Army Air Corps’ Last Stand in the Philippines
by R. R. Slater
And Then There Were None
On the eve of Pearl Harbor, the United Slates, desperate to shore up its woefully inadequate air arm in the Philippines, dispatched 35 C & D model B-17s to that outpost, which at the time represented nearly half of its available heavy bombers. They, together with nearly 100 P-40 fighters, were to underline America's resolve to defend its Philippine possessions against Japanese expansion. Poor U.S. preparation, mismanagement and lack of coordination caught many of these new aircraft on the ground during the successful Japanese raids on Clark Field on December 8, 1941. Shorn of their airpower, American forces could only conduct a fighting retreat to Bataan Peninsula.
Above, a brand new B-17D of the 7th Bomb Group is delivered to its crew at Boeing's Seattle plant in Feb. 1941. B-17s of the 7th Bomb Group arrived over Pearl Harbor, during the December 7th attack. They were also enroute to the Philippines, following the path of the 11th, 5th and 19th Bomb Groups. Most of the 7th remained at Pearl in anti-submarine patrol, but some of its planes participaled in the defense of the Dutch East Indies and Singapore. The D model B-17 can be differentiated from the early C by its cowl flaps. It also had self-sealing fuel tanks. (Error, the 7th BG flew B17E via Africa and they did not have self sealing fuel tanks. DL)
Captain Allison Ind was arriving on the U.S. Army Transport Grant in Manila Harbor. It was May 1941 and he had been assigned as Air Intelligence Officer to the Philippine Department. Along with a number of other officers newly posted to this far-flung American possession, he speculated on what aircraft he would find when he got there. On a brief stopover in Hawaii, he noted the excitement at Wheeler Field when the first P-40s came in on an aircraft carrier. If Hawaii was just getting P-40s, this did not bode well for the Air Corps in the Philippines.
As was the custom when military ships arrived, aircraft from Clark and Nichols Fields buzzed the vessel at low altitude. Looking up, Ind was sadly disappointed to see not B-17s, not even B-18s, but ancient Martin B-10s flying low over the decks! As Ind and the others were soon to discover, this obsolete bomber of 1932 was the main offensive weapon in the Philippines barely six months before the Pearl Harbor attack. Ind and thousands of other Americans in the Philippines, including those due to arrive in the next few months, were to pay the penalty for years of neglect of the U.S. Army Air Corps in general and the Philippines and other territories in particular.
Until reinforcement started trickling in at the end of 1940, air units in the Philippines and other American territories were little more than token forces, usually the last to receive modern equipment, and why not? Stateside units were not well fitted out either. Until early 1941, approximately two dozen obsolete P-26As were still the standard equipment for the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, charged with the air defense of the Philippines.
In those days of slow travel by ship, where reinforcement would be measured in weeks if not months, composite groups, made up of pursuit, bombardment and observation squadrons, were stationed in the Philippines, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal Zone. One of these, the 4th Composite Group, had been in the Philippines since the early 1920s.
In the years preceding the war, members of the U.5. Army Air Corps were sent to the islands for two or three-year tours. Virtually all arrived by army transport, which usually took a month or more to arrive from San Francisco, or via the Panama Canal from the East Coast.
Duty for an enlisted man in the islands had advantages over that in the States. The Army served you three, if unimaginative, "squares" a day. Most of the work was done in the early morning before it got too hot. By early afternoon, everyone would usually take a nap to escape the oppressive heat. When things cooled down in the late afternoon, soldiers would begin to stir and the evenings were theirs, In those days before the USO, soldiers had to make their own fun. Native liquor was cheap and plentiful. Five gallons of gin cost exactly $1.25. There were Filipinos to do the KP and most menial chores. Twenty-five dollars per month went a long way in the 30s, particularly in the Philippines, while backhome in Depression-ridden America, one-quarter of the adult male population was unemployed.
There were two major air fields in the Philippines, Clark Field and Nichols. Clark was approximately 60 miles north of Manila and was usually the home of the 28th Bombardment Squadron. As with most other military fields, the runways were grass, not concrete, and when it rained, which was frequent, these were frequently submerged. There was a drainage problem at Clark that authorities had tried to correct for several years, but no funds were appropriated. How could they be? The military was finding it difficult to buy and maintain up-to-date aircraft and keep the older ones in commission.
Nichols Field, about six miles from Manila, was the home of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron and 2nd Observation Squadron, as well as, the Philippine Air Depot and its various service units. It had a more acute problem with drainage and was almost unusable during the rainy season, when operations were shifted to Clark.
There were numerous auxiliary fields in the Philippines, and, that's what they were - fields - most little more than cleared meadows or cane fields. There were also several emergency clearings on Mindoro, Leyte, Iloilo, Mindanao, and other islands in the archipelago. Most of these had emergency stores of gas and supplies. The gas was usually kept in 5-gallon tins or 55-gallon drums, which had to be poured by hand or hand-pumped. An occupational hazard of landing on some of these strips was going off the edge and ingesting sugar cane stalks in the engine, cowling and landing gear wells.
The 3rd Pursuit Squadron flew P-26s until early 1941. Although grossly obsolete by this time, the Peashooter - after its exterior, cowl-mounted tubular gunsight - was a fun machine to fly and one pilot remembers that it was like grabbing a feather in one's hand and taking off. Of course the poor quality of Philippine airfields made the removal of wheel covers necessary, a practice also followed in the States on occasion, usually to avoid collecting mud on the gear.
The 28th flew B-10Bs and just three or four years before, had been flying ancient Keystone B-3 biplane bombers, then a dozen years old. These had since been passed on to the young Philippine Army Air Corps, and the PAAC also inherited some of the 3rds Boeing P-12s, which had been replaced by P-26s.
The 2nd Observation Squadron had Douglas 0-46s which had arrived in 1938. The 0-46 was an honest, forgiving plane, except when trying to land it in a crosswind and applying the brakes, as it had a tendency to groundloop. The 2nd's main job was to support the Army, taking photographs, searching out enemy forces and reporting back. It was the model Army cooperation machine in an era when the Air Corps was still a second line adjunct and served exclusively at the dictates and sufferance of ground commanders.
Lt. Bob Jones, also newly arrived off the Washington in May 1941, was assigned to the 2nd Observation Squadron. He recalls that debarking pilots were assigned to different units by alphabetical order, not by request! Jones was given three choices of duty. He picked the Philippines last and was assigned to the 2nd Observation Squadron! Training was strictly "on-the-job" and he flew old Thomas-Morse O-19s, O-46s and several other obsolete aircraft around Luzon, hoping he wouldn't get lost too many times, as maps were rudimentary and not particularly reliable, even when available. Checkout on the B-10, of which the 2nd had several "hacks," was simple: “300 total hours, a blindfold cockpit check and taxi it around the field until you get used to two engines." Jones, still overwhelmed at flying his first twin-engined plane, confessed it took him five mites after taking off until he got enough courage to raise the landing gear. Maybe they wouldn't come down again!
Maps? The best available were road maps given out by local gas stations. Radios? It was almost impossible to calibrate those in the planes with those possessed by the ground units. (Jones said that this problem wasn't too upsetting to the pilots since it gave them a chance to buzz army columns "legally" when dropping written messages.) As for bombs - observation planes were supposed to support ground units by dropping light bombs - Jones said he never saw a bomb or a bomb rack.
In late 1940, tension between Japan and the United States was tightened and Washington decided the Philippines were long overdue for reinforcements. Two squadrons from the States, the 17th from the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, and the 20th, from the 35th Pursuit Group at Hamilton, near San Francisco, were selected, each consisting of 15 aircraft and spares. The trip over for the 17th was on the transport Etolin, which arrived in Manila on December 5, 1940. They had been preceded by the 20th, which arrived in October. Additional pilots arrived for the 17th in February 1941. Delays had been due to a lack of qualified pilots and most of those sent to the Philippines were young and inexperienced, as veteran pilots had to be retained in the States to form and train new cadres for an Air Corps that was beginning to expand.
Since the situation was not seen as very serious yet, some of the pilots had their wives come out on the next trip over, but in May 1941, as tension mounted, most of the spouses were returned to the States, although at least one wife was caught by the war and spent the duration at Santo Tomas internment camp.
New pilots were given some of the 3rd's P-26s to begin operational training. However, aboard the Etolin were crated Seversky P-35As, some 50 of which were to reinforce the Philippines. These fighters were part of a block of 1 00 ordered by Sweden, 60 of which were impounded by the War Department. They were faster, better armed versions of the Air Corps' standard P-35, with a pair of .50-caliber wing guns augmenting the .30-caliber cowl-mounted weapons. They lacked self-sealing fuel tanks and armor, however, typical for the period, but there was a baggage compartment which in a crunch could hold another person (the "crunch" would come later during the Bataan Campaign, when several pilots owed their escape, and their lives, to this feature). According to Joseph Moore, later to command the 20th, when landed hard a couple of times, the P-35 tended to pop rivets and its pilot could often see a small puddle of flammable avgas underneath the leaking wing tanks! Nevertheless, the aircraft was a sturdy, if phlegmatic per former, even if its top speed of 290 mph was seldom seen on the indicator.
Upon uncrating these aircraft at the Philippine Air Depot and cleaning the cosmoline from them, it was found that they still bore Swedish insignia. Instruments and instruction manuals were also in Swedish, and in those pre-metric days, groundcrew had to make cut-outs for the instruments, to show the pilots how high they were and how fast they were going, although judging from the ground sliding below, this was never very fast, and on the approach the P-35A gave adequate stall warning.
Training was mainly in dogfighting and formation flying, neither of which was later useful in combat against the Japanese. The standard flight formation of three planes was unwieldy and hard to maintain. Lt. "Cy" Blanton of the 17th Pursuit Squadron remembered those trios as an "accident waiting to happen," the aircraft flopping around in formation, the pilots finding it difficult to keep X, sight of one another in the flight.
About the same time as the arrival of the 17th in the Philippines. a report had been submitted by Claire Chennault in China, to the War Department, concerning a new Japanese plane called the "Type 0 Fighter" and the best way to counter it. It was pigeon-holed and units like the 17th continued to practice dogfighting in the best World War I tradition. The leader and wingman concept, or "tactical two," as it was then called, was just beginning to be examined in 1940 and then only in the Continental U.S. For a dogfighting machine, the P-35A was stable, but climbed slowly and had a poor service ceiling, particularly for pilots who, at higher altitudes, had to sip their oxygen through a tube. Breathing masks would not appear until 1941.
In May 1941, the 28th Bomb Squadron received several early model Douglas B-1 8s from the 5th and 11th Bomb Groups in Hawaii. These were already "second-hand" by the time they reached Hawaii and were no beauty contest winners when they arrived in the Philippines. Winner by default of the 1935 bomber competition from Boeing's Model 299 (later B-17), these already worn-out aircraft were slow and underarmed. Those that survived the first few months of the war were used as transports.
The peacetime, between the wars, service was a strong hold of tradition and ceremony and there was friction between the newly arriving Air Corps units and the more traditional army brass. Part of the problem was that with his flying pay, an Air Corps 2nd lieutenant made as much, or more, as an infantry captain and, as in other posts, the army had more than its share of "deadwood." One pilot remembers being called to the base theater for what was announced as an important meeting. Thinking they were due for some hard intelligence, the young pilots were informed that they were to keep their ties on and straight while-on flying duty. They were to stand retreat properly and they were to be dressed in proper uniform in the evenings! This from old-line Army officers, who still wore spurs when they came to the club.
