The success of the Japanese after 7 December had been phenomenal. Not only had they won air and naval supremacy in the western Pacific and landed a large number of troops on Luzon and Mindanao, but they had taken Guam on 10 December and Wake two weeks later; Hong Kong was to surrender on Christmas Day. In the Malay States, Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 25th Army was advancing steadily in two parallel columns down the east and west coasts.
By 23 December it had reached a point about 250 miles from the tip of the peninsula. Once there, the Japanese would be in position to bring Singapore under assault On the 24th a small Japanese force landed at Kuching and a week later another force landed at Brunei in British Borneo, thus inaugurating the two-pronged offensive against the Netherlands Indies. By the end of the year the Japanese had established themselves at Davao, on Jolo Island, and on British Borneo, astride the Allied line of supply between the southern Philippines and northwest Australia.
The electrifying news of Pearl Harbor. followed by the declaration of war by Germany and Italy, united the American people as nothing else could have don.e. The attention of the country, until then centered on the war in Europe, focused now on the Pacific and Far East where American troops were putting up a valiant defense. There was a strong feeling that everything possible should be done to aid the beleaguered forces in the Philippines, and General MacArthur’s name became a symbol of American resistance to a foe who was meeting with success everywhere.
At the very start of the war there was a general acceptance among military and naval authorities in Washington of the view that the Philippines would soon be lost. Acceptance of this view did not mean, however, that every effort should not be made to reinforce General MacArthur. The President, the Secretary of War, and the Chief of Staff all felt strongly, with the American people, that the country had an obligation, no matter what the risks, to do all in its power to aid the Philippine people. Only final defeat would end that obligation. The question was what could be done and how much could be spared from the more important task, the defense of the United States.
The Pensacola Convoy
The question of reinforcing the Philippines arose on the first day of war. Already on the high seas in the South Pacific when the Japanese opened hostilities was a convoy of seven ships, escorted by the heavy cruiser- Pensacola and the subchaser Niagara, en route to Manila via the southern route. Aboard the vessels were badly needed planes for the pilots of the 27th Bombardment Group, two regiments of artillery, and large quantities of ammunition and supplies. The convoy was immediately ordered to put in at Suva in the Fiji Islands until a decision could be made on its ultimate destination.
[The seven vessels were the Holbrook, Republic, Meigs, Bloemfontem, Admiral Halstead, Farmer, and Chaumont. The vessels carried a field artillery brigade with 20 75-mm. guns; the ground elements of the 7th Heavy Bombardment Group; 18 P-40’s; and 52 A-24’s, 500,000 rounds of 50-caliber armor-piercing and tracer ammunition; 9,600 rounds of high explosive for 37-mm. antiaircraft guns; 2,000 500-pound and 3,000 30-pound bombs; and miscellaneous vehicles and equipment. The total number of U.S. troops aboard was 4,600.]
The decision was made on 9 December at a meeting of the Joint Board. The chief planners of the Army and Navy, General Gerow and Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, wanted the convoy brought back immediately to’ Hawaii to reinforce that badly battered garrison. General Gerow’s position was more extreme than that of his naval counterpart. He suggested that if the convoy was not sent to Hawaii it should be brought back to the United States. Following discussion, the Joint Board approved the plan to recall the Pensacola convoy to Hawaii.
While the safety of the Hawaiian Islands was undoubtedly of prime importance, the decision to bring back the Pensacola convoy was, in effect, an abandonment of the Philippine Islands. General Marshall was willing to concede the importance of Hawaii, but felt_ keenly the obligation to send help to General MacArthur. He had already assured the USAFFE commander on the afternoon of 7 December that he had “the complete confidence of the War Department,” and that he could expect “every possible assistance within our power.” On the morning of the 10th, “concerned with just what to say to General MacArthur,” he discussed the Joint Board decision with Mr. Stimson. He confessed that “he did not like to tell him [MacArthur] in the midst of a very trying situation that his convoy had had to be turned back, and he would like to send some news which would buck General MacArthur up.”
At a White House meeting later that day, the question of the Pensacola convoy was again discussed, and the President indicated his desire that the vessels should continue to the Far East. He referred the matter back to the Joint Board, and at its meeting that afternoon the Board decided to send the convoy on to Brisbane, Australia. The Army members reversed their stand of the previous day and expressed the opinion that Hawaii could be supplied from the United States. They now wished, they said, to make every effort to send aircraft, ammunition, and other critical material to the Philippines.
