World War Two: Philippines (Prewar; Part 1-4D); Last Days of Peace

General MacArthur had the answer to those who saw no way out of the difficulty in the Philippines. The defeatist and defensive WPO-3 was to be transformed into an aggressive plan whose object would be the defeat of any enemy that attempted the conquest of the Philippines. An optimist by nature, with implicit faith in the Philippine people, MacArthur was able to inspire the confidence and loyalty of his associates and staff. His optimism was contagious and infected the highest officials in the War Department and the government. By the fall of 1941 there was a firm conviction in Washington and in the Philippines that, given sufficient time, a Japanese attack could be successfully resisted.

In pressing for a more aggressive plan, enlarged in scope to include the entire archipelago, MacArthur could rely on having a far stronger force than any of his predecessors. His growing air force included by the end of November 1941 thirty-five B-17’s and almost 100 fighters of the latest type. Many more were on their way. The performance of the heavy bombers in early 1941 justified the hope that the South China Sea would be successfully blockaded by air and that the Islands could be made a “self-sustaining fortress.”

MacArthur could also count on the Philippine Army’s ten reserve divisions, then being mobilized and trained, and one regular division. During his term as Military Advisor, he had worked out the general concept of his strategy as well as detailed plans for the use of this national army. As commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East he could plan on the use of the regular U.S. Army garrison as well as the Philippine Army. He was in an excellent position, therefore, to persuade the War Department to approve his own concepts for the defense of the Philippines.

Almost from the date of his assumption of command, MacArthur began to think about replacing WPO-3 with a new plan. From the first, as is evident from his establishment of the Philippine Coast Artillery Command, he apparently intended to defend the inland seas and the entrances to Manila and Subic Bays. By September his plans had progressed sufficiently to enable him to inform General Wainwright of his intention to reorganize the forces in the Philippines and to give that officer his choice of commands.

The opportunity to request a change in plans for the defense of the Philippines came in October, after MacArthur received a copy of the new war plan, RAINBOW 5, prepared by the Joint Board some months earlier. This plan, which was world-wide in its provisions and conformed to arrangements with the British staff, called for a defensive strategy in the Pacific and Far East and recognized Germany as the main enemy in the event of a war with the Axis. Based on the assumption that the United States would be at war with more than one nation and would be allied with Great Britain, RAINBOW accepted implicitly the loss of the Philippines, Wake, and Guam.

Like ORANGE it assigned Army and Navy forces in the Philippines the mission of defending the Philippine Coastal Frontier, defined as those land and sea areas which it would be necessary to hold in order to defend Manila and Subic Bays. Also, as in ORANGE, the defense was to be conducted entirely by Army and Navy forces already in the Philippines, augmented by such local forces as were available. No reinforcements could be expected.

MacArthur immediately objected to those provisions of RAINBOW relating to the Philippines and called for the revision of the plan on the ground that it failed to recognize either the creation of a high command for the Far East or the mobilization of the Philippine Army. In a strong letter to the War Department on 1 October, the former Chief of Staff pointed out that he would soon have a force of approximately 200,000 men organized into eleven divisions with corresponding corps and army troops, as well as a strengthened air force.

There could be no adequate defense of Manila Bay or of Luzon, he said, if an enemy was to be allowed to land and secure control of any of the southern islands. With the “wide scope of possible enemy operations, especially aviation,” he thought such landings possible. He urged, therefore, that the “citadel type defense” of Manila Bay provided in the ORANGE and RAINBOW plans be changed to an active defense of all the islands in the Philippines. “The strength and composition of the defense forces projected here,” General MacArthur asserted, “are believed to be sufficient to accomplish such a mission.”

The reply from Washington came promptly. On the 18th General Marshall informed MacArthur that a revision of the Army mission had been drafted in the War Department and was then awaiting action by the Joint Board, “with approval expected within the next ten days.” MacArthur’s recommendation that the Philippine Coastal Frontier be redefined to include all the islands in the archipelago, Marshall continued, would also be presented to the Joint Board for approval.