Arriving about the same time as the B-18s were 31 P-40Bs, the best the Air Corps had. These were to be assigned to the 20th Pursuit Squadron, since the 20th had flown P-40s back in the States. (The 17th had flown early-model P-35s.) Unfortunately, the Tomahawks sat in the Philippine sun for a month, due to the fact that the coolant for their engines was still on the way. Rumor said that some paper-shuffling, ground-pounding supply officer in the States couldn't imagine P-40s needing anti-freeze in the tropical Philippines! Presumably they were to fly below 10,000 feet. Some of these P-40s were also equipped with .50 caliber weapons. Unfortunately, there was no .50 caliber ammunition in the Air Corps pipe line, so maintenance personnel had to scrounge it from the heavy machine gun infantry units, which was near impossible, forcing the P-40s to fly with their .30 caliber guns only.
On an incoming Clipper was Colonel Harold (Pursuit) George, who was to serve as Chief of Staff to General Claggett, head of the Air Forces in the Philippines. George was to play an important part in the defense of the Philippines, and would stay, gamely, almost to the end, fighting the Japanese to the last plane.
As mid 1941 drifted into fall, several problems became critical. The lack of oxygen bottles prevented pilots from exploiting even the modest diving from altitude advantage that their P-40s possessed. Virtually all aircraft were concentrated on Nichols and Clark Fields and, in addition to drainage problems, there was only one narrow access road connecting the main highway to Nichols Field, and that crossed a narrow bridge. British observers said that greater dispersion of air units was mandatory, but red tape held the construction of new airfields up. Ironically, once the war started, five 5,000-foot strips were constructed by highly motivated soldiers in a week or less.
In that last year of peace, several personnel changes were also made. Major J.K. Gregg of the 17th Pursuit Squadron was sent up to command the 4th Composite Group. He was replaced by Lt. Boyd “Buzz" Wagner, an excellent pilot and aeronautical engineer. More would be heard from Lt. Wagner, later. Another lieutenant given squadron command was Joseph Moore, who now headed the 20th. Although both men were tow in rank, they were veteran pilots, who knew their business. Furthermore, lack of seniority was not unusual for the interwar years, when a lieutenant frequently remained in grade for up to 10 years, despite an excellent service record.
After years of neglect, the Philippines were finally receiving some attention. In September, nine B-17Ds of the 14th Bomb Squadron took off from Hickam Field, Hawaii, and in an epic flight, designed to impress upon the Japanese that America could and would reinforce her Pacific outposts, the planes flew thousands of miles, tracing the Pan American clipper route in part, the journey taking them through Midway, Wake, Port Moresby, New Guinea and Darwin, Australia, before they touched down at Clark. These planes were gathered from the 11th and 5th Bomb Groups and commanded by Major Emmett "Rosie" O'Donnell. They were the last of the early Fortresses and featured the old vertical fin and rudder, without fuselage spine. They had no tail or dorsal turrets, but they were equipped with seven machine guns, six of them .50 caliber. They also had self-sealing fuel tanks and introduced the 10th man to the B-17 crew. They were part of 35 C & D models that reached the Philippines, the forerunners of far larger reinforcements which were to have flown out in the spring of 1942.
Seventy P-40Es started to arrive at the same time, as the U.S. began to take the situation in the Philippines seriously. This allowed the 3rd and 17th Pursuit Squadrons to turn in their P-35s. Only a month previously, they had finally rid themselves of the last of their P-26s, these being handed over, with three B-10s, to the Philippine Army Air Corps, which would continue flying these planes into the war. Now that all three squadrons had modern aircraft, the new aircraft continued to be plagued with snafus and technical problems. The fighters still did not have adequate oxygen. The shortage of .50 caliber ammunition did not go away. For some unexplained reason, the electrical gun-charging mechanisms on the P-40Es were ordered disconnected, even though the pilots were having trouble with their guns not firing when manually charged. What ammunition there was, especially the .30 caliber, was old, with a large percentage of duds, and full-scale war was only three months away.
Several miscellaneous “bastard" aircraft found their way to be Philippines during this build-up. Eleven were A-27s, detoured on their way to Siam and re-routed to the Philippines. These were attack versions of the North American AT-6 trainer, so obscure that they are seldom mentioned in Air Force histories of aircraft. They were used as navigational and transitional trainers, mostly by the pursuit squadrons and, in fact, were hastily converted stop-gap bombers. One pilot remembers taking his wife for a spin in an A-27 - the fun of it all was lost after she was given a parachute, a set of overalls and then seat-belted in. As with the P-35s, instruments were metric. Some pilots enjoyed the A-27 but as one put its "...I'd feel better about it if I could ever figure out how high I was, how fast I was going and how much fuel I had left."
The 2nd Observation Squadron received about a dozen new Curtiss O-52s in the fall. The fat-bodied high-wing monoplane had several deficiencies and was thoroughly disliked. Bob Jones remembers that it had a hydraulic hand pump to operate the flaps and landing gear which required muscle, as one hand also had to be on the stick when taking off. As some of the hydraulic lines ran across the top of the cabin and leaked, an O-52 driver could count on a wide streak of fluid on his khaki pants. A few O-52s were passed along to the pursuit squadrons to use as hacks.
A small number of Stinson O-49s were shipped in and these light unarmed sportplanes were quite welcome when aircraft were needed to fly in and out of Corregidor and other tight spots when little else was left.
In hopes that they would act as a deterrent and demonstrate America's ability to reinforce the Philippines, the B-17Cs and Ds of the 19th Bomb Group were scheduled to fly across the Pacific along the path pioneered by O'Donnell's 14th Bomb Squadron. Twenty-six B-17s of the 30th and 93rd Bomb Squadrons took off from Hamilton Field on October 16th and 20th for the 13-hour trip to Hawaii. After a 7-day stay there, they proceeded on to Midway and later Wake. As there was at least some chance of meeting Japanese planes, the B-17s flew armed. After leaving Wake, the B-17s passed over the Japanese-mandated Caroline islands at night. Fourteen hours later, they landed at Port Moresby, New Guinea's 7-Mile Drome. The thirsty B-17s were refueled by hand, the task requiring some four hours of hard pumping by native laborers. A small number of planes had to stop at Rabaul on New Britain, then administered by Australians, for gas. Several pilots of the 19th would get to know Rabaul very well in the months ahead, when it became a key Japanese base.
After exhausting the limited beer supply in Darwin, the two Fortress squadrons finally arrived at Clark Field on November 4th, joining the 14th and 28th, which soon would be converted to a heavy bomber outfit and attached to the 19th Bomb Group. Many of the B-17s remained uncamouflaged and their burnished bright metal could be seen for at least 25 miles. Training was now very limited due to the fact that there were no replacement Wright R-1820-65 engines. Later, the 19th found out they could run them many more hours without overhaul or major maintenance than the manuals dictated, and in the grueling months ahead, maintenance personnel would rewrite those manuals in a valiant effort to keep their B-17 remnant airborne.
The last major arrivals before the start of war were the 21st and 34th Pursuit Squadrons and the 27th Bombardment Group (Light), all three units arriving without aircraft. Both pursuit squadrons were to be equipped with the worn-out P-35s, now in storage at the Air Depot. Almost all the engines, P&W R-1830-45s of 1,000 hp, were badly in need of an overhaul. Low-time engines were so highly prized that in a herculean effort to get them into service, Dove Ostereich, an enlisted man assigned to the 34th, spent almost 24 hours straight installing a low-time engine in a low-time airframe under field conditions with two other enlisted men. As there was still a severe shortage of .50 caliber ammunition, all squadrons had to use the P-35's .30s for gunnery training. But these fuselage guns were worn out, which meant that only the wing-mounted .50 caliber guns were of any use, and the ammunition for them had to be shared with the P-40s. Ostereich also mentioned that a species of wasp liked to build its nest in the barrels of the machine guns and this caused additional trouble if not discovered. Nevertheless, the 19th Bomb Gp. with it thirty-five B-17s and the fighters of five pursuit squadrons, 135 aircraft in all, represented more modern fighting aircraft than the U.S. possessed on any other base in the world.
Both the 21st and 34th had excellent commanders, W.E. Dyess and Samuel Marrett, respectively. They enjoyed a friendly rivalry, and when the 21st received some brand-new P-40Es just before the war, Dyess announced the fact by buzzing the 34th's auxiliary airfield at Del Carmen, just southwest of Clark, with his new Kittyhawk. The 21st received these P-40s “right out of the box" and their engines were still being slow-timed when war broke out.
Samuel Grashio, who was a pilot with the 21st, remembers that none of the eighteen P-40Es assigned to the 21st had more than three hours of flight time and four hadn't even been in the air yet. Thus, for the time being, the 34th would make do with their old P-35s and the 6-inch deep dust of the raw Del Carmen strip.
By December 8, 1941, the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, equipped with their six .50 caliber wing-gunned P-40Es, was at the gunnery training base at lba, on the northwestern coast of Luzon. The 17th and 21st were at Nichols, south of Manila, and the 34th with P-35s was at the new strip at Del Carmen. The Filipinos had a few P-26As and three B-10s, as well as several Stearman trainers. Two squadrons of the 19th Bomb Group were at Clark, the 28th and 30th, while the other two were at the recently enlarged Del Monte plantation strip on Mindanao Island, 500 miles to the south. The 2nd Observation Squadron, operating directly under the FEAF commander, was at Clark, and there was a miscellaneous group of aircraft, none modern, scattered at several fields, none of which were of any use whatsoever.
The 27th Bombardment Group was the only one without planes. It was supposed to be equipped with A-24s, the army version of the SBD Dauntless. They would still be waiting for them at war's beginning. The convoy carrying them had been diverted to Australia. Any rumor that the A-24s were about to arrive would send a large number of 27th's men to the docks. Even if the A-24s would have materialized, it was discovered in Australia that the planes came in with missing solenoids, gun mounts and blown tires and had seen hard service during Army maneuvers in the States. Except for operating a couple of tired B-18s, the men of the 27th would not fly a mission in the Philippines and, instead, would serve as infantry on Bataan.
As the outbreak of war became imminent, officials realized airfield defense equipment was almost non-existent. What few anti aircraft guns there were, consisted of some old WW I Lewis and Browning machine guns. The 200th Coast Artillery (AA) made up of New Mexico National Guard was supposed to help, but much of their equipment was outmoded and the fuses for their shells were of an old-fashioned design. Meanwhile, foxholes and trenches were dug, only with great reluctance and at Clark were dubbed “Maitland's folly" after the CO who had insisted on their construction. A few radar sets had arrived, but no one knew how to use them properly and only one was set up at Iba on the northwest coast. A ground warning system was also initiated but was hampered by poor communications and virtually no training.
Yet even this paucity of material and training, was the best an unprepared American government could do. Considering the circumstances, far from being the forgotten step-child of American defense, the Philippines were being showered with everything the nation could scrape up. General Hap Arnold, head of the Air Forces, wanted all B-17s shipped to the Philippines at once. Scheduled were 33 heavy bombers for December, 51 in January and 46 more in February, for a total of 165 heavy bombers, counting the 35 already on site. As completed production of B-17s and B-24s during this period was only 220 units, defense of the Philippines became a top priority.
With more units arriving, the 4th Composite Group was dissolved and Maj. Gen. Lewis Brereton, newly-arrived in the Philippines, took command of Far East Air Force with 5th Bomber Command under Lt. Col. Eugene Eubank and 5th Fighter Command headed by Brig. Gen. Henry Claggett. Airfield construction finally took hold with the enlarging of the emergency strip at Del Monte on Mindanao, expressly to accommodate B-17s. Although there were several airstrips that could take fighters, only Clark could routinely handle B-17s.
As December opened, war was obviously at hand, although no one knew when. Mysterious planes (reconnaissance from Japanese-held Formosa) appeared over Luzon nearly every night. Although several interceptions were attempted, they failed for a multitude of reasons, usually having to do with poor ground-air communications and altitude limitations, the Japanese often coming in at 30,000 feet. Lt. Sam Grashio, a squadron-mate of Ed Dyess, bet him five dollars that war would not start .Dyess snapped up the bet and bet an additional five dollars that it would begin within the week, and, as a precautionary measure, the 14th and 93rd flew their B-17s to Del Monte. Plans were made to eventually move the other two squadrons of the 19th to Del Monte, but this was never carried out. However, Dyess began to feel better about his wager, when tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion were moved near Clark Field as an anti-paratroop measure.