On 12 December the commander of the Pensacola convoy was ordered to proceed to Brisbane, his later movements to be determined “following arrival and depending upon the situation.” At the same time, the U.S. military attache in Melbourne, Colonel Van S. Merle-Smith, was notified of the impending arrival of the vessels and given instructions to be passed on to the senior Army commander in the convoy, Brigadier General Julian F. Barnes. In these instructions General Barnes was ordered to place himself under MacArthur’s command and told that his principal task was to get the aircraft, men, and supplies in the convoy to the Philippines as quickly as possible. Upon arrival in Australia, he was to assemble the A-24’s immediately and send them north to the Philippines. Before unloading the other troops and supplies, he was to find out from the Navy if the vessels could be escorted northward. If they could not, they were to be unloaded in Brisbane and used “as the situation dictates,” with first priority given to the defense of the Philippines.
General MacArthur received the welcome news that reinforcements were on the way on 13 December. Immediately he conferred with Admiral Hart on the possibility of escorting the ships from Brisbane to Manila. He emphasized to Hart the necessity for bringing in supplies and reinforcements and explained how limited were the resources at his disposal. “I suggested,” he reported to the Chief of Staff, “that he [Hart] should endeavor with his own surface forces and with assistance of Australian and Dutch naval and air forces to bring in the present convoy and keep my line open.”
But Admiral Hart’s answer was extremely discouraging. He pointed out that the British and Dutch were fully engaged trying to hold Singapore and the Malay Barrier and that he could not take the responsibility of protecting the convoy with the weak forces at his disposal. The Japanese, he believed, would have established a complete blockade of the Philippine Islands before the convoy could arrive. “In effect,” MacArthur reported, “he [Hart] seemed to be of the opinion that the islands were ultimately doomed.” MacArthur’s own view was that there was no serious obstacle to the safe convoy of vessels from Brisbane to Manila “provided reasonable naval and air protection are furnished.”
While the matter of the Pensacola convoy was being settled in Washington, MacArthur made specific requests for reinforcements based upon his ideas for offensive action. On the recommendation of General Brereton he asked for 300 pursuit planes, together with air warning equipment. If the aircraft in the Pensacola convoy could be ferried to Luzon and be ready for operations by 1 January, he felt he could meet the immediate situation with 250 dive bombers.
At this time, 14 December, he first advanced the idea that the planes be brought within operating distance of the Philippines by means of aircraft carrier. He asked also for additional .50-caliber ammunition and suggested that it be brought in by the dive bombers or by Pan American Airways planes shuttling between Australia and the Philippines. Altogether, he declared, he had or would soon have fourteen airfields capable of accommodating the aircraft he was requesting.
The receipt of these specific requests in Washington resulted in immediate action. General Gerow, in a personal note to General Marshall, pointed out that the Pensacola convoy was due in Brisbane very shortly and an immediate decision on the Navy’s willingness to convoy the vessels northward was necessary. “If the ships can go directly to Manila, the supplies, except aircraft, should not be unloaded in Australia,” Gerow noted. “Admiral Stark is the only one that can make the decision.”
Marshall had already discussed this problem with Stimson, who felt that to abandon the Philippines would “paralyze the activities” of the Allied forces in the Far East. The question was discussed at the White House, and the President instructed the Navy to do all in its power to assist the Army in reinforcing General MacArthur. General Marshall thereupon assured MacArthur that there would be “no wavering in the determination to support you.” Although naval losses had complicated the problem of reinforcement, he declared that fighters and bombers would be rushed to the Philippines as quickly as possible.
Quick action followed the President’s instructions to send help to the Philippines. Orders were issued to load the transport Polk in San Francisco harbor and the Coolidge, due in port soon, with pursuit planes and ammunition and dispatch them immediately to Australia. Two additional shipments were scheduled to reach Brisbane early in January. The arrival of these vessels would place in Australia 230 aircraft.
At the same time, two Pan American clippers were loaded with .50-caliber ammunition and dispatched to Australia via the South Atlantic-Africa route. Fifteen heavy bombers were also immediately diverted to MacArthur, and a flight schedule was established which would give him three planes a day until the new year. The sum of $10,000,000 was made available to the future commander of the base in Australia to enable him to carry out his mission of supporting the defense of the Philippines. By 18 December Marshall was able to inform MacArthur that the War Department “is proceeding with utmost expedition to provide necessary supplies at base with early emphasis on most critical items.”
