|Failure and Destruction,
Clark Field, the Philippines, December 8, 1941
by Michael Gough
Ten days after bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant General Walter Short and
Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the Army and Navy commanders in Hawaii, were
relieved of their commands and reduced in rank. Their sin: the Japanese had
caught them by surprise and killed soldiers and sailors, sunk ships, and
News of Pearl Harbor reached U.S. forces in the Philippine Islands less than
half an hour after the attack (about 2:30 A.M., December 8, in the Philippines,
corresponding to 8:00 A.M., December 7, in Hawaii). Nine hours later,
unopposed Japanese attacks caught U.S. bombers and pursuits sitting on the
"If surprise at Pearl Harbor is hard to understand, surprise at Manila is
completely incomprehensible," wrote Samuel E. Morison, author of History of
US Naval Operations in World War II. Despite destruction of American
airpower, no officer in the Philippines was relieved from duty. One officer,
the major who commanded the 24th Pursuit Group (PG) at Clark Field, was
punished. He never again held a command position. Other, higher-ranking
officers – colonels and generals – went on to higher commands.
This article is a description of the disaster in the Philippines and the parts
played by some individuals in it. In its last sections, I discuss possible
reasons for the disparity in punishment meted out to the officers surprised at
Pearl Harbor and officers who, knowing that war had started, failed to prevent
or blunt the disaster that hit their commands.
The Philippine Islands, Part of the American Empire
In one of the decisive battles of the Spanish-American War, Admiral Thomas
Dewey steamed into Manila Bay on Sunday, May 1, 1898, and led his ships in a
methodical shelling of the anchored Spanish Fleet and Spanish sailors at Mass.
When the Battle of Manila Bay (or Battle of Cavite; see map,
table 1) was over, Dewey landed a contingent of Marines to
complete the destruction of shore batteries, completing a smashing U.S.
victory. The signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 12, 1898, ended the
Spanish-American War, and gave the United States possession of the Philippine
Islands, 7,000 miles away from the California coast. (The U.S. also took
possession of Cuba and other assorted real estate).
Peace in the Islands remained far away. For four years, 1899-1902, Filipinos,
happy to be rid of the Spanish but unhappy to be placed under the American
yoke, fought the new conquerors of their islands. When the Philippine
Insurrection ended, scattered resistance to the Americans persisted up to, at
In 1903, the young Lt. Douglas MacArthur was ordered to the Philippines. While
there, his small engineering detachment was attacked by two guerillas who
managed only to shoot a hole in his campaign hat. He killed both men with his
pistol. , The Philippines charmed MacArthur, who wrote, they "fastened me
with a grip that never relaxed."
After its conquest of the Islands, the United States fortified the Philippines
as a bulwark against Japanese expansion into the Pacific, and military
authorities authored a number of war plans to guide the defense of the islands.
The October 1940 RAINBOW 5 war plan called for the U.S. Army and the Philippine
Army to yield the bulk of the islands to an invading foe (the Japanese), fall
back on and defend Manila and the critical anchorages around Manila, and hold
out until relief could arrive from the United States.
While Field Marshall of the Philippine Army (1935-July 1941) and having no
official position in the U.S. Army, General MacArthur, joined with Major
General George Grunert, commander of the Philippines Department of the USA, and
other officers to argue for a change in RAINBOW 5. They said that all the
islands could be held if U.S. troops were reinforced and equipped with better
weapons and the Philippine Army was trained and equipped according to
General Lewis Brereton arrived in Manila to take command of the Far East Air
Force (FEAF; see table 2)
on November 4, 1941 and brought written confirmation of changes in RAINBOW 5.
Under the changed plans, General MacArthur, whom President Franklin D.
Roosevelt had recalled to the USA in July 1941 and placed in command of the
U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), was authorized to defend all the
The altered RAINBOW 5 expanded the role of the United States Army Air Force
(AAF). No longer would it be restricted to protecting targets in the
||In the event of hostilities, the defending air
forces were to carry out "air raids against Japanese forces and installations
within tactical operating radius of available bases."
To ready the AAF for its expanded war, the War Department planned to ship
essentially all B-17s to the Islands as they came off the assembly line.
Production of the then-new bombers was only getting underway, and only 35 B-17s
had arrived in the Philippines by December 1941. On December 7, 19 of the
bombers were at Clark Field on Luzon, within range of bombers from
Japanese-held Formosa, and the remainder had been flown 500 miles south to Del
Monte Field (see table 3),
far out of range of Formosa-based aircraft.
Convinced that the Japanese would be unable to attack before April 1942,
MacArthur was confident that the Philippines defenses would be proof against
the assault. On December 5, 1941, in a meeting with British Admiral Tom
Phillips, the commander of the Royal Navy detachment at Singapore, MacArthur
spoke confidently, "The inability of an enemy to launch his air attack on these
islands is our greatest security.... [N]othing would please me better than if
they would give me three months and then attack here ... that would deliver the
enemy into our hands." As it turned out, the Japanese didn't please
MacArthur. They attacked three days later.
According to Richard L. Watson, author of the chapter about Pearl Harbor and
Clark Field in the Army Air Force History, Army Air Forces in World War II:
Vol. 1: Plans and Early Operations, January 1939 to August 1942, "about
90 pursuits" were in the islands. Bartsch (2003) presents a more
detailed inventory (see table
3). The USAAF had 71 P-40Bs and Es, the only "modern" pursuits,
in the islands. The other pursuits, the P-35As, lacked adequate armament,
armor, and self-sealing gas tanks. The B-18s that appear as equipment of the
bomb groups were inadequate bombers and were used as transports.
News of War Comes to the Philippines, December 8, 1941
Army and Navy officers in the Philippine Islands learned about Pearl Harbor
within minutes of the attack. William Manchester, in his generally positive
recounting of General Douglas MacArthur's life, American Caesar, 
and Stanley Wientraub, more critical of the general, agree that the
first official news of the attack was a phone call to Admiral Thomas Hart, the
commander of the U.S. Navy's Asiatic Fleet.