Colonel Harold George gathered his fighter pilots together on the night of December 6th for a rundown on the worsening situation. Sam Grashio remembers his talk in terms of a hillbilly ballad called, "The Cold Hard Fact of Life." George laid out the facts as he knew them before the young pilots, stating that there were 3,000 Japanese planes on Formosa. Although greatly exaggerated, it had the desired effect of letting the pilots know how serious the situation was. George hesitated at calling them a suicide group, but admitted they were close to one. The American buildup, as would often be the case in the first year of the war, had come too little and too late.
Although falling far short of the 3,000 planes estimated by Colonel George, Japanese forces moving into position to attack the Philippines were strong enough. There was an estimated 500 aircraft assigned to the operation by both naval and army air, with reinforcements close at hand, not 4,000 miles away in Hawaii. All of them were modern, fully supplied and manned by veterans, who had been in combat for several years. The main Japanese target, Luzon, was divided along the 16th Parallel, with the army taking the northern part and the navy, with its longer-ranging aircraft, the south. Their chief targets were Clark Field, Manila, and Cavite naval base. Assigned to the 11st Naval Air Fleet, were 192 Zero fighters and 184 twin-engined bombers, Mitsubishi G3M Nells and G4M Bettys, in addition to several dozen flying boats and float planes. Leaving aircraft for spares, reserves, defense and other duties, the Japanese naval air force would be able to dispatch 106 Zero fighters and 144 first-line bombers against the Philippines.
The Japanese army air force participating in the campaign from the outset, was the 5th Air Division. It was composed primarily of one group (48 aircraft) of Mitsubishi Ki-21 Sally medium bombers, two groups of Nakajima Ki-27 Note fighters and several auxiliary units, most of them made up of light single-engine Ki-30 Anns and Ki-51 Sonias, as well as two squadrons (24 aircraft) of new Ki-48 Helen heavy bombers. These aircraft did not have the range of the navy planes and the Japanese counted on seizing fields at Aparri and Vigan, in the north (which they did), as soon as possible to provide advance bases for army support.
The Japanese, through informers and night recce flights, had an adequate idea of what they would be facing in the Americans. Although originally estimating that there were 900 planes in the Philippines, the night flights had reduced this estimate downward to 300, which the Japanese felt they could handle. If those 300 had been up-to-date machines, fully stocked with supplies and well integrated into a logical plan of defense, the Japanese would not have been able to handle them.
American pilots in the Philippines had virtually no intelligence on the Japanese, and those that thought about it at all assumed the Japanese and their planes would be no match for Americans. A few had read the now-famous article, "Japan's Bush-League Air Force," that had appeared in a leading aviation magazine. What they didn't know was that many Japanese pilots had hundreds of hours of combat time over China and in fighting against the Russians. They would soon discover that Japanese planes and pilots were nothing to laugh at.
At 2:30 a.m. on December 8th (December 7th U.S. time) an operator intercepted the famous "Air raid on Pearl Harbor - This is no drill" message. As the operator worked at the naval station at Cavite, Admiral Hart, commanding U.S naval forces, was being notified first and, an hour later, Douglas MacArthur had also been notified and had placed his military units on full alert.
Actually, several units learned of the attack through their own radios. Sam Grashio of the 21st Pursuit Squadron was awakened, at 2:30 by a classmate; he dressed and rushed to Nichols Field operations tent with other pilots. They were informed of "an emergency" by Lt. Dyess, but told a few minutes later to return to quarters where Grashio went back to sleep. A short time later, he was awakened again and this time got the full news about Pearl Harbor. The men were immediately ordered to their planes and sat in their cockpits on the runway expectantly. John Brownewell and the other pilots of the 17th Pursuit Squadron were awakened and also told to report for duty as soon as possible. Buzz Wagner told them to be ready for a dawn takeoff and patrol north of Clark Field.
The 3rd Pursuit, at Iba, was dog-tired from another attempted night interception of Japanese intruders. Incoming aircraft had been seen on Iba's radar screen and most of the squadron had been scrambled, with orders to attack if the mystery planes approached closer to shore than 20 miles. The half-buried radar set at Iba had tracked an unidentified formation and the P-40s had scrambled under Hank Thorne, the squadron C.O. They went many miles out to sea but failed to find a thing. Not surprising, since training and cooperation between the radar operators and the pilots was still in the embryonic stage. In actuality the radar operator back at the field had watched the P-40s and the incoming flight converge, but due to technical limitations, couldn't divine the mystery flight's altitude. It seems likely that the 3rd's P-40s passed several thousand feet below. Unable to find the enemy, the planes landed and the pilots went to sleep. However, they were awakened at about 6:30 by the news of Pearl Harbor.
By 8:00, the 17th Squadron took off with orders to cover the area north of Clark Field, patroling near Tartac. At about the same time, the 20th flew off from Clark and took up stations near Rosales, north of the field. The B-17s also left Clark Field and flew around east of the field, where they finally returned at about 10:30. The 21st remained at Nichols, although on alert, as did the 3rd and the 34th at Del Carmen. The 34th had only found out about hostilities at 8:00, as radio was their only means of communication.
A meeting was called at FEAF Headquarters at Neilson Field, just outside of Manila. The first officers arrived as early as 5:30, but General Brereton did not come until 8:00. The staff had agreed that an attack on Japanese shipping at Formosa was a must. However, Brereton told them that for the present, they were to hold off from offensive action. The best that could be hoped for was a photo reconnaissance mission by three B-17s. Reports had come in that Baguio and Tuegararo in northern Luzon had been hit (damage included three of the Philippine AAC B-10s at Cabanatuan, which would later become the site of an infamous prison camp).
Accounts vary on who was to blame for not setting up an attack immediately on Formosa. Brereton claims that he did ask permission to launch strikes, but was turned down by MacArthur's chief of staff, General Richard K. Sutherland, who refused Brereton permission to see MacArthur. MacArthur, in his memoirs, said no request was made. Whatever the reason, by 11:20 a.m., the original target, shipping in Takao Harbor, was scratched and it was decided to launch a strike at Formosan airfields at noon. With most of the major participants now passed on, it is unlikely we will ever know what really happened, but at 12:00 p.m. on Dec. 8, 1941, Brereton's main bombers were waiting on Clark Field, fueled and bombed up, when the main Japanese strike came in.
As they approached, first the 17th and later the 20th Pursuit Squadron landed back at Clark to refuel and get something to eat after flying their standing patrols. The 20th had sighted some Japanese bombers at long range, heading for Baguio but only a few shots had been fired. Lt. "Cy" Blanton remembers the menu consisted of greasy pork chops, eaten without cutlery, which did not set well with stomachs expecting to get into combat! The 17th was refueled and ready to go by 11:00, the 20th, by 12:15.
By 11:15 several squadrons took off, the 3rd being told to intercept some just sighted Japanese planes, but these couldn't be found and the 3rd returned to orbit its own field on standing patrol. The 34th had been ordered to cover Clark Field, but a thick haze prevented them from doing so. Meanwhile, the 21st took off from Nichols and two flights under Dyess headed for Clark, but they then received orders to fly over the naval base at Cavite. The 17th also took off and flew between Bataan and Corregidor. There appeared to be a great amount of U.S. air activity, but like most everything else that day it was confused, poorly planned and to no avail, reports from forward ground observers coming through garbled or not at all.
It was at this point that a series of the communication foul-ups and material difficulties began to take control of the situation. When the 3rd took off, all three flights got separated, apparently due to radio interference. One flight headed for Neilsen and Nichols, heard a call for help at Clark, and flew up there, but saw nothing. By now gas was running low, so the pilots headed back to Iba to refuel and, they hoped, pick up further news, returning about 12:30. Most of the five planes of the flight were already in the landing pattern, while the sixth flew cover. It was then that a huge number of bombs started hitting the field, dropped from the yawning bays of 54 Japanese bombers, the bursts "walking" completely across the field, destroying the radar shack (probably their main target), most of the returning fighters, and causing heavy casualties. Lt. A.E. Kreiger, the only survivor of the flight, mixed it up with the attackers (not knowing that this was not a good way to live a long life, dogfighting Zeros), but managed to make his escape. He found some of his squadron at Rosales and a few others at several outlying bases. The field at Iba was totally destroyed and the ground echelon evacuated with the wounded.
The Japanese formation of 107 bombers and 84 fighters (Zeros, Nells and Bettys) had originally been scheduled to attack as soon as possible on the morning of December 8th, but heavy fog confined them to their Formosan bases and they got a late start. They assumed the Americans would be ready for them, and their attack was divided between Clark and Iba (again showing the importance placed on destroying the radar station).
By 12:00, all the B-17s had landed and were being refueled and loaded with bombs for the Formosa mission, one was in the paint shop getting a coat of olive drab paint - even at this late date half of the 19th B-17s were still in natural metal - or had completed their bombing up and refueling. The 20th was now ready for takeoff and the first planes were preparing to do so, some beginning to taxi.
The Japanese attacked in two waves of 27 and 26 bombers respectively. As they came over, U.S. P-40s from the 20th started to take off. The first flight under Joe Moore's command made it into the air but the next five aircraft were destroyed by bombs and the rest of the P-40s were wrecked, bunched as they were at the end of the field. Japanese bombs hit headquarters, several of the hangars and the shops, with the second wave of 26 bombers following the first, all dropping from 18,000 it. in Vee formation. The field was thoroughly cratered, but although stunned by the attack, the Americans reacted swiftly, even firing back with the machine guns taken from wrecked planes.
Shortly after the bombers left, flights of Zeros went in low to strafe and these did the real damage to aircraft and men on the ground. One by one the B-17s (many completely loaded and refueled by this time) exploded in fire and smoke. Two B-17s in hangars were heroically taxiied out to avoid damage, but were destroyed, never the less. All but two or three B-17s were smashed, along with virtually all of the other planes at the field. The 192nd Tank Battalion, stationed at Clark Field to guard against Japanese parachutists, had a ringside seat, and Z.E. Bardowski, manning a gun on one of the halftracks, picked off a strafing fighter.
Joe Moore and his two wingmen, Randall Keator and Eddie Gilmore, had managed to climb to 21,000 feet west of Clark and were trying to catch the retreating bombers. Instead they ran into several Japanese Zeros. The three planes got separated and Randall Keator clashed with the Zeros, shooting one down. A swarm of Zeros jumped Eddie Gilmore, who dived and managed to outrun the fighters trailing him. Moore made two firing passes but had to break away when the Zeros turned on him. In the fight, Moore claimed two victories. Keator later managed to find enough undamaged runway at Clark to land on, despite "friendly" anti aircraft fire; Moore following a few minutes after. Gilmore set down at Del Carmen.
Lt. Sam Grashio of the 21st Squadron had been delayed slightly in taking off from Nichols with his flight of six P-40s. By the time he got into the air, he had lost the rest of the squadron and was unable to raise them by radio (radio Communications were extremely poor that day). Shortly after takeoff, two of Grashio's pilots radioed that their planes were throwing oil and the pair were forced to return to the field. With only three P-40s, plus his own, Grashio headed for Clark. Finding everything still peaceful, he chased a flight of planes that he thought were P-40s and shortly after, he heard the Clark radio ask for help. At this time yet another P-40 in his flight had to turn back due to engine trouble (the bitter result of not having enough time to break in the Allison engines). By now, Grashio could see black clouds of smoke billowing up over Clark Field.