On 22 December the Pensacola convoy with its valuable cargo of aircraft, artillery, and ammunition arrived in Brisbane. It was still a.. long way from Manila, but the first leg of the journey had been completed. A way now had to be found to send the planes and supplies from Australia to the Philippines. The program to reinforce the Philippines was in full swing. The necessity for reaching a decision on the destination of the Pensacola convoy had raised the question of reinforcement immediately on the outbreak of war and brought the issues into sharp focus. But the settlement of this question had raised broader strategic problems. These were not so easily solved.
Far East and Pacific Strategy
The basic strategy of the war had been established during staff talks with the British between January and March 1941 and was embodied in the RAINBOW plan. This strategy provided that the principal effort of the Allies would be made against Germany and that the decisive theater would be in the Atlantic and Europe. Except for certain limited offensive operations assigned the Pacific and Asiatic Fleets, the most important of which were the defense of Hawaii and the Philippines and the capture
of positions in the Japanese mandated islands, operations against Japan were to be defensive. The destruction of the Battle Force of the Pacific Fleet and the attack against the Philippines made it evident that a different strategy for the Far East would have to be evolved to meet the new situation.
As soon as the results of the Pearl Harbor attack were assessed, the Navy knew that it could not execute the missions assigned in RAINBOW 5. At the 8 December meeting of the Joint Board, the Navy members had pointed out that as a result of the losses at Pearl Harbor the Pacific Fleet would not be able to advance across the Central Pacific.
Two days later, when the decision was made to send the Pensacola convoy on to Brisbane, Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, told the Joint Board that the Navy had decided that the Asiatic Fleet should be withdrawn from the Philippines, “in view of the destruction at Cavite and the untenability of Manila as a fleet anchorage.” Admiral Hart was to be left free to execute the withdrawal and to select a future base of operations.
The Navy Department’s views on Far East strategy did not include any strong measures for the defense of the Philippines. Admiral Stark declared that he was not surprised by the success of the Japanese but only by the vigor of the attack, which had resulted in such unexpectedly rapid advances. He expected that with the fall of Singapore and Luzon-which he seemed to regard as inevitable-the Japanese would move into the Netherlands Indies. To him, the essential problem was to hold the Malay Barrier-the line Malay Peninsula-Sumatra-Java-Australia-Iong enough to build up the defenses of northwest Australia. Apparently the defense of Luzon did not, in his opinion, contribute to this mission.
Stark approved Hart’s orders sending the major surface units of the fleet to Borneo, and cautioned the Asiatic Fleet commander not to delay his own withdrawal lest the Japanese mine the exits of Manila Bay. There was no indication in his messages to Manila of any intention to carry out offensive operations against the Japanese Navy or of a determination to hold the Philippines, although Hart was reminded of his obligation to support the Army’s defense of Luzon as long as it was practicable.
On the all-important question of getting reinforcements to the Philippines, Admiral Stark merely told Hart what he already knew-that a convoy was soon to arrive in Brisbane and that he was to get in touch with General MacArthur “as to present orders for this force.” The Chief of Naval Operations pointed out that the convoy carried aircraft and artillery which, he added significantly, “may be very important for the defense of Port Darwin and vicinity.” He said nothing about the necessity of bringing the convoy to Manila.
This is a surprising omission, since the reinforcements were intended for MacArthur, and every effort was being made in Washington to provide safe convoy of the vessels northward from Australia. He further suggested to Hart that the minesweepers and small craft in Manila would be useful at Darwin, and concluded by placing the U.S. naval observer there under Hart’s command.
The Army planners shared the Navy’s pessimism about the fate of the Philippines and on 9 December had been as anxious as the Navy members of the Joint Board to bring back the Pensacola convoy. While still feeling that there was little hope for the Philippine garrison, they reversed their views after 10 December and supported strongly the program for reinforcement.
