World War Two: Philippines (Part 1-3B); Reinforcements

By now the War Department was fully committed to an all-out effort to strengthen the air defense of the Philippines. General Arnold, in a letter to the commander of the Hawaiian Air Force on 1 December, expressed this view when he wrote: “We must get every B-17 available to the Philippines as soon as possible.”  His statement was not an exaggeration. On the outbreak of war there were 913 U. S. Army aircraft scattered among the numerous overseas bases. This number of aircraft included 61 heavy, 157 medium, and 59 light bombers and 636 fighters. More than half of the total of heavy bombers and one sixth of the fighters were already in the Philippines. Within a few months this number would have been raised considerably.

The arrival of the bombers and additional pursuit planes, with the promise of more to come, led to a reorganization of the air forces in the Philippines. Early in  the fall of 1941 General MacArthur had asked for Major General Lewis H. Brereton, a senior air officer, as his air commander. This request was approved and early in October Brereton was relieved of command of the Third Air Force and called to Washington.

There, in a series of conferences at Army Air Force headquarters, the form of a new air organization, to be called the Far East Air Force, was drawn up. General Brereton arrived in the Philippines on 3 November. He saw MacArthur that same day, and gave him the latest views about reinforcements and developments within the War Department. By the middle of the month the reorganization of the air forces had been accomplished and a short time later MacArthur told Marshall, the newly activated Far East Air Force, with headquarters at Nielson Field in Manila, included the V Bomber Command, the V Interceptor Command, and the Far East Service Command. The main element of the bomber command, led by Lieutenant Colonel Eugene L. Eubank, was the 19th Bombardment Group with its thirty-five B-17’s.

Only two squadrons of the original group, the 30th and 93d, were in the Philippines. On 16 November, the 28th Squadron, a medium unit, was also assigned to the group and equipped with B-17’s and on 2 December the 14th Squadron joined the group.

In addition to heavy units, the bomber command also contained the ground echelon of the 27th Bombardment Group, whose fifty-two A-24’s were delayed at Hawaii and never reached the Philippines. The V Interceptor Command, first under Brigadier General Henry B. Clagett and later Colonel Harold H. George, consisted initially of the 24th Pursuit Group with the 3rd, 17th, and 20th Squadrons. When, in November, the 21st and 34th Squadrons arrived in Manila, they were attached to the group, pending arrival of their own organization (which never arrived). The Interceptor Command was considerably modernized during the fall of 1941 and by 7 December all but one of its pursuit squadrons were equipped with P-40’s.

The prerequisites for an effective air force are not only modern and sufficiently numerous attack and interceptor aircraft, but adequate fields, maintenance and repair facilities, and the antiaircraft artillery and air warning service to defend these installations. The lack of fields in the Philippines was recognized early. Within eighty miles of Manila there were six fields suitable for pursuit planes and only one, Clark, for heavy bombers. Outside of Luzon were six additional Army fields, useful principally for dispersal. More were needed to base the large number of modern aircraft due to arrive before the end of the year. In August General MacArthur was allotted $2,273,000 for airfield development and in October $7,000,000 more. The largest part of these funds was to be expended on Luzon, at Nichols and Clark Fields, with auxiliary fields at Iba, on the Zambales coast west of Clark, and various points on northern Luzon.

In mid-November. MacArthur decided to establish a heavy bomber base in northern Mindanao at Del Monte, which since September had had a strip capable of landing B-17’s. This decision was based on the belief that heavy bombers on Luzon would be subject to attack and that they should therefore be moved south, out of reach of the enemy. His plans, MacArthur told the Chief of Staff on 29 November, called ultimately for a bomber base in the Visayas, but until such a base was completed he expected to use the field at Del Monte. Work on Del Monte Field was rushed and by the beginning of December it was able to accommodate heavy bombers. Despite the arrival of reinforcements and the airfield construction program, the air defense system remained inadequate because of the shortage of antiaircraft artillery and aircraft warning equipment.

MacArthur had requested warning equipment in September and had at that time presented a plan for the establishment of an air warning service. The War Department had approved the project and by midSeptember three radar sets had been shipped with three more scheduled for shipment in October. In addition, $190,000 was allotted for aircraft warning construction, with an additional $200,000 to be included in the supplemental estimate for the fiscal year 1942 for the construction of three detector stations and one information center.