Grashio sighted Japanese planes below and signaled his flight to attack. Confusion separated them and shortly after making his dive, Grashio round himself all alone with two Zeros on his tail. One cannon shell hit his left wing and despite firewalling his P-40, he seemed unable to elude his pursuers. Grashio was sure he was about to die: "Instinctively," he later recalled, "I began to pray again - this time with greater fervor than ever. Prayer comes easier when the end seems near; and if there are few atheists in foxholes, they are equally rare in cockpits of fighter planes in raging dog fights." He finally bent the throttle and dove steeply, leaving his attackers behind, his P-40 pulling out, its engine screaming, at treetop height above the ground. As his P-40 had only a total of two hours, the manuals didn't recommend such maneuvers, but at the time, printed warnings were the last thing Grashio had on his mind. Pilots like Grashio and Moore were learning the hard way how deadly the Zeros could be.
One flight of the 3rd Pursuit piled into the Japanese as well. However, they weren't as lucky as Grashio, being extremely low on gas. Three of the six went down, one pilot, Lt. Ellstrom, being machine-gunned in his chute. In the confusion, another pilot, Lt. Ellis, claimed three Zeros, although he also had to bail out.
Seeing columns of smoke rising in the air from the direction of Clark, Sam Marrett ordered the 34th into the air. He, himself, had to turn back with guns that would not fire, leaving Lt. Ben Brown in command. The 34th ran into several Zeros and a swirling dogfight ensued. Although neither side lost any planes, several P-35s were damaged. The pilots of the 34th found out that the unwieldy P-35 was even less of a match than the P-40 for the Zero in a dogfight. One pilot even stated his refusal "...to go back up in that pile of junk."
By the time the Japanese left Clark between 1:15 and 1:30, the field was a shambles. Virtually all the grounded B-17s had been destroyed or badly damaged. Three wrecks were later pieced together from their blasted fellows, but only one would ever see combat. The remaining B-17s would have to fly from Del Monte, only staging through Clark, doubling the distance they had to travel to be effective. Nevertheless, many valuable parts from the wrecked B-17s were salvaged. Bud Bardowski and a couple of other innovative half-track drivers from the 192nd Tank Battalion salvaged several twin-.50 mounts from the destroyed Fortresses, considerably enhancing their firepower for the future. The 20th Pursuit Squadron lost all but three of its P-40Bs, but two more were salvaged from the skeletons of others. A large grabbag of miscellaneous aircraft was also wiped out, but these were mostly obsolete aircraft, such as B-10s, B-18s and O-46s. Most of the hangars and shops were also destroyed. Clark would no longer be considered a viable base of operations, except as a forward area. After the wounded were taken care of, engineers managed to fill enough holes to make a 2,000-ft strip for planes to land on. Casualties were at least 100 dead and 250 wounded, many key personnel among them.
The destruction of Clark Field, called "Little Pearl Harbor" by some historians, was not a true surprise attack - it was a case of woefully inadequate planning and ghastly bad luck. Ironically, if the Japanese had left on schedule, they might have found the B-17s dispersed and the 17th and 20th Pursuit Squadrons waiting for them. If they had planned it themselves the enemy couldn't have picked a better time: B-17s and P-40s sitting on the field while the rest of the defending fighters were either divided or scattered on outlying fields, or on uncoordinated patrols and out of position.
Delays in taking action by MacArthur and his self-serving advisors, particularly the autocratic chief of staff, General Suthertand, had only exacerbated an already critical condition. The situation preceding the events of December 8, 1941, called for positive action, some logical plan based on the information available. Waiting for further developments in the wake of the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor - MacArthur had known about it for almost eight hours - and the known Japanese threat to the Philippines, was the worst possible alternative, and it would cost the American arms dearly.
After refueling at Nichols, the 17th and 21st Pursuit Squadrons took off and headed for Clark. The combination of the bombings and the repairing of the field to allow landings resulted in a dust-bowl, making visibility almost non-existent. After one plane had landed, it would take several minutes before the boiling dust would settle enough for another to attempt it. Lt. Dyess, never one to ask his pilots to do something he wouldn't, instructed them to watch him, and then do everything he did. He was the first one down.
With the exception of one P-40 pilot who had lost his radio and landed at Clark with the 21st, the rest of the 17th headed for Del Carmen, where they hoped dust conditions would not be so severe. Unfortunately they were even worse and only with extreme difficulty did the 17th land that evening. As facilities at Del Carmen were primitive, most of the pilots slept under their planes. John Brownewell of the 17th remembers curling up in a P-35 engine cover. Dirty, disheartened and dead tired, he spent a long, miserable night.
To add to the 17th's problems, headquarters inexplicably ordered one of its flights to conduct a night patrol at 2:00 a.m. Lt. William Feallock obeyed with four P-40s. Cloaked in six inches of dust and with no lights to guide them, the first three made it up safely, but the last plane, flown by Lt. Lodin, crashed into another plane, wrecking both and badly injuring him. As might be expected, nothing was seen by Feallock's patrol. Unaccountably, now that the damage had been done, MacArthur's staff was ordering maximum patrol and reconnaissance efforts.
Shortly after dawn on the 9th, planes from the 21st took off again, Lt. Dyess carefully explaining the procedures to circumvent the dust problem. Two more P-40s cracked up in the atrocious conditions and one ran into one of the few flyable B-17s . FEAF was soon out three more planes. Grashio had trouble with a faulty engine and barely got down, again drawing the attention of "friendly" fire. (Sam Grashio would have several scrapes like this throughout his flying in the Philippines - in the words of one of cartoonist Bill Mauldin's drawings, Grashio "was a fugitive from the law of averages...")
The 9th turned out to be a day of inaction, but not rest, for both sides. The Japanese were prevented from flying any effective missions due to heavy storms over Formosa and the areas to the south. Some Zeros did get to the Philippines, but no damage was done. The Americans were still recovering and patching up, awaiting the next blow. The 17th, 21st and 34th flew patrols all day but no contact was made. A small Japanese bomber forced attacked Nichols Field that night, destroying one hangar and damaging a few planes.
Late in the day the 14th and 93rd Bomb Squadrons flew their B-17s into Clark from Del Monte, where they also had spent a fruitless day on the 8th flying recon patrols. Due to reduced strength, it was decided to scratch the projected mission against Formosa and launch strikes instead against more immediate threats, approaching Japanese convoys nearing Aparri and Vigan, on the 10th. Not only the B-17s, but every plane ready to fly would attack the next day.
One of the Del Monte B-17s was co-piloted by Lt. Edward Jacquet. He and his crew taxiied up to their old hardstand on Clark Field, only to see it occupied by the body parts of a wrecked B-17. They settled nearby. On his way to get food for his crew, a morose Jacquet looked at the crushed planes and charred bodies still scattered about the field. He ran into a friend of his who relayed the information that a classmate had been killed, Lt. Tex Gory. Gory had been in one of the B-17s that had vainly tried to taxi out of the way when the bombs started falling. Poking through the debris, Jacquet saw a wrecked Japanese plane, which perked him up a little. He decided to take a flying boot as a souvenir until he noticed the foot was still in it.
The next day, six B-17s were prepared for the attack on the convoy at Vigan, to the north. Armed with twenty 100-pound bombs, their number was reduced to five when one B-17 was assigned reconnaissance duties instead. The five Forts took off at 6:00 a.m., found the Japanese ships off the coast, and dropped their bombs at varying altitudes from 7,000 to 12,000 feet, with some hits observed. Several bombers of the 14th squadron were sent in individually as well.
The 17th Pursuit Squadron attacked next after seeing the B-17s leave. They strafed the ships and landing barges, doing a great deal of damage and causing heavy casualties. The 34th finished the attack. Originally starting with sixteen planes, only seven arrived over the target, the rest dropping out with engine trouble. Again they worked over the landing barges and transports. Sam Marrett, in particular, dove on one transport several times. On his last run, it let go with a tremendous explosion. Unfortunately, Marrett was caught in the blast and his P-35 slammed into the water, killing him.
Planes of the 14th Bomb Squadron attacked individually both at Vigan and Aparri. Taking off from the raw airstrip at San Marcelino (originally intended for the A-24s of the 27th BG) where they had spent a long, uncomfortable night, three of the B-17s went to Clark to load up with bombs. All three bombed the convoy at Aparri. One, B-17 after dropping its bombs was ordered back to Del Monte, but got stuck in a storm off Mindanao and crashlanded. The other two B-17s dropped their loads, one, piloted by Lt. Colin Kelly, being credited with sinking the battleship Haruna (actually 2,000 miles away). Both planes were attacked by several Zeros, one of which was flown by Japanese ace, Saburo Sakai, Kelly's plane being shot down. The other B-17, flown by Lt. Schaetzl, was badly damaged.
The remaining planes of the 34th had hardly landed at Del Carmen, when the base was attacked by several Zeros, which spent nearly a half hour strafing the place. Twelve of the remaining P-35s were destroyed and six more heavily damaged, virtually ending the Seversky fighters combat career. Del Carmen's “defenses" consisted of six ancient Lewis machine guns and twelve bolt-action rifles. After the attack, it had to be abandoned. The Japanese now struck again in force. Over a hundred bombers, accompanied by many fighters, divided into two groups, hitting Nichols Field and the naval base at Cavite. Again, whether by accident or choice, the Japanese couldn't have chosen a better time. Most American planes were either on the ground or were returning from attacks and patrols. One patrol was returning, low on fuel, when the Japanese were sighted. Deciding to take a risk and attack, the Americans were unable to crack the wall of fighters, although Lts. William Shepherd and Joe Moore got brief shots. The Japanese only downed three P-40s, but no fewer than eight ran out of fuel or crashlanded. The Air Corps in the Philippines had just about run out of planes.
As with the attack on Clark, the Japanese attacking Nichols came in bombers-first, hitting hangars, parked planes and shops. Anti-aircraft was once again nearly non-existent. In desperation, Lt. Bob Jones and a few others fired their .45 automatic pistols, before diving into a bunker. Frank Mayhue, an enlisted man with the 21st, found the bombs a wonderful incentive to dig an instant foxhole with a mess kit lid. Again, the result was almost total destruction. The 2nd Observation Squadron lost almost all of its O-46s and O-52s. The simultaneous attack against Cavite by a like number of bombers just about finished the Navy as a major force in the Philippines.
In two days of combat, American pursuit strength had been reduced to twenty-two P-40s and somewhere between five to eight P-35s, out of an original 100 fighters.
The B-17s still numbered 16, out of an original 35, but several of these were damaged or hampered by malfunctioning superchargers that restricted their altitude Considering their depleted strength, an order went out ending active offensive operations by the fighters: with nothing else left to them, their role was to be reconnaissance. The B-17s withdrew down to Del Monte and over the next several days, the Japanese continued to hammer American installations, virtually unopposed. Any hope America had of holding the Philippines was gone.
Despite the new restrictions and lack of resources, American pilots and planes continued to hit back. The Philippine Army Air Corps, still flying their P-26s, intercepted a Japanese bomber formation over their field at Zablan. Three P-26s under Capt. Jesus Villamor dived on the enemy formation. They mixed it up with the Japanese fighters, Villamor claiming one, and in the wildly turning melee, Lt Jose Gozar, not even of Villamor's squadron, attempted to ram a bomber when his guns jammed. By some miracle, not a P-26 was lost. Two days later the Filipino pilots again tangled with Zeros. Although losing one of their number, the rest managed to frustrate the Japanese bombers the Zeros were escorting. But, in reality, there were very few stationary targets left worth hitting, and the Japanese pilots would soon turn their attention to the destruction of MacArthur's army.
Buzz Wagner and Grant Mahony were two more pilots who bent the "no fighting" rule. Mahony, on a recon patrol, attacked a newly captured Japanese airfield and radio station. Jumped by several Japanese fighters, he took advantage of the P-40's superior level speed to lead the Japanese back around over their own field, making a strafing run and leaving the embarrassed Japanese in his prop wash.