Mr. Stimson, after the war, explained his reasons for supporting General MacArthur as follows: I laid before them [his three civilian assistants] the issue which was now pending before us, namely as to whether we should make every effort possible in the Far East or whether, like the Navy, we should treat that as doomed and let it go. We all agreed that the first course was the one to follow; that we have a very good chance of making a successful defense, taking the southwestern Pacific as a whole. If we are driven out of the Philippines and Singapore, we can still fall back on the Netherlands East Indies and Australia; and with the cooperation of China-if we can keep that thing going-we can strike good counterblows at Japan. While if we yielded to the defeatist theory, it would have not only the disastrous effect on our material policy of letting Japan get strongly ensconced in the southwestern Pacific … but it would psychologically do even more in the discouragement of China and in fact all of the four powers who are now fighting very well together. Also it would have a very bad effect on Russia. So this theory goes. It has been accepted by the President, and the Army is taking steps to make a solid base at Port Darwin in Australia.
It was admitted by Army and Navy planners that the Philippines were no longer defensible, and some urged that the limited resources of the United States should be used to “defend the defensible,” But the issue was not entirely a military one. “Politically,” says Stimson, “it was still more important that this defense be supported as strongly as possible, for neither the Filipino people nor the rest of the Far Eastern world could be expected to have a high opinion of the United States” if it abandoned the Philippines at this critical moment. It was because of these considerations that Stimson and Marshall strongly supported General MacArthur and firmly opposed any signs of a defeatist attitude in the General Staff. In this effort they had the support of the President.
In the Philippines there was strong disagreement between the Army and Navy commanders. Admiral Hart agreed with his Washington superiors that his fleet should be withdrawn and had already sent the major portion of his surface forces southward. He was still resolved, he told Admiral Stark, to use his submarines and small craft in the defense of the Philippines, but pointed out that the undersea craft could not prevent enemy landings or the blockade of the Islands.
MacArthur, unlike his naval colleague and many officers in Washington, refused to accept the inevitability of the loss of the Philippines. Instead, he urged upon the War Department an offensive strategy in the Far East. The enemy, he asserted, was overextended, presenting the Allies with a “golden opportunity . . . for a master stroke.” The “master stroke” he had in mind was a strong air attack against the Japanese home islands from the north. If successful such an attack would inflict great damage on the enemy and force him to pull in his widely dispersed air forces to protect the homeland. The aircraft and carriers needed to carry out such a raid were not available at this time, and MacArthur’s bold plan was shelved. But it is of more than passing interest to note that the Halsey-Doolittle raid against Tokyo on 18 April 1942, five months later, conformed to General MacArthur’s suggested offensive against Japan, although it came too late to achieve the results he had hoped for.
General MacArthur reacted strongly to Hart’s pessimistic attitude. After the meeting on 13 December, when MacArthur asked Hart to escort the Pensacola convoy to Manila, the general wrote that he was greatly concerned over the Navy’s estimate since “he [Hart] is charged with the security of the Army’s supply lines.” The acceptance of the view that the Philippines could not be reinforced, General MacArthur pointed out, meant the virtual abandonment of the Philippine Islands and the Philippine people. “If the suspicion of such action ever materializes,” he warned the Chief of Staff, “the entire structure will collapse over my head.”
MacArthur’s reaction to Hart’s views brought immediate results. The President on the 14th told the Acting Secretary of the Navy that “he was bound to help the Philippines and the Navy has got to help in it.” Thus prodded by the White House, the Navy was forced to modify its attitude somewhat. Recognizing Hart’s inability to guarantee safe transport of the Pensacola convoy to Manila, the Chief of Naval Operations suggested an “effort when appropriate to pass through such support as may be practicable.” With this lukewarm injunction, Admiral Stark also directed Hart to “cooperate with the Army” in the transportation by air of particularly needed supplies “when practicable.” His authority to transfer his headquarters farther south was reiterated, but he was told to “assure MacArthur” that he would continue his “full support” of the defense of the Philippines. He was further instructed to turn over all naval stores to the Army on his departure from Manila and to place all marines and bluejackets under MacArthur’s command.
In the firm belief that the Philippines could be defended successfully against the Japanese, General MacArthur argued for a review of the strategic situation “lest a fatal mistake be made.” Despite assurances of support from the War Department he felt that the importance of the Islands was not appreciated and that not enough was being done to support him. “The Philippine theater of operations,” he asserted categorically, “is the locus of victory or defeat.” “If the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies go,” he warned, “so will Singapore and the entire Asiatic continent.”