The one air warning service company of 200 men in the Philippines was entirely inadequate to the needs of the Far East Air Force. In November General Arnold recommended, and the Chief of Staff approved, the shipment of an aircraft warning service battalion to the Philippines. The 557 th Air Warning Battalion was organized in the United States and on 6 December 1941 arrived in San Francisco, too late for shipment to the Philippines.

When war came there were seven radar sets in the Islands, but only two had been set up and were in operation. In the absence of the necessary equipment and personnel, USAFFE had organized a makeshift air warning service. Native air watchers stationed at strategic points reported plane movements by telephone or telegraph to the interceptor command at Nielson Field, which in turn relayed the information to Clark. It was this primitive system, augmented by the radar sets established at Iba and outside Manila, that was in operation when war came. [Army Air Action in Phil and NEI, p. 45; Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, 1,186. On the basis of interviews and other evidence, and despite the statement of the aircraft warning officer, Walter Edmonds concludes that only one set, the one at Iba, was in operation. They Fought With What They Had, p. 59n.]

That other prerequisite for a balanced air force, antiaircraft artillery, was also slow in reaching the Far East. In the Islands when MacArthur assumed command was the 60th Coast Artillery (AA). In anticipation of heavy reinforcements he organized in August the Philippine Coast Artillery Command with Major General George F. Moore in command. Plans provided for an area defense of the four fortified islands in Manila Bay (Corregidor, El Fraile, Caballo, and Carabao) and the southern tip of Bataan. One antiaircraft gun battery with a platoon of searchlights was stationed at Fort Wint in Subic Bay. When the 200th Coast Artillery (AA) arrived in September it was ordered to Fort Stotsenburg to protect Clark Field. Both antiaircraft units were equipped with 3-inch and 37-mm. guns, .50-caliber machine guns, and 60-inch Sperry searchlights. The 3-inchers were an old model with a vertical range of 27,000 feet.

The two antiaircraft units alone obviously could not defend the fields of the rapidly growing Far East Air Force, let alone meet civilian defense requirements. Of necessity, therefore, the air defenses included only the Manila Bay area and Clark Field; all other installations were left virtually without defense against air attack. General Brereton was rightly concerned about the lack of antiaircraft defense and observed, even before he left Washington, that sending heavy bombers to the Philippines without providing proper antiaircraft protection would probably be suicide. But there was little that could be done in the short time available. Major General Joseph A. Green, Chief of Coast Artillery, suggested that elements of the Harbor Defenses be re assigned to antiaircraft duty, but the proposal was rejected. [An attempt was made after 7 December 1941 to provide the city of Manila with additional protection from air attack by splitting the 200th and forming another regiment, the 515th Coast Artillery (AA).]

The War Department and the Air Forces continued to show concern over the antiaircraft defenses of the Islands, about which they did not have too clear a picture. A radio to General MacArthur for information elicited the reply on 27 November that an increase in armament was required and that detailed plans were being forwarded by mail. These plans were sent on 1 December but even before then War Plans had recommended the dispatch of three antiaircraft regiments and two antiaircraft brigade headquarters to the Philippines. These units were to utilize the equipment then in the Islands, thus reducing shipping requirements. Action on this proposal was begun at the end of November, when time had almost run out. When war came, the antiaircraft defenses in the Philippines were little better than they had been three months earlier. [On 29 November permission was requested and secured to convert one battery of the 59th Coast Artillery (US) and two batteries of the 91st (PS) to antiaircraft.]

Naval Forces

Naval forces assigned to the defense of the Philippines were organized into the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. Normally stationed in Asiatic waters, this fleet by mid-1941 was based in Manila with headquarters in the Marsman Building. Admiral Thomas C. Hart commanded the fleet and reported directly to the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington. The 16th Naval District headquarters was at Caviteon the south shore of Manila Bay.

Hart’s fleet consisted of the flagship, the heavy cruiser Houston; 1 light cruiser; 3 destroyer divisions with 13 overage four-stack, flush-deck destroyers of World War I vintage; and 17 submarines. The underwater craft were organized into Submarine Squadron 20, supported by tenders and 1 rescue vessel. Air elements of the fleet were under Patrol Wing 10, composed of 24 PBY’s and 4 seaplane tenders. Patrol and miscellaneous craft included 7 gunboats, 1 yacht, 6 large minesweepers, 2 tankers, and 1 ocean-going tug. Also a part of the fleet but stationed in Shanghai was the U.S. Marine Corps’ regiment, the 4th Marines.

