattering the windscreen of Lieutenant Wagner’s P-40, well-nigh blinded him.87 The American effort was in effect a last gesture of defiance, for following this mission all air force units received instruction to evacuate currently held Luzon bases as a part of the general withdrawal to Bataan. The evacuation began on 24 December.
Typical of the confusion which naturally reached its climax in this withdrawal was the experience of the 27th Group, whose personnel had suffered the particularly galling experience of being caught in the front line of war without their planes. On 18 December the group had been deprived of its commander when Maj. John H. Davies, together
with a dozen other pilots, had been flown to Australia for the purpose of ferrying back the first of the group’s long-awaited A-24’s. Three days later, remaining personnel had been ordered to prepare against the arrival of the planes three new fields to be located at Lipa below Manila and at San Marcelino and San Fernando to the northwest. on the 24th, the move from Manila to these points had just been completed when another order directed all personnel to proceed to the Manila docks. From there by truck and boat they made their way to Bataan, where on Christmas day they celebrated with a dinner of bread and hot coffee, topped off in a few cases by a nip of “grog.”88 For all practical purposes, the 27th Group now became a part of General MacArthur’s infantry, with which it would fight to the bitter end.
The same fate awaited personnel of the 24th Group, but for a time the tentative plan and organization reflected a continuing hope of reinforcement. Both General Clagett and General Brereton had left the Philippines, the latter of 24 December with members of his staff in two PBY’s to establish a new headquarters in Australia.89 By the 29th of December, 650 officers and men of the 19th Group had embarked in a hazardous movement by bout from Luzon to Del Monte, which the Australia-based bombers still hoped to use as a forward staging point for bombing operations.90 On Luzon, which for all practical purposes now meant Bataan, there remained the Interceptor Command under the capable and energetic Col. Harold H. George, who as senior air officer proceeded to bring some order out of the confusion accompanying the move to Bataan. His handful of pursuit planes were distributed among three newly constructed fields at the head of the peninsula under a plan to fall back as required to the Mariveles, Cabcaben, and Bataan fields nearer Corregidor. Except for the few pilots required to fly these planes and the men necessary for their maintenance, the 24th Group was posted as infantry reserved, an action, as events proved, merely preliminary to its redesignation n 10 January as the 2nd Infantry Regiment (Provisional) with assignment to the 71st Division. Colonel George had only a skeleton staff, but one which could be expanded in the event hoped-for reinforcements arrived before the tired American troops had been overwhelmed.91
Chief hope of immediate relief rode with the convoy of eight transports and freighters which had left Honolulu for the Philippines on 29 November under escort by the U.S. cruiser Pensacola. As already
noted, this convoy carried the ground echelon of the 7th Bombardment Group (H), other air combat and service personnel to a total of approximately 2,500 officers and men, 18 P-40’s, and the unassembled 52 A-24’s of the 27th Bombardment Group, in addition to large supplies of aviation fuel and ammunition. When after crossing the equator word came of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, protective measures were taken, and as many guns as could be found were set up in improvised mounts; but five of the vessels were left entirely without armament. Even after picking up additional guns at Suva in the Fiji Islands, the convoy remained ill prepared to defend itself. On 12 December, the convoy being still intact, it was decided to organize the troops aboard into a task force under command of Brig. Gen. Julian F. Barnes, senior officer present; and the following day General Barnes received orders to proceed with the convoy to Australia, where he would assume command of all U.S. troops in that country. There the aircraft, ground crews, and other necessary equipment would be landed, the aircraft to bed assembled for immediate ferrying to Luzon, while the convoy itself would proceed, conditions permitting, to the Philippines. General Barnes announced on 19 December that his command would be known as United States Forces in Australia, a designation altered on 5 January to United States Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA).92
Meanwhile, preparations were under way in Australia for receiving the convoy and forwarding reinforcements to our beleaguered forces on Luzon. The U.S. military attaché, Col. Van S. Merle-Smith, acting under instructions from Washington made preliminary arrangements for assembly of aircraft and disposition of the vessels. General Barnes received notice on 21 December that Maj. Gen. George H. Brett would soon reach Australia to organize and command all American units. But General Brett, who had served in almost every administrative post in the Air Corps, was at the time completing an official tour of the middle East, India, and China and did not leave Chungking for Australia until the 24th.93 En route to his new post he conferred with British officials in India and Dutch authorities in Java, so that his arrival in Australia to take up the mission of establishing a supply system for reinforcement of the Philippines was delayed until the end of December. Pending the arrival of General Brett, General Clagett, who had left Luzon of the 18th, assumed command when on 22 December he reached Brisbane. There on the same day the convoy
arrived and on the following day began its debarkation. Arrangements had been made for quartering the American troops on the grounds of the local Ascot and Doomben race tracks, with tenting and messing facilities provided by the Australian army, and for the use of the near-by Archerfield and Amberley airdromes for assembly of the aircraft.94
Several factors interfered with a speedy execution of plans. The convoy had been loaded on a peacetime basis, with little attention to the advantage of placing equipment on the same vessel with its designated unit. In order to find the organization equipment of the troops who were to remain in Australia and the parts for aircraft to be assembled there, it proved necessary to unload practically the entire cargo, sort it, and reload such of it as was destined for shipment north to the Philippines. Even then vital parts of the A-24’s – trigger motors, solenoids, and gun mounts – were never found. After many hours of fruitless search for missing parts, it was decided to reload equipment scheduled for water transport on the two fastest ships, the Holbrook and the Bloemfontein. With Australian dockworkers assisting in the effort through twenty-four hours of the day, the reloading was completed by 28 December. The Holbrook sailed immediately; the Bloemfontein, delayed until its captain received clarification of orders from Dutch authorities, left the next day.95