MacArthur’s solution was to concentrate the resources of the Allies against Japan and so reverse the basic strategic decision of the war. Japan, he pointed out, was isolated from her Allies and “completely susceptible to concentrated action.” He proposed therefore that the combined resources of the United States and its allies should be employed in the Pacific to delay Japan’s advance. This delay, he argued, could be accomplished by sending more pursuit and bombardment aircraft to the Philippines. The retention of the Islands, he concluded, fully justified the diversion of the entire air production and other resources of the United States to the Philippines.
The final answer to MacArthur’s plea for a reversal of strategy and the concentration of Allied resources in the Far East was provided by the first of the wartime U.S. British conferences, held in Washington between 24 December and 14 January. With the Pacific Fleet in ruins at Pearl Harbor and with the Philippines under strong attack, the British had good reason to fear that the United States would now abandon the earlier informal agreement to exert its principal effort against Germany. Their fears were groundless. The Washington conference reaffirmed the thesis that Germany was the main enemy and that the major effort must be made in the North Atlantic and Europe. MacArthur’s efforts to secure a change in basic strategy had failed.
The Base in Australia
The discussions over strategy did not interrupt the efforts to send supplies to the Philippine garrison. These efforts inevitably involved the use of Australia as a base of operations for American forces. With the line of communications across the Central Pacific cut by the Japanese, the only way remaining to reach the Philippines was northward from Australia. Such a possibility had not been anticipated in prewar plans except as an air ferry route; the Australian base developed simply as a result of improvisation during the first days of the war. Once the Pensacola convoy was routed to Brisbane and it was decided to support General MacArthur, American effort in the Southwest Pacific turned to the build-up of supplies in Australia and the establishment of a line of communications northward.
To supervise the establishment of an advanced American base in Australia General Marshall selected Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Having served on MacArthur’s staff for three years, Eisenhower was peculiarly qualified for the task. He knew the situation in the Far East well, understood General MacArthur’s plans and requirements, and could be presumed to have the confidence of the USAFFE commander.
From his post as Chief of Staff, Third Army, at Fort Sam Houston, Eisenhower was called to Washington on 12 December and reported to General Marshall two days later. After outlining for Eisenhower the situation in the Far East, Marshall abruptly asked what our line of action should be. Evidently his reply would determine his worth, and Eisenhower asked for and secured time to prepare an answer. He returned to his desk in the War Plans Division to work out his reply, resolved that it “should be short, emphatic, and based on reasoning.”
After some hours of thought, Eisenhower returned to the Chief of Staff with his answer. He admitted that there was little chance that the garrison in the Philippines could hold out for long, but declared that everything possible should be done to support it. The risks and the money involved should not deter the United States from making a determined effort to help the Philippine Commonwealth. The trust and friendship of the people of Asia were important to the United States; failure might be excused, but never abandonment. To aid General MacArthur, Eisenhower believed, it would be necessary to convert Australia into a military base from which supplies might be ferried northward to the Philippines.
Eisenhower’s views coincided exactly with those of Marshall and Stimson and had already been approved by the President. Eisenhower had passed the test, and Marshall told him to do his best to save the Philippines. During the next few months, first as head of the Pacific Section of the War Plans Division and then as chief of the division, he devoted himself almost exclusively to the task of reinforcing the Philippines. By 17 December Eisenhower had developed and Marshall had approved a plan for establishing the base in Australia.
The forces in the Pensacola convoy were to form the nucleus for the new commands which was to be essentially an air base. Barnes, when he arrived in Brisbane, was to be relieved by Brigadier General Henry B. Claggett, then commanding the Interceptor Command in the Philippines. Claggett was ordered to Australia immediately. Ultimately, the base, to be known as U.S. Army Forces in Australia, was to be commanded by Major General George H. Brett, who was in Chungking attending an Allied conference. Colonel Stephen J. Chamberlin, a highly qualified G-4 officer on duty with the General Staff, was sent to Australia to serve as Brett’s chief of staff.
While the establishment of this new command implied a larger purpose than the support of the forces in the Philippines, the War Department made it clear that the primary mission of U.S. Army Forces in Australia was to get vitally needed supplies to General MacArthur. General Brett was informed that his command was to be considered as an advanced base of a communications zone “for the support of USAFFE” and that he would operate under the orders of General MacArthur. He was further instructed to co-operate with U.S. naval authorities “in assuring the safety of sea routes used,” and to fly the planes in the Pensacola convoy northward with all the ammunition they could carry. Any course that would achieve these results was authorized.