Obviously such a force was not capable of withstanding even momentarily the Japanese Combined Fleet, and Admiral Hart had authority to retire to bases in the Indian Ocean if necessary. From the small detachments of sailors in the 16th Naval District little more could be expected than assistance in protecting local naval installations. The 4th Marines could be of considerable help in the defense of the Philippines if it could be taken out of China in time.

Although Allied naval forces in the Far East were not expected to provide direct support for the Philippine Islands in case of war with Japan, they would, if Japan attacked them, fight the common enemy. The British, in May 1941, had in Far Eastern waters 1 battleship, 1 aircraft carrier, 4 heavy and 13 light cruisers, and a few destroyers. The Dutch could contribute 3 light cruisers, 7 destroyers, and 15 submarines. By December of that year the British Fleet in the Far East had been augmented by 3 battleships and 3 destroyers.

The bulk of American naval strength in the Pacific was assigned to the Pacific Fleet. Before 1940 the main body of the Pacific Fleet had been based on the west coast of the United States. In May 1940 the Navy announced that the fleet, which had sailed to Hawaiian waters for war games, would be based at Pearl Harbor indefinitely. This decision had been made by President Roosevelt in the belief that the presence of the fleet would act as a deterrent to Japan.

A year later the Pacific Fleet, now based at Pearl Harbor and commanded by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, consisted of 9 battleships, 3 aircraft carriers, 12 heavy and 8 light cruisers, 50 destroyers, 33 submarines, and 100 patrol bombers. The strength of this fleet was substantially the same on 7 December 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor came. [Navy Basic War Plan, RAINBOW 5, in Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, Part 18, Exhibit 129, p. 2932. The vessels in the Southeast Pacific Force wert added to those of the Pacific Fleet in these computations. These figures should be compared with those presented at the Joint Congressional Investigation and published in Part 15, Exhibit 86, pp. 1901-06. The latter figures show more light cruisers and destroyers than are listed in the RAINBOW plan.]

Although Admiral Hart had been told in May 1941 that he would receive no additional surface ships for his fleet, he was able to do much to put his force in readiness for action before the outbreak of war. Beginning in July, three to six PBY’s maintained constant watch along the southern boundary of the archipelago and later linked with the Dutch Navy’s air patrol north of Borneo. The mining of Manila and Subic Bays was pushed through to completion, in co-operation with the Army, by the end of August and provided security against all but submarines and shallow-draft surface craft.The Navy’s base at Mariveles, on the southern tip of Bataan, was rapidly built up and on 22 July the drydock Dewey was moved there from Olongapo. By the end of the month the base at Olongapo was being used by the navy only as an auxiliary air base and as a station for Marines and some naval personnel.

In the six months before war the Asiatic Fleet was reinforced strongly in underwater craft. On 8 November 8 large submarines of the Pacific Fleet arrived in Manila and on the 24th 4 more, accompanied by the tender Holland, joined the fleet. Together with those already assigned, Admiral Hart now had 29 submarines. The fleet was further reinforced in September by six motor torpedo boats, considered ideally suited for operation in Philippine waters. Twelve had been allocated but the remainder were :qever received. In addition, General MacArthur told Admiral Hart that he would mobilize the naval component of the Philippine Army, with its two motor torpedo boats, whenever Hart desired.

Early in November the Navy Department directed Hart to withdraw the marines and the gunboats from China, a move which the admiral had proposed earlier. Five of the gunboats made the trip from China to Manila successfully, leaving the Wake stripped and ready for demolition it was later seized by the Japaneseand the Tutuila for the Chinese. Two President liners were chartered and sent to Shanghai where the majority of the 4th Marines was stationed; the detachments at Pekin and Tientsin were to load at Chinwangtao.

On 27 and 28 November the regiment, with attached naval personnel and civilian refugees, embarked on the two vessels for the Philippines. Arriving on 30 November and 1 December, the regiment was assigned the mission of guarding the naval stations on Luzon, particularly the new base at Mariveles. One of the vessels, the President Harrison, started back to Chinwangtao to embark the remaining marines but fell into Japanese hands. With its weapons and equipment, and consisting of long service men and a full complement of regular officers, the 4th Marines (strength, 750 men) formed a valuable addition to the infantry force in the Islands.


In a letter prepared on 5 December 1941 but never sent, General Marshall outlined for General MacArthur what had been and was being done to strengthen USAFFE. “Reinforcements and equipment already approved,” he said, “require over 1,000,000 ship tons.” Fifty-five ships had already been obtained and approximately 100,000 ship tons of supplies were en route, with twice this amount ready for immediate shipment to ports of embarkation.