Through the initial steps toward reinforcement of the Philippines had thus been taken, further delays would frustrate the effort. Assembly of the planes was accomplished in short order, but the missing parts of the A-24’s were never found; and since they were not available in Australia, it was necessary to await their shipment from the United States, whence they were dispatched by air early in January. Moreover, it had been discovered that there was no Prestone for the P-40’s, and through some was eventually rounded up in Australia, this entailed still another delay.96 And immediate difficulties of this sort, despite the urgent need for planes on Bataan, were incidental to the more important task of establishing a base in Australia that could maintain a continuing flow of reinforcements to Luzon. The war had caught the United States midway in a program for air reinforcement of the Philippines – planes, personnel, and equipment had already been allocated for the purpose and their movement in many instances had been started. If the problems involved in channeling their movement through an Australian base could be promptly solved, there was a real
prospect of getting substantial, even though limited, reinforcements to MacArthur. There were also grounds for hoping that heavy bomber units now based on Darwin might increase the weight of their operations against Philippine targets. The Japanese by landing on Wake Island on 23 December had cut the only tested air route for movement of that type of plane, but progress on construction of a ferry route through the South Pacific offered grounds for hope that the inaugural flight could be made even in advance of the scheduled date of 15 January. Both the Army and the Navy were working feverishly to provide at least minimum facilities on Christmas, Canton, Samoa, the Fijis, and New Caledonia.97 At the same time, steps were being taken to extend the ferry route across the South Atlantic beyond Africa to India and the Netherlands East Indies.* But again, the weight of the bombing effort that could be made would depend in no small part on the resources of an Australian base, and the task of developing such a base was tremendous.
Its establishment depended almost entirely upon the arrival of personnel, supplies, and equipment from the United States. General Marshall had suggested that Australian resources be utilized as much as possible in order to relieve the burden on American transport, but the industrial facilities of Australia were limited at best and, moreover, the nation was already hard pressed to supply the needs of its own armed forces. Of more immediate concern were the handicaps imposed by Australia’s transportation system. Military necessity gave the greatest strategic importance to that section of the country which had been least developed; the main centers of population, wealth, and transportation were in the southeast, whereas the north and northeast now held the position of key military importance. The difficulty of transporting goods overland from Brisbane to Darwin was as great as from Darwin to the Philippines, if not so dangerous. No railroad connected the two cities, which were 2,500 miles apart by the most expeditious land route. For over a quarter of this distance only a rough motor road cut through the central desert, and this road ended approximately 300 miles from Darwin to connect with a railway capable of carrying no more than 300 tons of freight per day. Repair facilities were inadequate for maintenance of either road or railway, and some of the rolling stock literally buckled under the weight of heavy American equipment.98 The problem of storage facilities was
* See below, pp. 329–31.
solved when the Australian made several wool warehouses temporarily available. But the question of an adequate labor supply was not so readily resolved.99 Not only did Australia have a small population of about 8,000,000, but her manpower was already heavily committed to her own war effort and the greatest need for assistance fell in area of relatively sparse settlement.
Fortunately, preliminary steps had been taken prior to the war for coordination of defensive efforts between American and Australian authorities as occasion might require. General Brereton had visited Australia in November, and plans for the South Pacific air route had required arrangements for use of airfields and other facilities within Australian territory. It was against this background, then, that the
first of several Allied conferences met on 28 December at Amberley Field to consider common problems and opportunities for mutual assistance. It was agreed that American officers would assume actual responsibility for the erection of their planes, but that to assure proper coordination of the effort with plans for movement of the assembled planes an Australian officer would be put in general charge. Since the aircraft would have to be ferried overland for a distance of over 2,000 miles before they reached a jumping-off place at Darwin, it was decided to establish refueling depots at Charleville, Cloncurry, Daly Waters, and Darwin. Though 100-octane gasoline could be procured from the Netherlands East Indies, this fuel was of so high an aromatic content that it destroyed the leakproof lining of fuel tanks, and consequently forced consideration of the problems of importing American fuel. In addition to limited stocks built up before the war, the steamship Mauna Loa was on the way to Brisbane with a load of 400,000 gallons, but even so the supply would fall far short of the prewar goal of 10,000,000 gallons.100
The Amberley conferences also gave attention to a problem of training. Not only was the air route from Brisbane to Darwin a difficult one for those who lacked experience in the area, but the over-waters hops from Darwin to the Philippines presented their own navigational and combat hazards. On 28 December General Clagett and Sir Charles Burnett, chief of the Australian air staff, agreed to inaugurate a training program for A-24 crews at Archerfield and for P-40 pilots at Amberley. Details of the two programs were worked out the following day at a meeting of American and Australian officers. The Australian were given general oversight of the program, while Maj. John H. Davies, commanding officer of the 27th Group, received responsibility for the standard of training. The prescribed course consisted of practice in night flying, dive bombing, and aerial gunnery.101 Thus was the foundation laid for a close collaboration between personnel of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the AAF that would continue through almost four years of war.