The assignment of a broader mission than that contained in RAINBOW, Marshall explained, was made possible because of the increased importance of the Philippines “as a result of the alignment of Japan with the Axis, followed by the outbreak of war between Germany and Russia.” General Marshall took advantage of the fact that Brereton was just then leaving for the Far East to send his reply to MacArthur by personal courier. Brereton arrived in Manila on 3 November and was warmly greeted by his commander in chief. After reading Marshall’s note, MacArthur, in Brereton’s words, “acted like a small boy who had been told that he is going to get a holiday from school.” He jumped up from his desk, threw his arms around Brereton and exclaimed, “Lewis, you are just as welcome as the flowers in May.” Turning to his chief of staff, General Sutherland, he said, “Dick, they are going to give us everything we have asked for.”

North and South Luzon Forces

With this notice that his plans would soon be approved by the Joint Board, MacArthur immediately organized his forces to execute the larger mission. On 4 November he formally established the North and South Luzon Forces, and the Visayan-Mindanao Force, all of which had actually been in existence for several months already.

Approval by the Joint Board of the RAINBOW revisions requested by MacArthur was forwarded from Washington on 21 November. In the accompanying letter, General Marshall made the significant observation that air reinforcements to the Philippines had “modified that conception purely defensive operations] of Army action in this area to include strong air operations in the furtherance of the strategic defensive.” He also told MacArthur to go ahead with his plans “on the basis of your interpretation of the basic war plan.” In the revised joint RAINBOW plan, the Philippine Coastal Frontier, which had been defined as consisting of ‘Luzon and the land and sea areas necessary to defend that island, was redefined to include “all the land and sea areas necessary for the defense of the Philippine Archipelago.” In effect, this gave MacArthur authority to defend all of the Philippine Islands.

The Army task originally assigned in RAINBOW was simply to defend the coastal frontier. The November revision not only enlarged the coastal frontier but gave MacArthur the following additional tasks:

  1. Support the Navy in raiding Japanese sea communications and destroying Axis forces.
  2. Conduct air raids against Japanese forces and installations within tactical operating radius of available bases.
  3. Co-operate with the Associated Powers in the defense of the territories of these Powers in accordance with approved policies and agreements.

It also provided specifically for a defense reserve for 180 days, instead of the 90-day level originally granted to General Grunert. These additional tasks recognized the existence of an effective air force in the Philippines capable of striking at Japanese lines of communications and bases, such as Formosa, and the fact that the Philippine Army had been inducted into federal service by including it with forces available to accomplish the tasks assigned.

Once his plan to defend all of the islands had been approved, General MacArthur was able, on 3 December, to define the missions of the four major tactical commands created a month earlier. The North Luzon Force, which had been under the command of Brigadier General Edward P. King, Jr., from 3 to 28 November, now came under General Wainwright. This force had responsibility for the most critical sector in the Philippines, including part of the central plains area, Lingayen Gulf, the Zambales coast, and the Bataan peninsula.

[Ltr Order, CG USAFFE to CG North Luzon Force (NLF), 3 Dec 41, sub: Defense of Phil, AG 381 (12-3-41) Phil Reds. Brigadier General Maxon S. Lough assumed command of the Philippine Division when General Wainwright transferred to North Luzon Force.]

General Wainwright was instructed to protect airfields and prevent hostile landings in his area, particularly at those points opening into the central plains and the road net leading to Manila. In case of a successful landing the enemy was to be destroyed. In contrast to WPO-3, which provided for a withdrawal to Bataan, MacArthur’s plan stated there was to be “no withdrawal from beach positions.” The beaches were to “be held at all costs.” Immediately on receipt of these instructions General Wainwright was to prepare detailed plans to execute his mission. Front-line units were to make a reconnaissance of their sectors and emplace their weapons. Positions four hours distant from the front lines were to be selected for the assembly of troops.

On 3 December, when Wainwright received his mission, his North Luzon Force consisted of three Philippine Army divisions-the 11th, 21st, and 31st-the 26th Cavalry (PS), one battalion of the 45th Infantry (PS) on Bataan, two batteries of 155-mm. guns, and one battery of 2.95-inch mountain guns. The 71st Division (PA), though assigned to North Luzon Force, could be committed only on the authority of USAFFE. Wainwright was promised additional troops when they arrived from the United States or were mobilized by the Philippine Army.