Requests for equipment for the Philippine Army, except those for the M1 rifle, had been approved, and uncontrolled items of supply were being shipped as rapidly as they could be assembled and loaded on ships. “Not only will you receive soon all your supporting light artillery [130 75-mm. gun],” Marshall told MacArthur, “but 48 155-mm. howitzers and 24 155-mm. guns for corps and army artillery.” Except for certain types of ammunition, the defense reserve for the U.S. Army forces in the Philippines would be completed in April 1942, and for the Philippine Army by July of that year. Three semimobile antiaircraft artillery regiments were scheduled to leave the United States soon, but the 90-mm. antiaircraft gun could not be sent since it had not yet been fully tested. A sum of $269,000,000 had been requested from Congress for the support of the Philippine Army, and early passage of such legislation was expected. “I assure you,” Marshall closed, “of my purpose to meet to the fullest extent possible your recommendations for personnel and equipment necessary to defend the Philippines.” [Draft ltr, Marshall to MacArthur, -Dec 41 (not sent), WPD 4477-2. Memorandum attached states letter was prepared 5 December, but WPD on 11 December recommended it not be sent.]

The last vessels carrying supplies to the Philippines were assembled in convoy in Hawaii and on 7 December were still on the high seas. In the convoy were the 52 dive bombers of the 27th Bombardment Group, 18 P-40’s, 340 motor vehicles, 48 75-mm. guns, 3,500,000 rounds of .30- and .50-caliber ammunition, 600 tons of bombs, 9,000 drums of aviation fuel, and other heavy equipment and supplies. Also aboard were the two light field artillery battalions and the ground echelon of the 7th Bombardment Group (H).

The military force in the Islands at the beginning of December, while not as large as MacArthur soon hoped to have, was considerably larger than it had been five months earlier. The air force had been reorganized, modem bombers and fighters had been brought in, and a start made on the creation of a balanced force. The strength of air force troops on 30 November was 5,609, more than double the July strength.

The Far East Air Force had more than 250 aircraft, concentrated largely on Luzon. Less than half of these planes were suitable for combat, and much of the equipment was still in ports of embarkation. There were 35 B-l7’s at Clark Field and 107 P-40’s at various fields on Luzon. A primitive aircraft warning system was in operation, and an antiaircraft artillery regiment was stationed at Clark Field. Much remained to be done, but the Philippines could boast a stronger air complement of modem combat aircraft on 7 December than any other base, including Hawaii and Panama.

Naval forces assigned to the Asiatic Fleet had also been considerably strengthened. By 7 December this fleet consisted of 1 heavy and 2 light cruisers, 13 old destroyers, 32 PBY’s, 6 gunboats, 6 motor torpedo boats, and miscellaneous vessels. Its strongest element was the submarine force of 29 underwater craft.

Ground forces in the Philippines had been considerably reinforced, too, in the few months since General MacArthur had assumed  command. The ten reserve divisions of the Philippine Army had been two-thirds mobilized and although poorly equipped arid trained represented a military force of  some size. Within a week after the outbreak of war it numbered over 100,000 men. The U.S. Army garrison in the Islands had been increased by 8,563 men since 31 July. The number of Philippine Scouts, fixed by law, remained the same, approximately 12,000. The number of American enlisted men increased by 7,473 and officers by 1,070.

The  largest proportionate increase was among service troops. As of 31 July, 1,836 men were assigned to service detachments; four months later the number had increased to 4,268. During this same period, the number of Air Corps troops had increased from 2,407 to 5,609.88 Total strength of the entire U.S. Army garrison on 30 November 1941 was 31,095 officers and enlisted men, the air forces as of 7 December 1941 was 754 officers and 6,706 enlisted men.

In the four months since General MacArthur’s assumption of command, the flow of men and supplies to the Philippines had increased tremendously and all preparations for war had been pushed actively and aggressively. Time was running out rapidly, but at the end of November many still thought it would be several months before the Japanese struck.

The month of April 1942 was commonly accepted as the critical date and most plans were based on that date. By 1 December MacArthur had organized his forces, but still needed much to place them on a war footing. Most of his requests had been approved by the War Department and men and supplies were already on their way or at San Francisco awaiting shipment. The record of accomplishment was a heartening one and justified the optimism which prevailed in Washington and in the Philippines over the capacity of the Philippine garrison to withstand a Japanese attack.

SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Philippines (Prewar (Part 1-4A); Japanese strategy for a war

World War Two: Philippines (Part 1-3A); Reinforcements


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