"At 0230 of the 8th (0800, 7 December, Pearl Harbor time)," about five
minutes after the Pearl Harbor attack began, a Navy radioman in Manila heard
the famous "This is no drill" message. He passed it to the officer of the day
who telephoned Admiral Hart in his room at the Manila Hotel. The ringing
telephone woke Hart at "just a few minutes before" or "a few minutes after"
Commercial radio broadcasts were the army's first source of information about
Pearl Harbor. Bartsch credits Pvt. Harry Seiff, the 20th Pursuit Squadron's
(PS's) cook, as being the first soldier at Clark to hear about Pearl
Harbor. News spread rapidly, and Brigadier General Richard Sutherland,
General MacArthur's chief of staff, telephoned MacArthur in his penthouse of
the Manila Hotel at about 3:30 AM.
Less than an hour and a half after Pearl Harbor, General George C. Marshall,
USA Chief of Staff, sent a radiogram to MacArthur. Handed to MacArthur at 5:30
A.M., Manila time, the message stated, "hostilities between Japan and the
United States ... have commenced.... Carry out tasks assigned in Rainbow
Characteristic of the reporting of that confused morning, the extent of
Army-Navy interactions is unclear. Manchester states, "Hart neglected to share
this vital information [Pearl Harbor] with MacArthur or any other Army
officer." Weintraub writes that Hart's chief of staff, Admiral William R.
Purnell, "rushed the news to General Sutherland...." Bartsch (2003) agrees
with Weintraub's account. "Twenty-five minutes later (at 3:55 AM), he
(MacArthur) received confirmation of the attack through Admiral Hart."
Given Manchester's bias toward MacArthur, he might be expected to favor
interpretations that suggest the people around him failed the general; in this
case, the Navy failed to inform him. Weintraub and Bartsch, more critical of
the general, go in the other direction, citing evidence that MacArthur had been
The author of the chapter about Clark Field in the Air Force History states,
"[B]ase commanders received prompt notification and all units were placed on
combat alert." Perhaps, but the notification was not always prompt. The
34th PS based at Del Carmen Field (see
table 1), did not receive news of Pearl Harbor until about
8:00. And, as would be expected, many individual soldiers learned by word
of mouth. Ed Whitcome, then a B-17 navigator, writes,
||I was on the way to breakfast at the mess hall
[at Clark Field] a block away. It seemed that it would be just another day of
preparing to go to war until somebody said, "There is a rumor that the Japanese
attacked Pearl Harbor."
The Army history probably has it right, when it says,
||By breakfast, the news of the attack on Pearl
Harbor had reached all ranks. The men had for so long accepted the fact that
war with Japan might come that the event itself was an anticlimax. There was no
cheering and no demonstration, but "a grim, thoughtful silence." [Reference
Decisions Not Made and Messages Not Forwarded
When informed about Pearl Harbor, General Brereton drove to see General
MacArthur to request permission to carry out the planned-for bombing of
Japanese bases on Formosa. Arriving at USAFFE Headquarters at 5:00, Brereton
did not see MacArthur. Manchester says that Sutherland told Brereton that
MacArthur was in conference with Admiral Hart and could not be disturbed;
Bartsch states that Sutherland told Brereton that MacArthur was in
conference; Weintraub writes that Sutherland had Brereton "cool his heels"
before telling him that MacArthur was unavailable. As Brereton left USAFFE
Headquarters, Sutherland told him to go ahead with his plans and that he would
secure MacArthur's permission for the attack.
Time was critical. Clearly, an attack should be launched before the Japanese
struck. Neither that attack nor any other was forthcoming.
Brereton returned to USAFFE headquarters at about 7:15. Again, Sutherland
prevented his seeing MacArthur and told Brereton that MacArthur had not
responded to his request for permission to attack Formosa. When Brereton
pressed Sutherland, Sutherland went into MacArthur's office, quickly returned,
and said MacArthur had denied the request. "The General says no. Don't make the
first overt act."
The words "first overt act" play a major role in understanding, interpreting,
or explaining away the events of December 8, 1941. For this discussion, the
words originate in a "war warning" that General Marshall sent to Army
commanders on November 27, 1941: "... hostile actions possible at any
moment.... If hostilities cannot, repeat, cannot be avoided the United States
desires that Japan commit the first overt act...."
Sutherland and MacArthur cite compliance with that message as a reason for
denying Brereton permission to launch the bombing attacks. Certainly bombing
Formosa would have been an overt act. Brereton's argument that Pearl Harbor had
been an overt act did not persuade Sutherland. Neither did Sutherland's
knowledge, not shared with Brereton, that Japan had already bombed Davao, a
port on the Philippine island of Mindanao. After the bombings of Pearl Harbor
and Davao, hardly anyone – except Sutherland and MacArthur – would characterize
a subsequent American strike as the "first overt act."
Another reason has been suggested MacArthur's reluctance to issue orders. In
||Some have speculated that MacArthur may have
hesitated to attack Formosa in deference to Pres. Manuel Quezon's alleged hope
that the Japanese would not attack the Philippines if MacArthur did not attack
them first. On the other hand, Quezon reportedly told Maj. Gen. Dwight
Eisenhower in ... 1942: "... MacArthur was convinced for some strange reason
that the Philippines would remain neutral and would not be attacked by the
MacArthur had been a serving officer in the U.S. Army since July 1941, when he
resigned his reign as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. As a U.S. Army
officer, he was subject to Marshall's command to initiate RAINBOW 5, which
included air attacks on Japanese targets. His cavalier disregard of that order
hardly squares with his self-portrayal as the embodiment of West Point's credo
"Duty, honor, country."
At about 8:00,
Brigadier General Gerow in Marshall's office telephoned MacArthur to ask if he
had received the cables that Marshall had sent earlier in the morning.