The American command charged with these and other preparations in Australia was not technically an air organization. But for the time being at least, its responsibilities called principally for support of air operations, a consideration that probably had affected the decision to assign General Brett to the command of United States Army Forces in Australia. On 29 December, two days before Brett’s arrival in Australia,
General Brereton had reached Darwin after conferences in route from the Philippines with American naval commanders and Dutch air and army officials at Soerabaja and Batavia. It was his mission under instructions from General MacArthur to organize “advanced operating bases from which, with the Far East Air Force, you can protect the lines of communications, secure bases in Mindanao, and support the defense of the Philippines by the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East.” He was to establish liaison with the Commanding General, U.S. Forces in Australia, who was “charged with the organization of bases in Australia,” and from those bases to direct “the operation of the Far East Air Force ... and the disposition of Air Corps troops in advance thereof in order to accomplish your assigned mission.”102 General Brereton established a temporary headquarters at Darwin.
Though the aim of all operations still remained officially the reinforcement of the Philippines, there was not little justification for the hope that substantial reinforcements and supplies could reach MacArthur’s forces in time to save them. In addition to the difficulties, delays, and frustrations already noted, it was daily becoming more unlikely that pursuit aircraft, the first requirement in air reinforcements, could be ferried into the Philippines. The Japanese, who recently had captured Davao and as a result were using airfields on Mindanao by the last week in December, threatened soon to be astride all possible air routes from Australia to the Philippines. Under these circumstances both the A-24 and the P-40, their range limited to little more than 500 miles, could be intercepted with relative ease. Moreover, it was evident enough that the Allies would soon be hard put to hold even the key points in the Netherlands East Indies against the continuing advance of Japanese forces.103
General Brett, who reached Australia on 31 December, found little immediate hope of an effective reinforcement of the Philippines. On 2 January he radioed General Marshall that it would be impossible to carry out much in the way of tactical operations until an “establishment” in Australia, including a large air base at Darwin and a major supply and repair base at Townsville, had been developed. in a recent conference with Gen. Sir Archibald Wavell, who had been transferred from the Middle East to India the preceding July, Brett had found agreement on general principles of strategy, and on 3 January he presented their conclusions to a conference with Australian chiefs of staff and other military and governmental officials. In considering
the possibilities in the situation confronting the associated powers, he emphasized the necessity for a defensive strategy until such time as sufficient forces had been brought together for offensive operations (a) by working from Burma into China towards Shanghai to acquire advanced bases; (b) by exerting slow pressure through the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya; and (c) by exerting similar pressure from Australia into the islands to the North.” On the following day he ordered the Holbrook and Bloemfontein, the only vessels so far dispatched to Macarthur put in at Darwin and to discharge their cargo and all troops at that port.104
By this time the War Department, too, held grave doubts as to the feasibility of sending substantial reinforcements to the Philippines. I was clear that ta reservoir of supply could not be built up Australia except over a period of many months. Hope of ferrying short-range planes to the Philippines declined with each report of the progress of Japanese forces, and the prospect of breaking through the sea blockade with a naval escort for convoys was even less promising. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill with their chiefs of staff, then meeting in Washington, had considered such an operation. But the U.S. navy had been hard hit at Pearl Harbor, the balance of naval power in the Pacific had been further upset in Japan’s favor by loss of the British Prince of Wales, and the Repulse to enemy bombers on 10 December, and forces already committed to the Atlantic and Middle East theaters could not be released within the time available.* A memorandum of 3 January for the Chief of Staff signed by Brig. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, Assistant Chief of Staff, outlined the operations that would be required to restore the American position in the Philippines. The first requirement would be to gain air and naval superiority south of the line Malaya–Borneo–Celebes and to make preparations for extending this control northward. With air supremacy established in the Netherlands East Indies, it would be necessary to extend this supremacy from NEI bases northward to cover Mindanao, and then with the support of strong naval and air forces to land large ground forces on Mindanao preparatory to a drive into Luzon. The associated powers commanded of course neither the time nor the means for such an operation as this, and on the basis of an unavoidable conclusion that “the forces required for the relief of the Philippines cannot be placed in the Far East area
* See below, pp. 239–43.
within the time available,” it was recommended that for the present Allied efforts in the Far East be limited to holding the Malay barrier, Burma, and Australia and to operations projected northward “to provide maximum defense in depth.”105
Of the soundness of this conclusion events would soon offer more than ample proof. On Bataan the American forces would continue their heroic struggle, but a skillful and swift-moving enemy had already engulfed them.