On 22 December, the same day the Pensacola convoy reached Brisbane, General Claggett arrived from the Philippines. He was immediately handed the instructions for the new base by Colonel Merle-Smith, the military attache. Already General MacArthur had indicated that the convoy should proceed to the Philippines and that the aircraft should be assembled and flown north. Every attempt was made to comply with these instructions, but the situation was changing rapidly and there were numerous obstacles to be overcome in unloading and rerouting the ships.
General Marshall had done all he could to assure the arrival of the supplies in the convoy to MacArthur. He had reminded both Claggett and Barnes repeatedly of the urgent necessity of getting the planes and .50-caliber ammunition to the Philippines and told them to spare neither effort nor expense to accomplish this task. The Navy had also instructed its representatives in Australia to assist in every way, and the Chief of Naval Operations asked Admiral Hart, still in Manila, to “impress upon the Australian Naval Board the importance of their full cooperation” in keeping open Torres Strait as a route for U.S. reinforcements to the Philippines and northwest Australia.
MacArthur had been kept fully informed of these measures. “The President has seen all of your messages,” Marshall told him, “and directs Navy to give you every possible support in your splendid fight.” Despite these assurances and the efforts of the men in Australia, the aircraft, reinforcements, and supplies failed to get through. When the planes were brought ashore and assembled, they were found to lack parts such as trigger motors, gun sights, and self-sealing gas tanks, all of which would be required in combat. The field artillery brigade and the naval supplies were placed aboard the two fastest ships in the convoy, the Holbrook and Bloemfontein, which sailed from Brisbane on 28 December.
By that time the Japanese had established bases in Borneo, and it was realized that the ships would not be able to get through the blockade. General Brett, who had arrived in Australia on 31 December, therefore ordered the troops debarked. Most of the artillerymen came ashore at Darwin; the rest went on to Surabaja in Java. None of the planes, men, or supplies of the Pensacola convoy ever reached the Philippines.
But General MacArthur had not yet given up hope that the planes might be brought into the Philippines. On the 14th he had suggested that air reinforcements be brought in by carrier, thus eliminating the problem of bases between Australia and Luzon.
On the 22d, the day on which the Japanese landed at Lingayen Gulf, he observed that enemy air and naval forces were threatening his line of communications southward and called for some American naval effort to limit the enemy’s freedom of movement along the vital sea lanes. Pointedly he asked for “any inkling” of the strategic plans for the Pacific Fleet and reminded Marshall that carriers could bring pursuit planes within operating radius of the Philippines. “Can I expect anything along that line,” he asked.
The answer was no. Admiral Stark asserted that the use of aircraft carriers as transports was “impracticable in the existing strategic situation,” and Marshall was forced to tell MacArthur that he would have to rely on the ability of cargo ships and aircraft to make their way northward from Australia by way of Torres Strait and the Netherlands Indies.
Apparently MacArthur’s suggestion that a naval threat be made against Japan brought an inquiry from the Chief of Naval Operations to Admiral Hart. The Asiatic Fleet commander explained that MacArthur had sent his message without consulting him, and that the reference “was meant to apply forces other than this [Asiatic] fleet.” The next day, 24 December, Hart received another message from his chief in Washington asking for a full report of his operations in support of the Army, “as my information on this subject is meager.” The Army, Stark explained, was “bringing heavy pressure for greater naval activity in Philippine waters.”
By the time Hart received this message he had already determined to join his surface forces in the Indies. The next morning, 25 December, he turned over to Admiral Rockwell full command of all naval activities in the Philippines and at 0200 of the 26th left Manila aboard the submarine Shark. The two remaining destroyers followed the next day, when General MacArthur reported to the War Department that “Admiral Hart has left Manila to join naval forces in the south, destination to be reported later. Admiral Rockwell now in command of naval forces with headquarters on Corregidor.”
Before he left, Hart made available to General MacArthur all naval personnel, including the marines. The submarines were to continue to operate in Philippine waters as long as “practicable and profitable,” and then retire southward. All that was to remain in the Philippines were 3 gunboats, 3 minesweepers, 6 motor torpedo boats, and a few tugs and yachts for inshore patrol. Orders were issued for the destruction of all oil and gasoline in storage in Manila, the evacuation of the Cavite Navy Yard and Sangley Point, and the shipment of all remaining stores to Corregidor and Marivides, at the southern tip of Bataan.