On December 13th, Wagner led two other P-40s flown by Lts. Buss Church and Allison Strauss on an early morning strafing and bombing mission against the newly captured Japanese airfield at Vigan (John Brownewell was slated to go, but had to drop out due to jammed guns). Leaving Strauss to keep an eye out above, Wagner and Church dove to the attack. They achieved total surprise. After Wagner made one pass, Church took his turn and was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. Although his plane was badly damaged, Church dropped his bombs and continued shooting. His plane crashed about a mile away. Incensed by the death of Church, a furious Wagner made several more passes, leaving most of the Japanese fighters on the field in flames, and shooting up one on its takeoff roll, just as it left the ground.
By the 14th, B-17s had just about given up on using Clark, even as a forward base. They had settled in at Del Monte, the men adjusting as best they could to the crude conditions. Several of the B-17s were still in their silver natural-metal finish, so the single paint sprayer was kept busy. Gloss green was the only color available, in quantity, and attempts to subdue it with other colors produced a strange-looking menagerie of Flying Fortresses. To hide their planes from Japanese reconnaissance flights, the exhausted ground crews used palm leaves, three truckloads of which were needed for a single B-17, and they had to be changed every third day, as the leaves withered. Perhaps the award for the crudest paint job should be given to Robert Amo, of the 30th Bomb Squadron, who remembers painting one B-17 with a broom!
The last sizeable B-17 mission was flown by six Fortresses against Japanese ships landing troops at Legaspi in southern Luzon. Out of the six, one was unable to take off because of a blown tire, and two turned back due to mechanical problems, which were multiplying at an alarming rate. The remaining three attacked separately, quickly losing sight of each other, as Japanese fighters swarmed over them. One, under Lt. Adams, made its run but was smothered. Thoroughly shooting up the ship, the Japanese fighters forced Adams to crash-land at Masbate Island. Lt. Vandavanter, commander of the second B-17, made his run and managed to get back to Del Monte with the aid of a passing weather front. Lt. Wheless (flying Ed Jacquet's plane, 40-2073) wasn't so lucky. Attacked by some 18 Japanese Zeros, several of the crew were wounded (the radio operator was killed), and most systems were inoperative. With two engines out, one fuel tank blown away, elevator and rudder controls badly damaged, Wheless found a small airfield on Mindanao and crash-landed there. The crew counted nearly 1,200 holes after the mission. The next day, the surviving B-17s were withdrawn to Australia. In the future, they would stage out of Batchelor Field in northern Australia, and only use Del Monte as an advanced base. Now the Air Corps in the Philippines had only a few patched up fighters and some obsolete liaison and transport aircraft left out of an original 277 plane total.
Lt. John Brownewell and three other pilots of the 17th were left in charge of the ground echelon at Nichols Field. On December 16th, Brownewell was called to MacArthur's headquarters. The General's chief of staff, General Sutherland, told him that General Sharp, commander of U.S forces in the southern Philippines, had asked for a P-40 for recon work. Sutherland asked Brownewell to recommend one of his three subordinates (Lts. Stone, Obert and Crosby). Brownewell said he'd go himself and checked out a brand-new P-40 with virtually no time on the airframe. The aircraft had been in a crate and had escaped damage. Slow-timing was done on the way down to Mindanao. As Brownewell and other pilots had come to expect, he was greeted by the usual inaccurate American anti-aircraft fire upon reaching Del Monte. On landing, Brownewell learned that the men at the field were especially jittery as they had experienced their first raid the day before. When he saw their weaponry, he shrugged, a few machine guns, some from WW I, were not much of a threat.
Brownewell started flying recon missions, which he did until he was evacuated in late-April 1 942. In view of the fact that he was supposed to avoid combat, he had his armor and radio removed, as well as four of his six guns, Why not? They seldom functioned. During a strafing run on two Japanese seaplanes he had dead in the water, only one of his six guns had fired.
By this time, there were far more pilots than planes and usually only the more experienced pilots were flying. The remnants of 21st's ground crews were sent to construct a field in central Luzon at Lubao. Working with native labor, the field was finished on New Year's Day, one day before the Americans had to retreat in the face of the advancing Japanese and abandon it. Other units continued to work at their own fields. Tom Gage, an enlisted an with the 34th, remembers his squadron setting up several wrecked P-35s to look as if they were still in service. In one of those good news-bad news situations, the wrecks worked in attracting the Japanese, as they launched nineteen bombing raids against the field. Del Monte [Clark Field not Del Monte] was abandoned around Christmas. David Ostereich received orders to destroy a damaged P-40 still at the field which maintenance was unable to repair in time. He opened the filler cap on the fuel tank, soaked a rag in gasoline, threw in a match, and the P-40 went up like a flare.
On December 22nd, the Japanese launched their main invasion, 80 ships appearing in Lingayen Gulf. Over 43,000 veteran troops were landed. They were opposed by two poorly trained and ill equipped Filipino divisions, and the Americans decided another maximum effort was in order. Only six P-35s and 12 P-40s were available but they went in, avoiding a number of Ki-27 Nate fighters, strafing and bombing the shipping. Two P-35s were lost and several other planes damaged. Buzz Wagner, flying in a P-40, received a hit on his canopy, sending shards of plexiglas into his eye. Although able to make it back, he was out of the campaign. Several B-17s also shuttle-bombed the beachhead, stopping at Del Monte between strikes (which was now receiving heavy raids) to load bombs and gas up. This was to be the last major B-17 mission in the Philippines, except for sporadic reconnaissance and single plane strikes.
Despite efforts by the air and ground forces, the Japanese used their superior training, numbers and weaponry to slowly push back the Filipino/American forces. Although several units fought well, namely the Philippine Scouts (Filipinos recruited into the Regular Army - one unit, the 26th Cavalry, was still horse-mounted!) and a Provisional Tank Group (armed with M3 Stuart tanks), which held up the advance for a few days, most of MacArthur's troops had been in the army as little as two weeks. Within two days after the landings, MacArthur knew that he would have to revive the old plan of retreating to the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor. As he pulled back, what was left of the crack 26th Cavalry, now down to 450 men and without anti-tank guns, covered his withdrawal against Japanese armor.
In a masterly fashion, General Wainwright, commander of the North Luzon Force, slowly retreated south toward Bataan Along the way, what was left of Clark Field was abandoned. From it a large number of spare parts had been salvaged, and had been flown to Del Monte by surviving B-18s, several of which were still being used as transports. Ammunition, gas and other supplies of value were blown up or otherwise destroyed. However, as the Japanese did not reach Clark Field until the 30th, several daring groups filtered back to get needed items overlooked during the retreat, the men sifting through the ruins of what had been America's most, important Army Air Corps base in the entire Pacific.
General Brereton and other headquarters officials of FEAF could ,see that there was little purpose in remaining in the Philippines. What was left of his once formidable striking power was now in Australia, and he departed on a surviving Navy PBY. General George was left in charge of air operations. On paper, a better choice couldn't have been made, as he knew how to get the most out of what he had left, and was highly respected by the pilots. But General George really had nothing to fight with.
Edward Jacquet and his friend, "Tuffy" Graham, also faced a decision. Some pilots of the 19th Bomb Group were being sent to Del Monte and one of them would go along. The other choice was to take charge of a 93rd Bomb Squadron truck convoy going to Bataan to fight as infantry. They played one hand of showdown poker and Tuffy won, or did he? He decided on the safety of Bataan against the uncertainty of Del Monte. It was the worst decision of his young life: Jacquet would eventually be evacuated to Australia. Tuffy Graham would die on the Bataan Death March. By Christmas, things were chaotic. Because they had so few aircraft, almost no orders were given to Air Corps units streaming south toward Bataan. Many carried their own food supply, which would come in handy, at least at first. Several units left by steamers and other water craft. Or Blanton remembers having his "Christmas Eve dinner" just before leaving Manila on the 24th - a can of C-rations shared with two other pilots. He watched an American flag being lowered and wondered how long before it would be raised again. Manila was declared an open city, and although General Jonathan Wainwright wanted to counterattack with the Philippine Division composed entirely of American regulars and Philippine Scouts, MacArthur knew there was no way Manila could be saved. He would need his best troops for the defense of Bataan, which controlled the approaches to Manila Bay. Following War Plan Orange, which had been conceived in the 20s for just such a catastrophe, he retreated into the peninsula's jungles. The Japanese were now bombing Manila without letup and the Americans were destroying anything they thought might be of use to the enemy, including huge stocks of foodstuffs, which they could not carry away, the loss of which would be sorely felt within a month. Fortunately, the Japanese left the retreating columns alone, except for occasional strafing. General Homma, the Japanese commander, who would later be executed for war crimes, had the impression that those fleeing before him were no more than a disorganized rabble, which would be mopped up easily within a week. After all the few Filipinos his victorious army had captured were barefoot, without weapons, rations, blankets, mosquito netting and even underwear.
The 26th of December found most Air Corps units on Bataan, except for some at the Philippine Air Depot (now at Quezon City, northwest of Manila) putting the finishing touches on four repaired P-40s, which they had salvaged from eight wrecks. The 21st Pursuit Squadron was still at Lubao, but would reach Bataan by January 1st. Bob Jones and the rest of the 2nd Observation Squadron reached Mariveles (on the southern tip of Bataan) on Christmas Day. An officer at the dock pointed them north and told them to start walking toward the sound of the guns.
After an abortive interception mission was canceled, the eighteen P-40s still remaining were divided into nine that would stay on Bataan and nine that would fly to Mindanao. The trip south to Del Monte was difficult and two P-40s were lost enroute. After arrival, the pilots were made most unwelcome by General Sharp, the army commander on Mindanao. David Obert, one of the pilots, said he treated them "...like truant schoolboys." However, when four of the pilots (with their planes) were later called back to Bataan, he complained loudly at the loss of his air support. After yet another run-in with the General, Obert left wishing that Sharp, relatively safe on Mindanao, had experienced a few air raids of the type that had left Clark Field a smoldering pyre.
In the pre-war years, Army officials had invariably looked down their collective noses at Air Corps personnel. They resented young flyers, who did not observe the traditions of military etiquette that had changed very little since the Spanish American War. Far too many Army officers were over-age and had found a home in the Army. Their ideas were out of date. They, themselves, were physically out of shape. Their units were run by tough non commissioned officers, while they spent their day at the club or on the golf course. Their life at isolated posts was insular. Promotion was almost glacial. Had it not been for WW II, most West Point graduates, Class of 1917, would have retired as majors, after 30 years of service.
Paperwork was rife. Most enlisted men had no high school education and found army life superior to unemployment during the Great Depression. Reenlistment was almost 90 percent. Yet troop strength was so low that future Chief of Staff, General Marshall, once found himself commanding a battalion, normally 800 men, containing only 200 men, including the staff.
Boredom and debt were endemic. Army pay had not been increased since 1920 and younger officers struggled to make ends meet. Given this environment, it was small wonder that mental stagnation, an aversion to new ideas and tactics, routine, parochialism and even indifference was bred into the attitudes of far too many officers. In this club-like army, close-order drills and endless inspections took priority over innovative success while on maneuvers.
This frame of reference filtered down to the enlisted men, who took up the science of warfare where it had been left at the end of WW I. In the Air Corps, which had plenty of energetic and forward looking officers, the problem was lack of equipment. At the end of WW I, the Air Service, as it was then called, had been reduced in size from 20,000 officers to 200. They were obliged to compete with all Army officers for promotion and since the promotion board was invariably controlled by ground commanders, they were the last to achieve advancement. By 1939, the emerging Air Corps, after years of fighting for funds, was still smaller than the field artillery. In February 1941, on the brink of war, it had only 500 combat aircraft, but this was not surprising since the Army only numbered 190,000 men, which put it 17th in the world, ahead of Bulgaria, but behind mighty Portugal.
It was with these resources, that General MacArthur, a product of such, a system, hoped to defend Bataan Peninsula, but first he had to reach it and he had to do so without air cover.