MacArthur said yes and offered no explanation for his having not responded
sooner. Gerow said, "I wouldn't be surprised if you got an attack there in
the near future." To which MacArthur responded, "tell General Marshall that
'our tails are up in the air.'"
Tails had been "up in the air. On the night of December 7-8, as on several
nights during the preceding week, the Iba radar (the only operational radar in
the Philippines) had detected airplanes flying from the north. At a little
after midnight, 1st Lt Hank Thorne, commanding officer of the 3rd PS , led a
flight of six P-40Es into the air, and, guided by radar, attempted an
interception. Iba radar lost radio contact with Thorne's flight and the radar
operators watched as path of the American pursuits intersected that of the
Japanese. The P-40 pilots saw no airplanes and returned to Iba to make the
first night landing at that field in the lights of cars and trucks shown on the
A few hours later, at 4:00 A.M. or so, and after news of Pearl Harbor had
arrived, the pilots of the 17th and 21st PSs at Nichols Field on the outskirts
of Manila, were sitting in the cockpits or beneath the wings of their P-40Es.
At Iba, the pilots of the 3rd PS in their P-40Es, and the pilots of the 20th PS
in their P-40Bs were in a similar state of readiness at Clark. The 34th PS at
San Carlos Field, equipped with woeful P-35As, had not been alerted in the
Sleepy and on-edge, pilots wondered about the war. When would it reach them?
Would their machine guns fire? (many had never been fired in flight). How would
their heavy, slow-climbing pursuits perform? (on interception training flights,
U.S. bombers had simply flown away from them at altitudes over 20,000 feet).
A little before 8:00 A.M., Iba radar informed the Air Warning Service (AWS) at
Nielson Field that at least 30 Japanese aircraft were flying south over Luzon
apparently headed for Clark Field. The warning service teletyped that
information to 24th PG headquarters at Clark.
Major Orrin Grover, commanding officer of the 24th PG, scrambled two squadrons
– the 17th at Nichols Field and the 20th at Clark – and sent them to patrol at
15,000 feet over Tarlac, 21 miles north of Clark. In his after-action report,
Grover wrote that he ordered the 34th to patrol over Clark in its P-35As in
case any Japanese planes broke through the 17th and 20th. There is no other
indication that the order was given to the 34th. In any case, no such order
reached the 34th, which was on the ground at San Carlos when the Japanese
attacked four hours later.
The takeoffs of the 20th PS and the 19th BG from Clark were something of a
miracle. Downwind, crosswind, and into the wind, accelerating P-40Bs dashed
around and between lumbering B-17Cs and Ds in hair-raising near-collisions. All
the pursuits and bombers got safely into the air.
Orders for the 19th BG were as much up in the air as were the bombers. Brereton
returned to his office from his 7:00 rebuff by Sutherland to tell his staff
that they could send three B-17s on a photoreconnaissance mission over Formosa.
Brereton's staff questioned the need for the reconnaissance flights. According
to Captain Allison Ing, on the FEAF staff, target folders were complete enough
to plan bombing attacks.
At 8:00, Brereton called Sutherland. Fifty minutes later, Sutherland returned
the call to say, "Hold off bombing Formosa for the present."
Sutherland also told Brereton not to call again. Maybe an hour later, after
receiving reports of Japanese bombing of cities north of Clark, Brereton
ignored Sutherland's instruction, and called again. At 10:00, Sutherland
reiterated that no offensive mission was authorized. All that changed, 15
minutes later. MacArthur, himself, called Brereton and authorized strikes on
Brereton's staff went ahead with plans to dispatch 3 B-17s on the
photoreconnaissance flight as soon as the necessary cameras arrived at Clark
from Nichols and to launch a bombing attack to arrive over Formosa at last
light in the afternoon. Charts for the bombing attack and overlays that located
Japanese airfields were prepared for the briefing of pilots and navigators. The
preparation and distribution of those charts is rather convincing evidence that
the photoreconnaissance flights were not necessary for the bomb mission.
(Bartsch, in discussing Brereton's actions on December 8, points out that
the three B-17s would have made a bigger contribution as members of the planned
bomb mission than in a not-entirely necessary reconnaissance.)
Two and a half hours after the frenzied 8:30 takeoff from Clark, essentially
every aircraft in the islands was on the ground, being serviced or ready for
takeoff. The pilots of the 17th and 20th PSs had flown back to Clark, along
with the B-17s of the 19th BG. The 3rd at Iba, the 21st at Nichols, and the
34th PS at San Carlos, had remained on the ground.
The outward appearance of a normal peacetime day in the FEAF disappeared at
11:27 A.M. Iba radar picked up a flight of aircraft over the Gulf of Lingayen
on the west coast of Luzon, north of Iba Point and reported the sighting to the
AWS at Nichols. By 11:37, AWS teletyped the radar report to 24th PG
Headquarters at Clark Field.
And from here, the course of warnings and messages and orders grows blurry.
Records of teletyped and radioed messages and orders are obscured in or have
been lost from, understandably, poor records and what are surely
self-serving after-action reports.
What is certain is that no American pursuit intercepted a single Japanese
bomber. It's also certain the 19th BG 's B-17s and the 20th PS's P-40Bs
were on the ground, when Japanese bombs began to fall at 12:35. As
Whitcomb, then a B-17 navigator, writes, "The first notice we had at the 19th
Bombardment Group Headquarters was when someone screamed, 'Here they
Defeat in the Philippines
Fifty minutes after the first bombs fell on Clark, the Japanese flew back to
Formosa, leaving Americans confronting death and wounds, destruction and
damage, fire and smoke, and demoralization. When the Japanese flew away, half
the B-17s and one-third of the P-40s were destroyed, and two of the four
P-40-equipped pursuit squadrons were eliminated as combat units. As surely as
if all its planes had been destroyed, the fifth pursuit squadron, the 34th,
equipped with P-35As, had also been eliminated from the war. Its pilots knew
their planes were deathtraps in aerial combat with Japanese fighters.