The submarines began to withdraw after Christmas and by the 31st the last one had left Manila Bay. Thus ended the activities of the underwater craft in Philippine waters. Constituting the largest single undersea force in the Navy, the submarines were expected to exact an impressive toll from any approaching Japanese fleet. In the eight separate landings the Japanese made in the period between 8 and 25 December, the submarines proved unable to impede the enemy or even inflict any serious damage. Their record, like that of the B-17’s, was most disappointing.
The withdrawal of the Asiatic Fleet coincided with the movement southward of the Far East Air Force whose heavy bombers were already based in Australia. On 24 December, General Brereton was called to MacArthur’s office and told that he was to go to Australia with his headquarters to “organize advanced operating bases from which . . . you can protect the lines of communication, secure bases in Mindanao, and support the defense of the Philippines.” Brereton offered to stay on, but MacArthur told him that he would be more useful in Australia.
Brereton closed his headquarters at Fort McKinley at 1600 of the 24th, and in a PBY left that evening to join his bombers at Batchelor Field near Port Darwin. To the War Department General MacArthur radioed “Operations heavy bombardment no longer possible from bases here. B-17’s have been moved to Australia and Netherlands East Indies bases. Brereton with skeleton staff departed on 24th.”
With Brereton’s departure, the small number of fighters, all that remained of the once formidable Far East Air Force, came under the command of Colonel Harold H. George, formerly chief of staff of the Interceptor Command. Fighter fields were established on Bataan and preparations were made to continue operations from there. The 650 men of the 19th Bombardment Group left Luzon before the end of December to join their planes in Australia. Their comrades in the 24th and 27th Groups were not as fortunate. They remained behind and, since few men were required to fly and service the planes still in operation, eventually became infantry soldiers on Bataan.
All hopes of reinforcing the Philippines with pursuit planes were now at an end. Even if these planes could be flown from Australia northward, there were no longer any fields on Luzon outside Bataan on which they could base. The War Department told General MacArthur frankly that its plans for sending fighter aircraft to him were now jeopardized and that “the day to day situation” in the Philippines and Borneo-where the Japanese had landed on the 24th-would determine what could be done. He could draw what small comfort he could from fresh assurances that the United States would develop a strong air force in the Far East and that the Secretary of War approved fully his plans and orders.
General Brett, still in Chungking when news of the decision to withdraw reached Washington, was directed to get to Australia as quickly as possible. He was informed of the changed situation and asked to submit recommendations on the “location, composition, and future operations of U.S. Forces in Australia.” The air forces in Australia, he was told, were to be built up in the hope that long-range bombers would be able to aid the Philippine garrison and that the entire force would be useful in supporting the Allied attempts to halt the Japanese advance along the Malay Barrier.
By 24 December every effort to bring supplies and reinforcements to General MacArthur had failed. The Pensacola convoy had reached Australia, but no way had been found to move its cargo northward. General MacArthur had not received a single piece of equipment or one additional man to reinforce his garrison. The supplies and men destined for the Philippines remained in Australia, which was rapidly being developed into an advanced Allied air and supply base.
Within a period of three weeks, from 8 December to 25 December, the Japanese had achieved astounding results in the Philippines. They had completed one major amphibious assault and at least seven minor landing operations; they had placed a large number of troops ashore on Luzon, north and south of Manila, and were ready to move on the capital; they had cut the line of communications between the Philippines and Australia.
During this three-week period, the Japanese had also established complete aerial and naval supremacy in the Philippines and forced the Asiatic Fleet and the Far East Air Force to retire to the line Surabaja-Darwin, 1,500 miles from Manila. General MacArthur summed up his situation on 27 December as follows: “Enemy penetration in the Philippines resulted from our weakness on the sea and in the air. Surface elements of the Asiatic Fleet were withdrawn and the effect of the submarines has been negligible. Lack of airfields for modern planes prevented defensive dispersion and lack of pursuit planes permitted unhindered day bombardment. The enemy has had utter freedom of naval and air movements.” To these reasons, he could have added the unsatisfactory performance of the ill-trained and poorly equipped Philippine Army reservists.
SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)