The South Luzon Force, under Brigadier General George M. Parker, Jr., was assigned the area generally south and east of Manila. Like the force to the north, it was to protect the airfields in its sector and prevent hostile landings. General Parker was also enjoined to hold the beaches at all costs. The South Luzon Force was much smaller than that in the north. It consisted initially of only two Philippine Army divisions, the 41st and 51st, and a battery of field artillery. Additional units were to be assigned at a later date when they became available.

The Visayan-Mindanao Force under Brigadier General William F. Sharp was charged with the defense of the rest of the archipelago. Its primary mission was to protect the airfields to be built in the Visayans; its secondary mission was to “prevent landings of hostile raiding parties, paying particular attention to the cities and essential public utilities.” Since landings in force south of Luzon would not have had any decisive results, no mention was made of the necessity of holding the beaches.

Troop Assignment Sector

U.S. Army Philippine Army: Force Hq and Hq Co (U.S.) 11th Division, 26th Cavalry (PS) 21st Division

North Luzon Force: one bn, 45th Inf (PS) 31st Division; Btry A, 23d FA (Pk) (PS) 71st Division (used as w-Btrys Band C, 86th FA (PS) reeted by USAFFE); 66th QM Troop (Pk) (PS)

South Luzon Force Force Hq and Hq Co (U.S.) 41st Division

Hq and Hq Btry, Btry A, 86th FA (PS) 51st Division, Force Hq and Hq Co (PS) 61st Division

Visayan-Mindanao Force 81st Division, 101st Division Hq, Philippine Dept 91st Division

Reserve Force: Philippine Division (less one bn) Hq, Philippine Army, 86th FA (PS) less dets

Far East Air Force: Headquarters 59th CA (U.S.), 60th CA (AA) (U.S.)

Harbor Defenses: 91st CA (PS), 92d CA (PS), 200th CA (U.S.), assigned to PCAC

SOURCE: Ltr Orders, CG USAFFE to CG NLF. SLF, V-MF, 3 Dec 41, AG 381 (12-3-41) Phil Reds; USAFFE·USFIP; Rpt of Opns, pp. 17-18.

The Visayan-Mindanao sector would also include the coastal defenses of the inland seas when these were completed and General Sharp was to provide protection for these as well. One battalion of the force was to be prepared to move to Del Monte in Mindanao with the mission of guarding the recently completed bomber base there. No American or Philippine Scout troops were assigned to the Visayan-Mindanao Force, except those in headquarters. For the rest, the force consisted of the 61st, 81st, and 101st Divisions, all Philippine Army.

On Luzon, between the North and South Luzon Forces was the reserve area, including the city of Manila and the heavily congested area just to the north. This area was directly under the control of MacArthur’s headquarters and contained the Philippine Division (less one battalion), the 91st Division (P A), the 86th Field Artillery (PS), the Far East Air Force, and the headquarters of the Philippine Department and the Philippine Army. The defense of the entrance to Manila and Subic Bays was left, as it always had been, to General Moore’s Harbor Defenses augmented by the Philippine Coast Artillery Command.

During the last few months of 1941 the training of both U.S. Army and Philippine Army units progressed at an accelerated pace. The strength of the Scouts, an elite organization with a high esprit de corps, had been hrought up to its authorized strength of 12,000 quickly. Membership in Scout units was considered a high honor by Filipinos and the strictest standards were followed in selection. To provide the training

for the new Scout units, as well as Philippine Army units, a large number of officers was authorized for USAFFE. By the fall of 1941 they began to arrive in Manila. Training of U.S. Army units was also intensified during this period. By the beginning of December, General Wainwright later wrote, “the American and Philippine Scout organizations were fit, trained in combat principles and ready to take the field in any emergency.” The omission of Philippine Army units is significant.

The Last Days of Peace

Already there had been warnings of an approaching crisis. On 24 November the Pacific and Asiatic Fleet commanders had been told that the prospects for an agreement with japan were slight and that Japanese troop movements indicated that “a surprise aggressive movement in any direction, including attack on Philippines or Guam was a possibility”. Three days later a stronger message, which the War Department considered a “final alert,” went out to Hawaii and the Philippines. The Army commanders, MacArthur and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, were told: Negotiations with Japan appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibility that the Japanese Government might come back and offer to continue.

Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot, be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not, repeat not, be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. Prior to hostile Japanese action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary. Report measures taken. Should hostilities occur you will carry out the tasks assigned in RAINBOW 5.

At the same time the Navy Department sent to its Pacific commanders an even stronger message, to be passed on to the Army commanders in Hawaii and the Philippines. “This dispatch,” it read, “is to be considered a war warning. Negotiations with japan … have ceased and an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.”

Navy commanders were alerted against the possibility of a Japanese invasion of the Philippines, Thailand, or Malaya, and were told to take appropriate defensive measures, Immediately on receipt of the 27 November warning, MacArthur, Hart, and the Hon. Francis B. Sayre, U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippine Islands, met to discuss the measures to be taken. Sayre presented the President’s view to Mr. Quezon and told him that Roosevelt was relying upon the full co-operation of the Commonwealth.

The next day MacArthur reported to the Chief of Staff the measures taken in the Philippines to prepare for a Japanese attack. Air reconnaissance had been extended and intensified “in conjunction with the Navy” and measures for ground security had been taken. “Within the limitations imposed by present state of development of this theater of operations,” he said, “everything is in readiness for the conduct of a successful defense.”

The first week of December 1941 was a tense one for those in the Philippines who had been informed of the latest steps in the negotiations with Japan. American planes continued to notice heavy Japanese ship movements in the direction of Malaya, and unidentified aircraft-presumed to be Japanese-were detected over Luzon. On the 5th of December the commander of Britain’s Far Eastern Fleet, Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, came to Manila to confer with Admiral Hart and General MacArthur about joint plans for defense. The next day news was received that a Japanese force had been sighted in the Gulf of Siam heading westward. Admiral Phillips left immediately by plane for Singapore where his flagship, Prince of Wales, lay at anchor, next to the battle cruiser Repulse.

On 6 December, Saturday, MacArthur’s headquarters ordered North Luzon Force to be ready to move promptly to its assigned positions on beach defense, and Wainwright noted that around his headquarters at Stotsenburg “the tension could be cut with a knife.” In response to a warning against sabotage, MacArthur told General Arnold that a full air alert was in effect and all aircraft dispersed and placed under guard.

Sunday, 7 December-it was the 6th in Washington-was a normal day, “nothing ominous in the atmosphere, no forebodings or shadows cast by coming events.” Men went about their work as usual. The only excitement arose from the fact that the Clipper, with its anxiously awaited mail sacks, was due. The last letters from home had reached the Islands ten days before. That night the 27th Bombardment Group gave a party, recalled as a gala affair with “the best entertainment this side of Minsky’s,” at the Manila Hotel in honor of General Brereton. Brereton records conversations with Rear Admiral William R. Purnell and Brigadier General Richard K. Sutherland, Hart’s and MacArthur’s chiefs of staff, during the course of the evening. Purnell told him that “It was only a question of days or perhaps hours until the shooting started” and that he was standing by for a call from Admiral Hart. Sutherland confirmed what Purnell had said, adding that the War and Navy Departments believed hostilities might begin at any time. Brereton then immediately instructed his chief of staff to place all air units on “combat alert” as of Monday morning, 8 December.

Except for the few senior officers who had an intimate knowledge of events, men went to bed that night with no premonition that the next day would be different from the last. The Clipper had not arrived, and the last thoughts of many were of family and home, and the hope that the morrow would bring “cheerful and newsy letters.” Many listened to the radio before going to bed, but the news was not much different from that of previous days. Some heard American music for the last time. At Fort Stotsenburg a few officers of the 194th Tank Battalion listened to the Concerto in B Flat Minor before turning in. On the last night of peace Tschaikowsky’s poignant music made an impression which was to be deep and lasting.

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

World War Two: Fall of Philippines (Part 2-5A) Air Action Clark Field, 8 December 1941

World War Two: Philippines (Prewar; Part 1-4C); Defense Plans WPO-3 “Orange”


World News Headlines: 12-23-2018


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FRANCE (France24)

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