Two days later, on December 10, the Japanese bombed and strafed Nichols and Del
Carmen Fields, leaving those bases in shambles and destroying about half the
remaining P-40s and all but five P-35As. Three days after war's start, the
Japanese had eliminated U.S. airpower from the Philippines at the trifling cost
of a few aircraft and their crews.
On the afternoon of December 8, MacArthur had announced that B-17s would strike
Formosa the next day. That attack was not launched. Indeed, the B-17s, intended
to play the major role in defending the Philippines by striking and eliminating
Japanese bases, never played that role.
The destruction of American aircraft on the ground inflicted a "fatal blow" on
the FEAF and American prospects in the Philippines. At Pearl Harbor, the
carnage had ended as the last Japanese attacker flew away. Rescue and repair
began, the wounded were aided, and except for those who died from their wounds,
there were no more casualties. Certainly, the loss of several battleships dealt
a blow to U.S. prestige and morale, but the absence of those ships was to make
little difference in the war. The consequences of the Japanese attacks in the
Philippines were more far reaching.
Without air support, U.S. and Philippine troops mounted a resolute defense
against the Japanese. Only on April 9, 1942, more than a month after the
Japanese had expected to complete their conquest, did the combined U.S. and
Philippine forces, having suffered 20,000 deaths, surrender on Luzon. More
deaths and suffering awaited them. Only half the 20,000 Americans that went
into Japanese captivity survived the war; some were murdered outright, some
were tortured, many died of overwork, maltreatment, and absence of medical
care. , A larger proportion of captured Filipinos died.
The surrender of the Philippine Islands marked the largest surrender of U.S.
troops and the largest loss of U.S. territory in history. It extended the reach
of the Japanese Empire 1,000 miles into the Pacific, and the Naval Base at
Cavite, near Manila, the excellent harbors on Manila Bay, and the American
airfields were valuable additions to Japanese naval and military strength.
Neither the successful launch of the planned bombing attacks against Japanese
bases on the first day of war or the loss of fewer U.S. airplanes in the
initial Japanese attacks would have saved the Philippines from conquest. U.S.
forces in the Philippines were simply inadequate to block the Japanese.
Nevertheless, a successful U.S. attack might have caught some Japanese planes
on the ground and might have disrupted or reduced the ferocity of Japanese
attacks. Preserving more U.S. aircraft would have left the U.S. with a striking
force – the B-17s – and some aerial defense – P-40s. Instead, U.S. air power in
the Philippines was rendered toothless before it could strike a blow.
What Went Wrong?
I find it useful to divide the debacle of the FEAF into three parts: (1) The
failure to attack Japanese bases, (2) the failure to intercept Japanese
aircraft, and (3) the mistakes that left the 19th BG's B-17s and the 20th PS's
P-40s sitting ducks on the ground at Clark. In my opinion, responsibility for
the failure to attack Formosa rests on General MacArthur. American intelligence
shortfalls and arrogance played major roles in the failure to intercept. The
carnage at Clark had several contributors, but the actions of Major Orrin
Grover, commander of the 24th PG, were pivotal.
General Douglas MacArthur and Failures to Command
The destruction of the B-17s and the capacity to attack Japanese bases was the
greatest loss of December 8, 1941, in the Philippines. Had the bombers been
readied for daybreak attacks as General Brereton requested, the B-17s would
have arrived over Formosa while the Japanese airplanes were socked-in under a
heavy fog or as the Japanese airplanes were taking off. In either case, the
B-17s could have significantly disrupted the Japanese attacks that so
devastated the FEAF.
General MacArthur is the culprit for the failure to launch the B-17s in the
early morning, but he and his staff tried to make the failure appear
unavoidable or to pass it off onto subordinates, especially onto General
Brereton. In his Diaries, published in 1946, Brereton described
his efforts to secure permission to attack Formosa. In response, MacArthur
issued a statement to the New York Times, in which, among other
things, he claimed that he did not know that General Brereton had requested
permission for the early morning attack. Moreover, MacArthur said that he had
known that any such attack was doomed to failure, and that his responsibility
had been to defend the Philippines, not to initiate attacks.
It is indeed possible that MacArthur did not know of Brereton's 5:00 and 7:00
A.M. attempts to see him. Sutherland may not have informed him. On the
other hand, he became aware of Brereton's requests at sometime during the
morning because he called Brereton at 10:15 A.M. to authorize attacks later in
Overall, MacArthur was most noticeable by his absence in the early morning of
the 8th. He issued no orders to the Army until late morning, but busied himself
with writing out orders in the name of President Quezon that affected civilians
in the Philippine Islands.
There is general agreement that MacArthur's nerve failed. William Manchester
says MacArthur was "Numbed," and reports that those around MacArthur
described him as "gray, ill, and exhausted" that morning. In discussing
MacArthur's response to the Japanese attack on the Philippines, the first
episode of the September 2007 broadcast of The War on Public
Broadcasting Service (PBS) states that the general froze.
The author of the Air Force history writes,
||Considering other events, and MacArthur's
non-appearance throughout the morning of that critical day, this student
believes that a plausible explanation is the ["the" in text, probably meant to
be "that"] MacArthur suffered at least a mild nervous breakdown upon receiving
the news of Pearl Harbor--and realizing his inevitable defeat in the
Philippines--and that Sutherland's primary task that morning was to get the
"boss" to pull himself together and assume effective command. After the efforts
that MacArthur had initiated to repudiate the long-standing strategy of
'delay-and-defend until the fleet could arrive to reinforce', in favor of an
aggressive forward defense relying largely on the striking power of the B-17s
he demanded, it boggles the mind to discover another believable explanation for
his failure to even meet face-to-face with his air force chief that morning.