As MacArthur's overwhelmed forces streamed back into Bataan, most of the Air Corps, both fliers and technicians, found themselves classified as infantry. As they had no infantry training, it was handled by those who had previous firearms experience or infantry backgrounds. They had a multitude of weapons: Lewis guns, BARS, old Navy Marlin machine guns and even Bren Gun Carriers (light, tracked vehicles taken from a British ship bound for Hong Kong). Joe Ward of the 21st remembers seeing .50 guns scavenged from wrecked P-40s and installed on home-made mounts. The problem with the .50s was that they were designed to be fired while moving at several hundred miles per hour and would overheat if more than a few rounds were fired at a time. This was soon solved, however, as ammunition stocks were low.
As with the other troops on Bataan, the retreating pilots and ground crew soon suffered from a lack of food. Thousands of tons of rice and other foodstuffs had been left in Manila and other places, along with medical supplies. At the end of the first week on Bataan, everyone was put on half rations. When the troops got meat, it was often caribou, a working water buffalo. Caribou meat is stringy and tough, especially when older caribou was used (Sam Grashio said that the ones he ate must have been senior citizens). Virtually anything remotely edible was fair game. Before long, the horses and mules of the 26th Cavalry were butchered and appeared on the menu. By the end of the Bataan campaign, the men were down to quarter-rations. One man remembers sitting down to a meal of monkey soup. He didn't mind eating monkey, but he did mind getting the portion that contained the paw! Diseases like malaria and dysentery were unavoidable. Bataan, especially the southern half, was very malarial. Atabrine and quinine tablets ran out quickly. By the end of the campaign, over 80 percent of the Americans and Filipinos had malaria. Between its fevers and chills, dysentery, lack of food and sleep, and violent combat in the unhealthy tropical climate, it was common for survivors to lose from five to ten pounds per week.
Evacuation of other units besides FEAF's staff on Mindanao and Australia had begun around Christmas and continued through the rest of the campaign. They got away on a makeshift miscellany of assorted planes, including B-18s, C-39s (the Air Corps version of the DC-2) and various patched-up civilian aircraft. As early as December 18th, several pilots of the 27th Bomb Group left in the belief they would pick up their A-24s and fly back. On December 31st and January 2nd, a number of pilots, mostly 17th Pursuit Squadron personnel, including Blanton and Buzz Wagner, flew out. Again, they were under the impression that they were going to Australia temporarily to pick up new planes - the transfer would be permanent. There were no new planes. They left on two twin engined C-45 Beechcraft that had seen better days. One in particular was literally held together with bailing wire and patched with strips cut from tin cans, a common practice, the plane being damaged in an air attack on Neilsen Field It also had some 130 unpatched bullet holes in it. The first Beechcraft got as far as Mindanao, where the passengers were taken out by an LB-30 (export version of the B-24). The second plane had a harrowing journey, lasting several days, flying low on consumptive engines over the southern Philippines and on to the Dutch East Indies before the engines quit for good and the passengers were evacuated by Navy PBYs.
Flying missions from Bataan continued. Planes suffered from a chronic lack of spare parts and mechanics had to think of ingenious ways to make materials go further. Used oil was strained through crude filters made from torn shirts and spark plugs that should have been thrown away were used again and again. Although limited chiefly to reconnaissance missions, several P-40 pilots scored kills during this period. On the 17th, Lt. Marshall Anderson and Jack Hall claimed three Nates. Two more were shot down two days later. On the night of January 26th, six P-40s attacked Nichols Field with 30-pound bombs and destroyed a number of parked planes, causing heavy casualties. (These bombs were hung on jury-rigged racks that were eventually modified to carry 250 lb and even a single 500 lb. bomb. The makeshift P-40 bombers usually flew with several systems out, with worn out brakes, malfunctioning cowl flaps, and bald tires.)
All this was not accomplished without loss to men and planes: Anderson was machine-gunned in his chute; Lts. Woolery and Hall disappeared on another flight. By the end of January, the Bataan Flying Detachment was down to just seven P-40s and two P-35s.
General George (he had been promoted in January) was a realist. He knew that he had to carefully conserve his remaining planes. He also knew when to take risks, as in the Nichols bombing. Most important to his pilots, he was also very concerned about their welfare. He developed guerrilla tactics that constantly let the Japanese know that the Army Air Corps was still alive. He literally fought down to the last plane.
In mid-January, the Japanese, running into stiff resistance on Bataan, decided to try landing behind American lines, a tactic that was working so well in Malaya. One battalion of troops was supposed to land a few miles behind the American lines. Due to strong tides and poor maps, they ended up right in front of the various grounded air units on the southern tip of Bataan.
Estimating the Japanese force as only a few dozen men (one colonel told the 34th it would be a 'turkey shoot"), the Americans sent a mixed assortment of sailors and airmen, most without infantry training, to attack. One Japanese recorded in his diary, after meeting these raw troops: "...they would attempt to draw Japanese fire by sitting down, talking loudly and lighting cigarettes."
Instead of a few dozen, it was discovered that there were hundreds of Japanese, who had to be routed out the hard way, from trees and caves. The airmen and sailors were reinforced by the 57th Infantry (Philippine Scouts), which slowly pushed the Japanese back. Aided by armored launches and 12-inch mortar fire from Corregidor, the Japanese were finally contained and then eliminated.
On Longoskwayan Point, the Japanese tried to reinforce their units trapped there on February 1st. Sam Grashio, back on flying duty after a stint on beach defense, took his P-40 aloft on a night mission and together with other P-40s strafed and bombed Japanese barges coming down from the north. Attacking the barges until they ran out of ammunition, they managed to sink most of them. Out of 1,000 men, less than 400 Japanese made it ashore and only three were left when the pocket was finally destroyed.
In mid-February, Dyess and his men were assigned back to flying duty. By now, pilots from all squadrons were represented, including Joe Moore from the 20th and John Posten from the 17th. Some members of the 20th Pursuit Squadron had raised a Grumman J2F Duck amphibian from Manila Bay, where it had been sunk early in the war. Patched with parts from other planes, Moore and others flew it on a number of missions to the southern islands, picking up candy, food and medicine and flying back to Bataan. Moore's habit of bringing back candy won the J2F the nickname of “The Candy Clipper," but he had other, more serious plans for the J2F. When the end came, it might afford him a chance to escape.
Back on Bataan, many of the grounded airmen held a part of the front line. If possible, conditions were worse than in the rear areas. Frank Mayhue, who we last saw hurriedly digging a foxhole at Nichols, went on what he thought was a rear-area patrol with some Philippine Scouts. To his horror he soon found himself behind Japanese lines as the Scouts filched some rice, literally from under the noses of the Japanese. Art Reynolds, a member of the 27th Material Squadron, even had time to visit a small town in search of stamps for his collection.
On February 9th, Jesus Villamor was persuaded to take a Stearman PT-13 on a photo mission to spot Japanese guns near Cavite. He remarked that he was being escorted by the entire Bataan air force, six P-40s. Knowing he would be dead meat for any Japanese plane, Villamor took off and got the pictures, but not without interference. Villamor had been warned not to dive due to the fragile condition of the Stearman's wings. Jumped by a Nate, he thought “to hell with the wings" and dived anyway. He was followed by the Nate right down to the field, jumping out of the plane as bullets from the fighter kicked up dust around him. Back upstairs, the P-40s and Nates engaged in a free-for-all, with four of the Japanese fighters going down. One P-40, flown by Lt. Stone, did not return. Villamor, after making a verbal report to General George, asked for and received a well-deserved bottle of scotch.
Early in March, Ed Dyess learned of several Japanese ships being unloaded in Sable Bay. He persuaded General George that an attack should be mounted. Therefore, virtually every plane still on Bataan was involved: five P-40s, all badly in need of overhaul and continually being repaired from the cannibalized wrecks on hand. A new bomb release was contrived, built by Sgt. Jack Day, using car parts, airplane fittings, and various odds and ends. This would allow Dyess' plane, which he named “Kibosh," to carry a 500-pound bomb.
John Posten attacked first, dropping six 30-pound bombs with unobserved results. Dyess took off at 12:30 with a 500-pound bomb underneath the belly of “Kibosh." Lt. Donald "Shorty" Crossland acted as tail cover. Climbing to 10,000 feet, Dyess soon spotted a large Japanese transport in Sable Bay. Diving to 2,000 feet, he released his bomb, which missed by 40 feet. He went back and made several strafing runs, raking the ship from stem to stern. He also attacked two 100-ton ships, sinking one and damaging the other, keeping up his fire until running out of ammunition. Two more P-40s were sent by Joe Moore to drop more bombs in the area and one, piloted by Lt. Crellin, did not return.
Sam Grashio had yet another hair-raising experience while attempting to bomb some Japanese barges near Grande Island on the same day. He sighted the boats and hit his bomb release. He didn't see any splashes and returned to Cabcaben in disgust. Suddenly, he was informed by Cabcaben radio ("repressed panic" was the tone of voice Grashio remembers) that his fragmentation bombs were still hanging from the racks! Grashio had the dubious choice of bailing out, and either landing in the bay with its plentiful supply of sharks or in a tree in the jungle. His second choice was to take the risk of landing his valuable P-40 and being blown up by the bombs if they dropped from the racks on touchdown. Grashio took the latter and landed safely. Although Dyess later wrote that Grashio was concerned about saving the plane, Grashio said quite frankly that his main concern was his neck! He saved the plane, but the overworked engine was ruined.
Dyess attacked two more times that day, on the third mission hitting a large ship with his bomb, which caused it to explode and Dyess to black out. He came in again, strafing another ship over and over. By this time it was getting dark and tracers from Japanese guns lit up the sky. After finally running out of ammunition and leaving the second ship burning, he returned to base
Dress touched down on the primitive strip to find that his P-40 was the only combat plane left on Bataan. Crellin had been shot down and the other P-40s had been wrecked in landing accidents. General George was pleased with Dyess' success, but saddened by the loss of Crellin. He was also furious because headquatters was not too pleased over the loss of the P-40s, but they relented somewhat when they were told of all the damage inflicted.
Shortly before the mission, someone had written a note to President Roosevelt in jest: "Dear Mr. President: Please send us another P-40. The one we have is all shot up." The men laughed grimly thinking how true it now was, and got a good laugh listening to Tokyo Radio describe the raid of “...three flights of 4-engined bombers escorted by fighters..."
Dyess' plane had at least 65 to 70 holes in it, but he found "Kibosh" the next day covered with a large number of bright blue canvas patches! The men at Cabacben had also managed to piece together another P-40, which had parts from so many wrecked P-40s it was dubbed the "P-40 Something," and in a monumental reinforcement the Bataan Air Force doubled in size when two more P-35s were flown up from Mindanao.
In mid-March, General George was evacuated to Australia with General MacArthur. He would be killed in an aircraft accident later in the war, after becoming the first head of Air Transport Command (ATC).
By now, food, or lack of it, was a major problem. Many of the pilots were barely able to climb into their cockpits. The flight surgeon William Keppard, told General King, commander on Bataan, that the pilots could not fly any longer without more food. Ten days' worth of rations arrived and at least, briefly, the pilots were eating again. Sam Grashio credits these extra rations as saving his life later on the Bataan Death March. But flying or not flying was a moot point. There were only a handful of aircraft left, all of them in poor condition..
By the 1st of April, the Japanese had been heavily reinforced with veteran troops, aircraft and equipment. On Good Friday, April 3rd, the final assault on Bataan began with a heavy artillery bombardment. The Americans and Filipinos, weakened by months of semi-starvation and disease, collapsed. Japanese planes were everywhere, strafing and bombing anything that moved.
On April 7th, Sam Grashio was sent in the remaining P-40 on a reconnaissance mission. Grashio now knew the end couldn't be more than a few days away. He said later that the urge to not return and fly south was almost overwhelming, but he returned. Lt. Jack Donaldson later took Grashio's plane (actually Dyess' "Kibosh") and cracked it up landing at Cebu.