Further evidence of his tenuous response to events is the continued commitment
to a forward defense of the beaches, until precipitously abandoning those plans
in favor of the retreat to Bataan immediately after the Japanese landing at
Lingayen Gulf--too late to move the mountains of material needed to feed and
support his army.
Weintraub is more scathing. Writing about that morning, he says,
||Nothing of the danger to the Philippines seemed
to disturb MacArthur on the first day of the war; afterwards he and his senior
staff carried on a public relations campaign to shift the blame elsewhere...
Through Sutherland he had prevented American B-17s from interdicting attack
sites on Formosa....
.... Had he [Sutherland] been making decisions by reading MacArthur's mind
rather than consulting him? Nothing of the sort fits MacArthur's own inglorious
know-nothing account. One must return to the image of a stunned, pajama-clad
figure, more proconsul than general, sitting on his bed in the predawn darkness
and reaching for his Bible rather that rushing to action. A paralysis of will,
in part concealed by loyal lieutenants.
As Manchester writes, MacArthur was not the first military commander to fail to
command when under pressure, and he lists Napoleon, Washington, and Stonewall
Jackson, who had their moments to freeze. What may be surprising, however,
is that MacArthur was never taken to task for his failure. He went on to
heavier and heavier responsibilities and spent the last half of the 40s as a
real proconsul in Japan under the title of "Supreme Commander of the Allied
Powers." As Bartsch quotes other historians, MacArthur's appointment to that
position made it politically impossible to question his actions and conduct
during the war.
Prejudice, Arrogance, Intelligence Shortcomings, and the Failure to
In the spring of 1941, a recruiter for Chennault's Flying Tigers told Gregory
"Pappy" Boyington, later to be a Marine Corps ace,
||The Japs will be flying antiquated junk over
China.... I suppose you know that the Japanese are renowned for their inability
to fly. And they all wear corrective lens.
Such truisms abounded. In the Philippines, the pilots of the 24th PG had heard
||that Japanese pilots could not dogfight because
they were all nearsighted and their glasses would fall off. Even if their
vision was all right, their nervous systems could not take the violent
acrobatics of combat flying. And what would the Japanese be flying?
Five-year-old stuff with fixed landing gears and underpowered engines.
Although the War Department's latest edition of Identification of Japanese
Aircraft had one page about the new "Fighter 100, also called Zero
type," there was no photograph or line drawing of the new plane. As Willie
Feallock of the 17th PS said, the manual had "...only some ridiculous
performance figures and claims for extreme maneuverability" that led him to
think that the American military attaché who had provided the information must
have been drinking.
Those opinions and attitudes might be written off as the products of ignorance,
but in fact, disdain for Japan and the Japanese was deeply rooted in prejudice.
The most convincing evidence for prejudice is Western officials' and opinion
makers' refusing to believe or, at least, acknowledge that Japanese had piloted
the airplanes that struck Clark Field.
Americans who saw Japanese Zeros fly low to the ground at Clark expressed no
doubts about the pilots' being Japanese. Not so, said General MacArthur.
In reporting about the accuracy of the Clark Field bombing to General Arnold,
he said the Japanese aircraft were, "at least partially manned by white pilots."
As late as
August 1942, a colonel on MacArthur's intelligence staff stated, "The job was
so well done that there is reason to suspect the pilots of those planes were
German." Such prejudice wasn't restricted to Americans. In Singapore, a
British newspaperman wrote that Germans were being shot down in large numbers.
Shot down and captured! There were few shot-down Japanese aircraft at
Singapore, and, of course, no captured Germans.
The Zero, which startled and frightened Americans, had been flying in combat in
China for almost 18 months; "[Zeros] first appeared over Chunking in August
1940. Approaching at an altitude of 27,000 feet, they shot down all the
defending Chinese fighters..." Reports of their capabilities reached U.S.
intelligence officers, but the combination of American arrogance and prejudice
must have contributed to a discrediting of the accuracy of reports.
American commanders might be excused for inadequate knowledge of the
capabilities of Japanese aircraft and pilots, but no such courtesy can be
extended to their ignoring the limitations of their own pursuits. Colonel
Harold H. George, chief of staff of the V Interceptor Command at Nielson,
delayed the "Kickapoo" order to scramble the 24th PG until the Japanese
aircraft were about 15 minutes from Clark. Bartsch writes that George waited
that long to issue the order because he "evidently overestimated the
Clark-bound bombers' arrival time." Although 1941 radar could not provide
accurate information about the number of approaching aircraft or their
altitude, it did provide information to make accurate estimates of their speed,
but George or his staff evidently made incorrect estimates or, for whatever
reason, ignored them.
Equally surprisingly, the AWS warned of approaching Japanese aircraft, but
there is no indication that radar was used to guide pursuits to interception
points on December 8. At 12:30 P.M. (see
table 4), eight P-40Es of the 3rd and four of the 21st PS
arrived over Clark before the Japanese. Seeing no Japanese aircraft and,
evidently, receiving no orders from 24th PG, the 3rd PS pilots headed back for
Iba, the four 21st PS pilots following along.
Five minutes later, the Japanese arrived. No pursuits flew over Clark.
Had the dozen P-40Es remained at Clark, searching the northern skies for
Japanese aircraft, it is unlikely that they could have reached the bombers
flying at 20,000 to 22,000 feet before they dropped their bombs. I base that
conclusion on the fact that P-40s were ordered to patrol at 15,000 feet and
there is no reason to assume that the pursuits over Clark were higher. The
P-40E climbed slowly, requiring ten minutes or so to reach 15,000 feet, and,
according to the pilot's manual for the P-40E, it climbed no faster than 1,000
feet per minute between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, and at half that rate from
20,000 to 25,000 feet. The P-40B was a lighter airplane than the P-40E, and
Lt. Joe Moore, commander of the 20th PS, provided a direct measure of the
P-40B's climb rate. On December 8, he climbed at full throttle and reached
21,000 feet in 35 minutes. Assuming he reached 15,000 feet in ten minutes,
he spent 25 more minutes climbing the 6,000 feet to 21,000 feet (a climb rate
of about 200 feet per minute).