By the night of the 8th of April, not only were the airfields being shelled by Japanese artillery, they were rocking from explosions as the Americans blew up ammo dumps and supplies. Joe Moore took off for the south in a P-40 while O.L. Lunde took off in a P-35 with another pilot in the baggage compartment. Dyess sent off the last P-35 with Lts. Ben Brown and Hank Thorne aboard, as well as a third pilot in the baggage compartment. Although both refused to go, Dyess ordered them off and although grossly overloaded, they dropped some fragmentation bombs on the way. Edward Jacquet, now at Del Monte, remembers his surprise upon meeting Thorne's P-35 on landing, and seeing not one, but three men get out!
Lt. Raymond Gehrig and a Captain Randolph managed to fly to Corregidor (landing on small and cratered Kindley Field on Corregidor's “tail") in PT-13s. Shortly after, they flew south with one passenger each. Upon arrival they found out they had (in the opinion of one officer on Corregidor) taken off without orders and were to fly back to Corregidor. By some miracle, both pilots made it back safely and after a "serious" discussion the two were able to produce orders proving they were supposed to leave. Carrying another passenger apiece in the two Stearmans, they took off, but due to the fact that the Japanese had now captured an intermediate airfield, they had to reach Del Monte by boat.
The last plane out was the battered "Candy Clipper," a legacy from Joe Moore and dangerously overloaded, with six people. Dyess had been ordered to get on board by headquarters, but he refused and stayed with his men. Lt. Moore had already gotten out in a P-40 and Lt. Leo Boelens feverishly worked 24 hours to replace a blown cylinder head. It was now or never and with Lt. Roland Barnick in the pilot's seat, the heavily laden Clipper lifted off the runway. A ton overweight, it could only reach an "attitude" of 50 feet. By throwing overboard helmets, baggage, sidearms and even the floorboard, the men gained another 50 feet and made it to Panay Island, where most of them were picked up by a rickety Bellanca and flown to Del Monte.
Del Monte, by this time, served as a way station for planes flying in to evacuate critically-needed personnel. One of these was General MacArthur, who flew out in a B-17 in late-March, after reaching Mindanao in a Navy patrol boat. Meanwhile, John Brownewell continued his reconnaissance missions, shooting down a Japanese plane in mid-April. On the ground, many of the airmen were organized as provisional infantry, for a last ditch stand that never came.
In mid-April a force of three B-17s and ten brand new B-25 medium bombers were sent to Del Monte from Australia. They carried out several bombing missions against Japanese positions on Cebu, Luzon and other points. The few P-40s remaining at Del Monte covered the bombers and managed to shoot down three Japanese planes, their last official missions. Although one B-17 was destroyed on the ground, the rest made it back to Australia safely, loaded with more evacuees, including Joe Moore and Hank Thorne. Edward Jacquet had been evacuated earlier with a bad case of malaria (He would have more adventures in another last-stand in Java)
In early-May, a few days after Corrregidor fell, Del Monte also capitulated.
When the Japanese overran the airbases at Del Monte. they came across two P-40s and a PT-13. Wanting to find out more about the P-40s, the Japanese found two pilots, Ed Erickson and Shortly Crossland, both of whom had been stranded on Mindanao after escaping Luzon. In a note of sad irony, the last mission flown by Americans in the Philippines was ferrying these two captured P-40s plus the PT-1 3 to Nichols Field.
The officers and men of the Army Air Corps met widely-different fates after the fall of the Philippines. Ed Dyess and Sam Grashio, along with many others, were captured at Bataan, or later on Mindanao. Grashio and Dyess escaped a year later, but Dyess, like several other distinguished pilots, survived combat, only to die in an airplane crash in the States. Buzz Wagner got to New Guinea and added three more victories to his five scored in the Philippines. He also crashed and died in the States. As for the men who became prisoners of war, they underwent unspeakable horrors. Ironically, many of them died in Japanese prisoner “hell-ships" under attack by their own planes later in the war. Fewer than half survived to the end of hostilities. They came home to an America which largely ignored them, a policy which unfortunately continues today...
There is one airplane that survived the fighting in the Philippines, the later battles in the South Pacific and the wave of scrappings that occurred after the war. B-17D No. 40-3097 was repaired from several wrecked B-17s at Clark Field and nicknamed "The Swoose." Today it sits disassembled in a corner of the National Air and Space Museum's restoration facility at Silver Hill, Maryland. Like the men who flew her and her gallant sisters against over whelming odds in the Philippines, she has been largely forgotten by a modern, fast-paced world.
General Edward King, who had the grim duty of surrendering American and Filipino forces on Bataan, said that God gives high courage to a select few. Those in the Philippines must have been (in his own words) "His special favorites."
"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia..." - 11 Corinthians 1:8
The events in the Philippines during the winter and spring of 1941-1942 have been examined, discussed and agonized over by many authorities, both civilian and military. In the end, American defeat had to be blamed on faulty planning, indecision and, most importantly, lack of material.
Ironically, the defense line on Bataan had been personally inspected and laid out by MacArthur, when he was a junior officer in the Philippines, before the First World War. Had he enough troops, food supplies and medical equipment to support his men, he could have withstood Japanese attacks for a few more months, as he had enough guns and ammunition. Had his air force not been destroyed during that first day, he might have made good his withdrawal into Bataan with enough supplies. Certainly with air cover and a largely intact bomber and fighter force, the Japanese columns advancing on Manila would not have been able to move as swiftly.
Lastly, had the administration made good on its repeated pledges for reinforcements and supplies, MacArthur may have been able to hold on until help arrived. But such promises were merely wishful thinking. In the spring of 1942, America did not have the wherewithal to reinforce MacArthur. It had neither the men, the equipment, nor the ships to transport them. The Japanese carrier fleet, together with its battle fleet, had suffered little. Midway had not been fought, nor Coral Sea. American airpower was almost non existent and there was no way MacArthur could have held on to the Philippines, given the events of December 8th. But had that esteemed General of the Armies paid more attention to his air force, the gallant American stand could have been prolonged and the Bataan/Corregidor position may well have held out until mid summer. That these brave men were forced to undergo an ordeal far beyond anything that might have prudently been expected was due in part to hubris and complacency endemic in the old Army.
When the exhausted remnant of Filipinos and Americans finally surrendered, an American General, William E. Brougher, who commanded the 11th Division on Bataan, had this to say :"A foul trick of deception has been played on a large group of Americans by a commander and his small staff, who are now eating steak and eggs in Australia. God damn them!"
Such are the feelings engendered by the terrible fortunes of war.
1 P-40E In May 1941, 31 P-40Bs began arriving in the Philippines, replacing older P-35s and obsolete P-26s. They were augmented by some 70 P-40Es five months later. The 20th Pursuit Sqd was given the new Curtiss fighters, and as the U.S. built up its strength, pilots from the 21st and 34th Pursuit were sent to the Philippines to fly the new P-40Es. These were late in arriving and in order to provide the 21st and 34th with aircaft the retired P-35s were taken out of depot storage, the pilots using them until they could get new P-40Es. The P-40E had a top speed of 352 mph at 15,000 ft., self-sealing tanks, some pilot armor, four wing .30 caliber machine guns and two cowl-mounted .50 caliber guns. After the devastating Japanese raids on Philippine bases the decimated U.S. Air Corps was forced to use anything that could fly and, within a week, there were more pilots available than planes.
2 B-10s Still wearing the old Insignia of their former unit (96th Bomb Sqd] newly arrived and well worn B-10s, unloading at Manila In 1938. Amphibian at left is a Douglas OA-4, utilized to visit Islands which had no airstrips. (R. Palenaude)
3. When newly arriving transports approached the Philippines, they were often greeted by low-flying B-10s, like this one making a pass on the USS Washington in May 1941. The buzz-job may have been exciting, but when one remembers that the B-10 was the most modern bomber in the Philippines at the time,the future for defenders of the islands did not look good. [W. Hinkle via C. Childress]
4. Martin B-10 from the 28th Bomb Sqd (note Indian head on nose) is refueled at an Island emergency field from five-gallon cans and gallon drums, by hand. In Philippines. native labor was abundant and cheap and was utilized to augment work of enlisted men. Some B-10s served well into 1941 and then were used as squadron hacks for both bomber and fighter outfits. [Goorge Tweedy]
5. Another 29th Martin B-10, with aluminum paint below and standard olive drab above.
6. Although it could outrun fighters when it was first intmduced in 1932 Martin B-10 was totally inadaquate in 1941.This one is shown on final appruch to Nichols field. Nose turret was first to be fitted on production bomber. [Bob Jones]
7. Another view of a B-10 with 4th Composite legend on its tail. Although by the later standards of WW II, even improved condition of Air Corps in Philippine was sadly understrength. It repre:ented more firepower than the U.S had at any Air Corp: base or station in the Continental U.S [Bob McClellan)
8-9 Boeing P-12 (replaced by P-26)
10 In addition to designated liaison aircraft, three Stinson O-49s were shipped to the 2nd Observation Sqd in Philippines and they were to prove extremely valuable. Able to fly where the larger O-46 and O-52 machines could not they were one of the few planes to land on Corregidor's shell-pocked Kindley Field. Later designated L-1 they could get off in under 400 ft, beginning to fly at 31 mph, and spelled an end to cumbersome, traditional observation planes.
11 Nothing was wasted during the defense of Bataan. Among the aircraft at pilots' disposal was this Navy Grumman Duck, abandoned at Cavite and repaired by Army personnel. It was later used to evacuate personnel and as a liaison machine, capable of flying to islands where no airstrips existed.
12 A-24 (SBD) 13 A-27 (T-6)
12. Impressed with German success in dive bombing, the Air Corps ordered Douglas A-24 attack bombers, the Army version of the redoubtable SBD. They were assigned to the 27th Bomb Group and while their pilots arrived the planes only made it as far as Java. There, five out of seven were lost in one disastrous mission, when green pilots, unfamiliar with their new aircraft, were intercepted by Japanese fighters.
13. Originally intended for Siam [now Thailand] as flighter trainers these A-27s armed export variants of the early T-6 (NA-69), were taken over by the Air Corps in the Pllilippines for use as makeshift light bombers. Only 11 were intercepted and spare parts limited operational use to just a few. They are shown here at Nichols undergoing maintenance in November 1941 and were used as utility aircraft. [G. Armstrong]
14. Douglas C-39s, milllary equivalent of the DC-2. operated with several service units and were worked nearly round the clock. During the spring of 1942 they frequently flew in valuable supplies from Australia, usually at night, with few landmarks and reference points to guide their pilots, in order to avoid Japanese fighters. They later retired to Australia. [Art Reynolds]
15 P-35A 16
15. P-35s had been in the Islands since late 1940, flying with the 8d Pursuit Sqd which had given up the obsolete P-26A. They were to be retired for P-40s and placed in storage in 1942. but the lack of enough fighter aircraft dictated that they be kept on. When the 17th and 20th Pursuit squadrons were sent to the Philippines, early in 1941, they were equipped with P-35As, which had been slated by Seversky for export to Sweden. However, when it became apparent that there were not enough U.S. fighters for our own needs, 60 out of 100 were embargoed and taken over by our government. These were the type dispatched to the Philippines. With the arrival of newer P-40Bs and P-40Es, only the 34th Pursuit Sqd, the last to be transferred from the States, was still flying the P-35 at the beginning of hostilites. Shown here, P-35As of the 17th No. 18 does not have its shell collector pods under its wings. Because of .50 caliber ammunition shortage, the heavier cowl guns in the P-35A were supplanted with .30 caliber weapons, but many of these guns were so old and their barrels so badly worn that they were almost useless.
16. Cowling of P-35A, in photo taken shortly after the aircraft began operations. White was the color of the 17th, and was later removed except for a narrow band on the edge of the cowl. No guns are in the cowl blast tubes, reinforcing fact of lack of .50 caliber ammunition.