Colonel George had not been a Pollyanna about the coming war. On December 5 and
6, he had visited each pursuit squadron and told them, "There will be war with
Japan in a few days. It may come in a matter of hours." He urged each pilot to
complete his will and give it to his squadron's clerk. And he summed up the
situation, "You're not necessarily a suicide squadron, but you are Goddamn near
With better intelligence and analysis, Col George might have ordered his
pursuits into the air sooner and to higher altitudes. Even so, the 24th PG
could not have turned back the Japanese attack. The combination of too few
pursuits and the shortcomings of the P-40s at altitudes over 15,000 feet would
have made that impossible. Nevertheless, had more pursuits been in the air
north of Clark and at higher altitudes, they might have reduced the damage done
to the FEAF.
Bartsch describes what he understands was the communications setup between
the AWS and operational units at Clark. The AWS had teletype, radio, and
telephone connections to the "Clark Field Communications Center," which was
located in the 24th PG's operations hangar. It did not, however, have such
links with the 19th BG. There is some evidence that messages of importance to
the 19th BG that were received by the pursuit group were to be telephoned to
the bomb group officers. (Surely there was some provision for the transmission
of such messages.)
A memo prepared by Maj Orrin Grover, the pursuit group's commanding
officer, is the only official record of events in the 24th PG headquarters on
December 8, 1941. In the memo, written 10 months after the event, Grover blames
a "communications breakdown" as the reason that the 19th BG was caught on the
ground, and Bartsch says that historians relying on Grover's memo, have
perpetuated that explanation. When interviewed by Richard L. Watson, author
of the Air Force history of Clark Field, in 1947, Lt Col Alexander Campbell,
head of the AWS, insists that the messages from AWS to 24th PG were sent,
received, and acknowledged. In a footnote, Watson writes,
||Most of the sources attribute the failure [to
get the B-17s off the ground] to a breakdown of communications. Thus the
history of the 24th Pursuit Group states that "approximately 11:45 an
unidentified report was received of a bombardment formation over Lingayen Gulf,
headed south," but it adds "that communications breakdown prevented proper
identification." This view is not borne out by the testimony of Colonel
Bartsch goes far beyond saying there are conflicting explanations. He blames
Between 11:30 and 11:45 A.M., Grover issued orders to three of his five pursuit
squadrons. The 3rd was to patrol over Iba Point to block Japanese aircraft
flying south over the China Sea. The 21st was ordered to patrol over Clark,
where it would be in position to block a flight of Japanese aircraft flying
south over central Luzon. Grover apparently thought that the Japanese were
headed for Manila, and in his 1942 memo says that he ordered the 34th PS to
cover Manila (there's no indication that order was issued; in any case, it was
not received by the 34th).
At around 11:45 A.M., Grover changed orders for the 3rd and 21st PSs, ordering
both to fly to Manila. After urgings from Lt Joe Wagner, commanding officer of
the 17th PS, he ordered that squadron to take off and patrol over Manila Bay
(see table 4).
These orders denuded Iba and Clark of airborne pursuits. Grover left the 20th
PS on the ground at Clark.
Only at 12:15 P.M., in response to "Kickapoo!" did he order the airborne
pursuits to Clark. A dozen P-40s arrived over Clark in advance of the Japanese,
but seeing no enemy planes and receiving no orders, the P-40 pilots headed for
Iba. As discussed above, those dozen pursuits, even if they had begun climbing
from their patrol altitude immediately upon arriving over Clark, would probably
not have reached the Japanese bombers, and they would have been out-numbered by
the Zeros what escorted the bombers. They would not have turned aside the
attack and might not have affected it at all. Nevertheless, had those P-40s
remained over Clark, they might have attempted to intercept the Japanese
attackers. In the event, they didn't, and neither did any other American
Why the 20th PS was left on the ground remains a mystery. Grover didn't mention
the 20th in his memo, so there is no indication of his thinking at the time.
The possibility, far-fetched as it is, that Maj Grover simply forgot it, cannot
Bartsch concludes that the plethora of messages coming into the Clark Field
Communications Center, and, I would add, the complexity of responding to the
Japanese threats overwhelmed Maj Grover. He cites Grover as the person
responsible for misdirecting the pursuit squadrons to Manila and leaving the
airfields undefended until the 12:15 P.M. "Kickapoo!" order from AWS and for
leaving the 20th PS on the ground.
I would add that the failure to alert the dozen P-40s over Clark at 12:30 P.M.
about the approaching Japanese aircraft reflects poorly on Grover and,
Bartsch also singles out Grover for having failed to notify the 19th BG that
Japanese planes were flying toward Clark. To bolster that conclusion, he
reveals that Grover was not the source of information that caused the B-17s to
take off in advance of the approaching Japanese planes earlier in the morning.
Evidently, the Clark Field commander, who had a teletype link with the AWS,
informed the bomb group of that threat.
Like General MacArthur who failed to command earlier in the day, Major Grover
was unable to issue appropriate orders and to pass along warnings to the 19th
Why Didn't Heads Roll?
After the losses of Wake Island and Guam, the only Americans fighting the
Japanese on the ground were the troops in the Philippines. General MacArthur,
sometimes misled by information from Washington, encouraged the defenders to
hang on because reinforcements were on their way. The reinforcements were never
U.S. citizens, desperate for heroes and good news, understandably, avidly
followed communiqués from MacArthur's headquarters. Perhaps not so
understandably, MacArthur's communiqués focused on the general; 109 of 142
communiqués issued about the Philippines identified only one person by name –
Whatever his own pros and cons, MacArthur's men were fighting. If there was any
thought of removing him from command because of Clark Field, it must have
quickly dissipated in light of the public adoration for the general.
MacArthur's subordinates were not protected by public acclaim, but it's easy to
imagine why none of them was publicly censured. Anyone threatened with
punishment could have pointed his finger up and down the chain of command.
General MacArthur and most of his subordinates had "good wars," advancing in
rank and responsibilities. General MacArthur was made a General of the Army and
commanded all U.S. forces in the Southwest Pacific before becoming the most
important figure in post-war Japan. He commanded U.S. and United Nations forces
in Korea until President Truman relieved him of command in April 1951. He died
in New York in 1964.
General Brereton commanded the 10th Air Force in India, then the 9th in North
Africa and Europe before taking command of the First Allied Airborne Army until
the end of the war. He served in the Air Force until retirement in 1948.
Colonel Harold H. George was promoted to Brig Gen and retreated with the
remnants of the FEAF to Australia after the fall of the Philippines. He died in
an aircraft crash in 1942.
Major Orrin Grover never again commanded a tactical unit. He served in various
staff positions – assignments less desirable than tactical unit commander
appointments – and attained the rank of Brig Gen before retiring in 1957.
Punishment or not, in light of his difficulties on December 8, 1941, those
assignments appear to have been better suited to his temperament and abilities
than combat commands.
Show Footnotes and
. As a traveler moves westward, he "loses time." For instance, 12 noon in
New York City is 11:00 AM in Chicago. That progression changes when he crosses
the International Date Line at the parallel of Midway Island. At the date line,
he has to set his clock ahead by 24 hours. The result of these adjustments,
"losing time" as he moves west and "gaining a day" when he crosses the
International Date Line, produces an 18.5 hour time differences between Hawaii
and the Philippines.
. Quoted in Deighton, Len. Blood, Tears, and Folly.
New York, 1993] p. 569.
. Manchester, W. American Caesar.
[Dell Publishing: New York, 1983]
. Given the general's habit of self-glorification, which might have been
present even as a lieutenant, an investigation of the circumstances around
MacArthur's action seems justified. To me, the hole in the hat is too much like
the "throw-down gun" used by rogue police officers to justify shootings.
. from MacArthur, D. Reminiscences.
[McGraw-Hill: New York, 1964]
p. 29. Quoted in Manchester, p. 76.
. Williams, E. K. and Fellow, L. E. A. "Deployment of the AAF on the Eve of
Hostilities." in Craven, W.F. and J. L. Cate. Army Air Forces in World War II:
Vol. 1: Plans and Early Operations, January 1939 to August 1942.
University of Chicago Press, 1948] pp. 151-194 at p. 184.. Available at
. Manchester. pp. 209-221.
. Bartsch, W.H. December 8, 1941. MacArthur's Pearl Harbor.
A&M University Press: College Station, TX, 2003], p. 193, quoting a report
of the MacArthur-Phillips conference.
. Watson, R. L. "Pearl Harbor and Clark Field." in Craven, W.F. and J. L.
Cate.. Army Air Forces in World War II: Vol. 1: Plans and Early Operations,
January 1939 to August 1942.
[Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1948]. (Available at
). pp. 201-202.
. Bartsch 2003. "Appendix C" p. 427.
. Manchester, pp. 229-230.
. Weintraub, S. 1991. Long Day's Journey Into War.
York] pp. 255-6.
. see, for instance, Weintraub, S. 2000. MacArthur's War: Korea and the
Undoing of an American Hero.
[Free Press; New York]. I found
Weintraub's comments about MacArthur in Long Day's Journey Into War
be more critical than those in his book about the general.
. Morton, L. "The Fall of the Philippines" in United States Army in World
War II. The War in the Pacific.
[Center for Military History, United
States Army: Washington, 1953], p. 79. Available at
. Weintraub, 1991, p. 255.
. Manchester, p. 229.
. Manchester, p. 229; Watson, p. 203.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 60.
. Barthsch, 2003, p. 260.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 259.
. Manchester, p.229.
. Weintraub, 1991. p. 256.
. Bartsch, 2003 p. 260.
. Watson, p. 203.
. Bartsch, 1992, p. 60.
. Ed Whitcomb. On Celestial Wings.
[Air University Press: Maxwell
Air Force Base, Alabama, 1995], p. 16. Available at
. Morton, p. 80.
. Manchester, p. 231.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 277.
. Weintraub, 1991, p. 334.
. Bartsch, 2003. p. 281.
. quoted at Bartsch, 2003. p. 188.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 414.
. MacArthur had secured a promise from Philippine President Quezon that he
would be re-appointed as Field Marshal after the end of the war.
. MacArthur, General D. "Duty, Honor, Country." Speech presented at West
Point, May 12, 1962. Available at American Rhetoric, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/douglasmacarthurthayeraward.html
. The time of 8:00 A.M. for this telephone call is from Bartsch, 2003, p.
260. On the other hand, Manchester, p. 230 and Weintraub, 1991, p. 256 –7,
state that the phone call from Gerow arrived earlier at about 3:40 A.M. I rely
on Bartsch. who references information in a War Department phone log as his
source. Manchester relied on secondary sources, and Weintraub's source is not
specified. Still, the earlier time may be correct. Manchester and Weintraub
state that MacArthur later recalled that Gerow's phone call was his first
information about Pearl Harbor, which would be consistent with the earlier
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 261; Manchester, p. 230; Weintraub, 1991, p. 257.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 261. This response is more consistent with the later
time for the phone call (see reference 36). The sky was pitch black over Manila
at 3:40 A.M., and no flight operations would have been underway.
. Throughout the day on December 8, Japanese bombers and escorting fighters
would fly at 20,000 feet or higher, and no American pursuit climbed high enough
to intercept them.
. Grover, O.L. "Narrative of the Activities of the 24th Pursuit Group in
the Philippine Islands." A memo to chief of staff, general headquarters,
Southwest Pacific Area, October 7, 1942. Cited by Bartsch, 2003.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 281 and Weintraub, 1991, p. 345.