17 Lt. Buzz Wagner’s P-35S being readied for tow by “tug." P-35A differad from standard USAAC model with oil cooler intake atop cowl. Here, shell collectors are under wing .50s. [G. Armstrong]
18. P-35As being uncrated by Filipino laborers late In 1940. These aircraft were covered with a heavy coat of preservative grease and it look days to clean it off. Large baggage compartment port aft of and below cockpit carried more than one evacuee to safety during end of Bataan campaign. [Bob McClellan]
19. In prewar aluminum with red tall stripes, a flight of P-35As are shown buzzing the USS Washington In May 1941.
20 Another view of P-35As, despite so-called improvements over original P-35s, their P&W R-1830-45 engines of 1050 hp were badly in need of overhaul by beginning of war. [Bob McClellan]
21. Swedish P-35As, with their royal crown insignia on fuselage, being assembled at the main Philippine Air Depot Nichols Field. Aircraft instruments and technical manuals were also in Swedish
22 Air Force Museums P-35A restored to pristine condition in the markings of 17th Pursuit Sqd.
[Sir Force Museum via Tom Brewer]
23. No. 61, In new markings, captured by the enemy and flown by Japanese air intelligence evaluation crews. Photo was taken in Japan.
24. Iba auxiliary field on Luzon's western coast, 150 miles north of Manila, in October 1941. This B-17D belongs to the 14thBombSqd, the first B-17 unit to arrive, and has its old 11th Bomb Group designator number letter on its its tail below plane No. 61. This aircraft was later captured by the Japanese and restored to flying condition [Photo 23]. B-17Ds differed from Cs in having twin .50 caliber mounts In both dorsal and ventral bathtub positions. Enterprising members of the 192nd and 194th tank battalions pulled several of these weapons and mounts from wrecked bombers and welded them to their halftracks where they proved quite effective.
25. Grumman J2F Duck, known as the "Candy Clipper,” is shown in its prewar markings. Raisad from the shallows of Cavite's naval base, by Air Corps personnel, it was one of four utility J2Fs used by Navy Patrol Wing 10, then equipped with PBY Catalinas. Members of the 20th Pursuit salvaged it, restored it to flying status and turned it into unofficial transport, using it to bring in supplies and to evacuate priority passengers. [Hugh Morgan]
26. A pair of early Douglas B-18s approaching Nichols Field from Iba,October 1941, ferrying personnel of the 17th Pursuitl Sqd. These B-18s were well used and were given to service units for transport purposes, as the Air Corps had promised the Philippine Command additional B-17s, E models, which never reached the islands, but were sent to Australia instead. after Corregidor's fall. Note raised birdcage dorsal turrets. [William Wright via Denehy]
27 Rare photo of NIchols Field in the summer of 1941, showing the obsolescent maircraft of the 4th Composite Gp. The old Hawaii designator is still beiq used by the Douglas B-10 in the left background, several of which arrived lhat summer. Camouflaged, makeshift Irainer/light bomber, North American A-27s are seen in right foreground, and behind row of P-35As, still In their natural alumina finish. William Wright via John Denehy]
28. American airpower in 1940 was exemplified by this formation of P-40s Although the aviation indu:try had begun to tool up for large foreign orders, deliveries were being made very slowly, with most of them going to U.S. allies, England and France. By that summer France was out of the war and the British were taking every U.S. built plane it could procure, leaving American stocks of modern aircraft extremely low.
29. Squadron scramble. Pilots from the 20th Pursuit squadron leaving briefing hut at Nichols Fields for takeoff in standard khaki and baseball hat attire. [Bob Jones]
30. The Bataan Hilton, also known as General Harold George's headquarters shack, March 1942. Acammodations were primitive, pilots and ground crews living in huts made from Nipa grass or small tents. [Sam Grashio]
31. Mitsubishi KI-21 "Sally" bombers over Corrigidor. Anti-aircraft defense of the fortress was poor, due to old-style fuses. Nevertheless, Japanese bombers stayed high, after losing several planes at low level. White strip on left is Kindley Field. After Bataan fell, Corregidor was pounded unmercifully from bombers, which no longer needed fighter escort and from heavy artillery possioned in the hill: across the bay, which overlooked Corregidor. They eventually silenced the "Rock's" heavy batteries and forced its surrender on May 6 1942 after five months of heroic resistance. [Ray Pahenaude]
32. B-17s ready for takeoff, Hamilton Field, California, for Hickam and, later, Philippines. Note mixture of O.D. and silver planes. Fitted waist gun can be discerned in No. 66. B-17s flew armed while traversing Japanese-held Caroline Islands. [John Carpenter]
33. Art Reynolds and two friends pose in front of a 20th Air Base Gp. B-18, just prior to the outbreak of war. The docile, predictable B-18 made a good transport, not surprising since it was basically a DC-3 airliner in disguise.
34. B-17D (40-3069) flown by Lt Connally and Lt. Beekman (co-pilot), exiting tropical storm enroute to Hickam Field in Hawaii, to Midway. Photo was taken from Edward Jacquet's plane. [Edward Jacquet]
35. B-17s of 93rd Bomb Sqd. at 7-Mile Drome, Port Moresby, New Guinea. enroute to Philippines, late 1941. Port Moresby would be chief allied advanced base during early battles against Japanese. [Edward Jacquet]
36. A Douglas B-18 from the 14th Bomb Sqd, wearing its old 11th Bomb Group designator on fin, at Clark Field. Underarmed and underpowered, none were used in combat. Three were able to make it to Australia, prior to the fall of Philippines. [Art Reynolds]
37. B-17D #40-3072, before trip to Philippines. Early B-17s lacked turrets, tail guns. Planes were still delivered from the factory in natural metal finish, although some later B-17Ds were delivered in olive drab. [Edward Jacquet]
38. Unsung Filipino Scouts were backbone of MacArthur's Philippine troops unlike most of the Filipinos, who were hastily assembled and given little or no training, the Scouts were a tough force and made up the Philippine Division, composed enlirely of American regulars and Filipino Scouts. These men are members of Company C, 45th Infantry Regiment. [G. Tweedy]
39. The 26th Cavalry Regiment of crack Philippine Scouts, drilling at Fort McKinley in 1941. These men covered the retreat into Bataan, allowing General Wainwright's forces to cross over the Agno River into Bataan from North Luzon and General Jones' forces to reach the peninsula from the south. Despite taking heavy casualties, they were successful, and although Allied forces in the Pacllic were surrendering everywhere, U.S.-Filipino forces were able to hold out for five additional months.
40. A B-17D rumbles down the runway at March Field, Calif., dressed in the early warpaint of the war's first six months. At Del Monte auxiliary base on Mindanao, the strip's single spray painter was kept going round the clock, converting sliver fuselages and wings, with red and white tall stripes, into olive drab warriers.
41. One of the few B-17D survivors of the Philippine campaign, No. 40-3097, the 'Swoose" was patched up from parts salvaged from her sisters. Stripped of all armament she later became General Brett's personal transport, when he commanded U.S. Air forces in Australia. Named "Swoose," after a then popular song that told of a goose that wanted to be a swan, this Fortress also look part in bombing raids againct Japanese forces in Java.
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A gallery of the men who fought the first air battles of the war against tremendous odds. Their biggest problem was lack of sufficient first rate equipment, compounded by the lack of an overall plan of defense and poor coordination between General MacArthur's staff and Air Corps commanders. Although the U.S. had a radar station on northern Luzon, like its counterpart at Pearl Harbor, it was operated by an inexperienced crew.
When MacArthur's Philippine air arm was virtually destroyed on the ground on that first day of hostillities, there was no possibillity that U.S. airpower would be able to thwart Japanese landings. To make matters worse, US fighter pilots were just transitioning to the new Curtis P-40E when attacked, with several of the new aircraft still being assembled, or in their packing cases.
1. Captain Ed Dyess of the 21st Pursuit Sqd became a hero for his daring attacks on Japanese shipping. He is photographed between missions on his busiest day. March 3, 1942 when he flew three sorties against the invasion fleet, scoring heavily. A survivor of the Bataan Death March. he flew one of the last intact P-40s. He escaped from prison, made his way to Australia and then back to the U.S., only to die in the crash of a P-38, which he successfully piloted away from a heavily populated area [Samuel Grashio]
2 First U.S ace of WW II, Lt Boyd "Buzz" Wagner. CO of the 17th Pursuit Sqd.He got his name by babitually stalking and then buzzing friendly aircraft, before the war, all the while devising new aerial tactics. Photo was taken in Australla. after Wagner was evacuated from Phillppines due to eye injuries caused by a shattered windsreen. He was later killed while flight testing the P-40N Although he had previously flown P-35s with the 17th Pursuit at Selfridge Field, Michigan, a plane he was usually associated with. In combat in the Philippines he flew P-40s.
3. Short rations and frequent missions characterized Lt Arthur Hoffman of the 93rd Bomb Sqd, shown in this photo taken at Del Monte strip on Mindanao, south of Luzon. Hoffman was part of B-17 crew that tried to approach Clark from Del Monte during the big Japanese raid of December 8, 1941. Although damaged by fighter aircraft, piloted by Lt Earl Tash, managed to turn around and make it back to Del Monte, where six B-17s still remained intact. [Edward Jacquet]
4. Alter the loss of most of its airpower, the Air Corps turned its extra bomber crew members, maintenance men and ground personnel techaicians into infantry. Shown here, Art Reynolds in combat gear during the spring of 1942. This new infantry had little or no training and suffered from malnutrition, malaria, lack of sleep and constant attack. [Art Raynalds]
5. One of the young B-17 pilots, 1st Lt. William Bohnaker. photographed in the left seat of No. 73, a B-17D, in late 1941 enroute to Scramento Air Depot. From there Bohnaker flew his B-17 to Hamilton Field and then on to Hawaii and Australia, enroute to Clark Field, during the Air Corps' last minute reinforcement of the islands In October/November of 1941. Twenty B-17Cs and Ds from the 30th and 93rd Bomb Squadrons made the trip and on December 14, 1941, Bohnaker was the first to spot the Japanese invasion fleet off Legaspi on the coast of southern Luzon [E. Jacquet]
6. Edward Jacquet, co-pilot of Bohnakers aircraft, shortly after 40-3073 left Sacramento for Philippines. Jaquet would be evacuated to Australia. [E. Jaquet]
7. In December 1941, Harold George was a colonel and head of U.S. fighter forces in the Philippines. By January, he was a general. Evacuated with MacArthur in March 1942, he later became head of Air Transport Command, before being killed in an accident.
8. General Louis Brereton, who later became head of the 10th Air Force in China-Burma-India. led U.S. bomber force in the Philippines on December 8 1941. His urgings to General Sutherland, MacArthur's chief of staff, to attack Japanese bases on Formosa, several hours after confirmed news of the attack on Pearl Harbor had been disseminated, was to fall on deaf ears, and of 35 B-17s in his command, the most of any Air Corps formation in the world, only 16 were serviceable after being caught on the ground by Japanese aircraft
9. Forlorn trio. 0f these three offices of the 19th Bomb Group in a photo taken just prior to their departure to the Phillippines at Albuquerque Army Airfield, only one survived. Owne R. “Tuffy” Graham (left) died on the Bataan Death March, Erwin Kreil (middle) was later killed in China, and only Edward Jacquet (in the campaign hat) lived through the war. [E. Jaquet]
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 When Sutherland later attemted to interfere with Major General George H. Kenney, then head of the 5th Air Force, during the New Guineas campaing in 1943, making drastic changes in Kenney’s first attack order, Kenney informed him he was a total ignoramus concerning air power, and did not intend to have his orders tampered with. He made his point.
 J Carpenter and crew on the way to take off in it watched, then ran to the aid of the P-40 pilot who was amazingly unhurt though both planes were destroyed. See USAF Oral Histroy by J. Carpenter.