. The quotes and statements about the Brereton-Sutherland exchanges are
from Bartsch (2003) pp. 280-283 and 293. MacArthur's authorization is reported
on p. 296.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 416.
. General Brereton took the "daily Summary of Activities of the
Headquarters, Far East Air Force, extending from 8 December 1941 to 24 February
1942" with him when he accompanied the American retreat through the Dutch East
Indies to Australia and to his assignment as commander of the 10th Air Force in
India. After war's end, historical officers forwarded to the Air History
Office. The summaries look like they may have been "tidied up," but they are
the best records available.
As Watson, at p. 206, writes:
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…
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 … 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.
. Grover, 1942. Cited by Bartsch, 2003.
. Pilots of both P-40s and P-35As engaged Zeros over Clark, Iba, and Del
Carmen. Several claimed victories over the Japanese, but the number of Zeros
shot down by American pilots is unclear. Bartsch, 2003, at pp. 430-1, lists
four Zeros as "missing" from the Japanese ranks. Overall, the Japanese 11th Air
Fleet, which attacked Clark, Iba, and Del Carmen, lost seven Zeros and one
bomber (Bartsch, 2003, p.403). The Zeros that failed to return may have been
hit by ground fire or suffered mechanical failure.
. Watson, p. 210. "It is not even certain that the record … provided clears
up the much debated question of just when the Japanese attack on Clark Field
began." In this narrative, I have relied on the times assigned to various
events by Bartsch, 2003. Bartsch acknowledges that he reconstructed and
estimated some times, but his sequence of events is consistent with other
accounts and provides a coherent temporal framework.
. Whitcomb, 1995, p. 16.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 121.
. Bowen, J.K. "The Fall of Bataan and Corregidor" in "The Pacific War," a
website of the Pacific War Historical Society at
website presents an Australian view of the war, and it is unsparingly critical
of General MacArthur.)
. Bartsch 2002 calculates that about 60 percent of FEAF officers and 61
percent of FEAF enlisted men died in captivity, at p. 432.
. Daniels, R.D. "MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines, December
1941 - March 1942." available at
. Brereton, Lewis H. The Brereton Diaries.
[William Morrow: New
York, 1946. (Bartsch, 2003, references this book. I have not read it.)
. Bartsch, 2003, at p. 411, paraphrases MacArthur's statement and
systematically shows that each point made by MacArthur is "factually incorrect
or irrelevant" at pp. 411– 413.
. Manchester, p. 232, apparently concludes that MacArthur had not heard
Brereton's request. "[H]e (MacArthur) hadn't even seen Brereton that fateful
December 8. But he should have insisted (emphasis in original) on seeing him,
brushing aside Sutherland's zeal to act as his surrogate when major decisions
. Weintraub, 1991, p. 346.
. Manchester, p. 235.
. Manchester, p. 230.
. Having grown up in a family that idolized General MacArthur, it surprises
me that his star has fallen so far that television programs disparage his
. Watson, p. 205.
. Weintraub, 1991, p. 434.
. Manchester, 231.
. Gregory Boyinton, quoted in Deighton, Len. Blood, Tears, and Folly.
[HarperCollins: New York, 1993] at p. 519.
. Bartsch, 1992, p. 42.
. Weintraub, 1992, p. 574.
. Green, William. Famous Fighters of the Second World War. Volume One.
[New York: Doubleday and Company, 1967], pp. 50-56 at p.52.
. George, as chief of staff, was in command of the interceptor command.
Brig Gen Henry B. Clagett was the commanding officer of the interceptor
command, but by December 1941, he "was not involved in tactical decisions…
having sidelined himself (or been sidelined) while awaiting transfer out of the
Philippines" (Bartsch, 2003, p.146). The "Biography: United States Air Force"
entry for Gen Clagett ends with the note that he had been appointed commander
of the Philippine interceptor command in November 1941. Nothing is said about
his service after that date.(http://www.af.mil/bios/bio_print.asp?bioID=9889&page=1
. Bartsch 2003, p. 420.
. Pilot's Manual for Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.
Appleton, WI, no date] A lithographic reproduction of a 1943 U.S. government
publication at p. 15C.
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 362-63 and footnote, p. 503.
. Bartsch, 1992, pp. 40-41.
. Bartsch, 2003, pp. 416-21.
. Grover, 1942, cited by Barthsch, 2003.
. Weintraub, 1991, pp. 518-519, writes that "Static fuzzed some radio
signals [from AWS to Clark]; the teletype went unread [I'm unsure what evidence
exists for this statement], possibly because the operator at Clark had gone to
lunch. An unidentified lieutenant did pick up the telephone to assure [Lt Col
Alexander] Campbell [the AWS commander] that he would relay the warning 'the
earliest opportunity.' He may have gone to lunch too, having only responded to
a message half-heard and misunderstood."
. Watson, p. 209.
. Watson, footnote #43 to Chapter 6. At
footnotes appear as a continuous text without page numbers].
. Bartsch, 2003, p. 284 and p. 418.
. Deighton, p.572. In a footnote, Deighton writes, "And of course the most
famous soldier of the Second World War – MacArthur – was by far the most
dedicated and accomplished self-publicist" p. 615. He also states that "some
military experts such as B. H. Liddell Hart said he was the most brilliant
Allied general of the war" (p.572).
Copyright © 2007 Michael Gough
Written by Michael Gough. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Michael Gough at:
About the author:
Michael Gough, trained in molecular biology, taught in medical schools and carried out basic research in genetics of microorganisms. After moving to Washington, he was a program manager at the Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress, did research and wrote at a number of think tanks, and worked as an expert witness before retiring in 1999. His uncle, Sgt Clifford Noel, USAAF, was wounded in the initial Japanese attack at Clark Field, December 8, 1941.
Published online: 11/03/2007.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.