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December 8, 1941

MacArthur's Pearl Harbor

By William H. Bartsch

Publication Year: 2003

Ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, “another Pearl Harbor” of even more devastating consequence for American arms occurred in the Philippines, 4,500 miles to the west. On December 8, 1941, at 12.35 p.m., 196 Japanese Navy bombers and fighters crippled the largest force of B-17 four-engine bombers outside the United States and also decimated their protective P-40 interceptors. The sudden blow allowed the Japanese to rule the skies over the Philippines, removing the only effective barrier that stood between them and their conquest of Southeast Asia. This event has been called “one of the blackest days in American military history.” How could the army commander in the Philippines—the renowned Lt. Gen. Douglas MacArthur—have been caught with all his planes on the ground when he had been alerted in the small hours of that morning of the Pearl Harbor attack and warned of the likelihood of a Japanese strike on his forces? In this book, author William H. Bartsch attempts to answer this and other related questions. Bartsch draws upon twenty-five years of research into American and Japanese records and interviews with many of the participants themselves, particularly survivors of the actual attack on Clark and Iba air bases. The dramatic and detailed coverage of the attack is preceded by an account of the hurried American build-up of air power in the Philippines after July, 1941, and of Japanese planning and preparations for this opening assault of its Southern Operations.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 3-6

My first contact with the author was in 1977 when he wrote me while researching his book Doomed at the Start. We corresponded over the next ten years, his letters asking many questions about my experiences as an Army Air Corps pursuit pilot stationed in the Philippine Islands at the start of World War II, and my answers describing my memories of the events and of my experiences during that chaotic period in our nation’s history. We became friends...

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pp. 7-9

Twenty-five years ago I began research on the experiences of army pursuit pilots of the Far East Air Force in the ill-fated Philippines campaign of 1941–42. After thirteen years of effort, the results were published as Doomed at the Start in 1992. During my research I also became familiar with the experiences of the bomber crews who shared Clark Field with the pursuit pilots on December 8, 1941, as well as those of the men operating the radar unit at Iba to the west...

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pp. 11-14

This story is mainly based on the personal experiences of hundreds of individuals, Americans and Japanese alike. Fortunately, I started my research in the mid-1970s, when most were still alive. I thus was able to learn of their prewar and December 8 experiences via correspondence, telephone conversations and interviews, narratives they prepared for me, and diaries and prewar correspondence to their families they shared with me. This direct input expanded my knowledge of their activities and those of other participants derived from interviews conducted in 1945...

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Prologue: “Seize This Golden Opportunity!”

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pp. 15-32

When Gen. George C. Marshall reported to his office in the Munitions Building in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 1939, after being sworn in as the new chief of staff of the U.S. Army, a memo prepared eleven days earlier by the War Plans Division (WPD) was waiting on his desk. It called for Marshall to make an immediate decision on future military policy toward the Philippines, a common-wealth of the United States since 1935. Three options were identified: Was the War Department to recommend that the United States maintain ...

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Part 1: “By God, It Is Destiny That Brings Me Here!”

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pp. 33-44

Reacting to the Japanese incursion into northern French Indochina, Secretary of State Cordell Hull called a press conference on September 23, 1940. In understated diplomatic language, Hull indicated the State Department’s “disapproval” of the upsetting of the status quo in Indochina, which he alleged had been accomplished “under duress.” Three days later, President Roosevelt retaliated by ordering a complete ...

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Chapter 1: “They Have Really Ripped the 17th All to Hell”

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pp. 45-60

Sweat was already seeping through Maj. Kirtley J. Gregg’s khaki chino shirt on a humid Manila morning in early December, 1940, as he limped over to the line of stubby fighters in front of Hangar 2 at Nichols Field. Accompanied by his youthful pilots, the commanding officer of the 17th Pursuit Squadron was going to inspect the eight Boeing P-26As turned over to the squadron following its arrival from the ...

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Chapter 2: “A Troop of Boy Scouts Flying Kites Could Take These Damned Islands”

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pp. 61-69

On a cold mid-February, 1941, day in Washington, Maj. Hoyt Vandenberg’s aide, 1st Lt. William Burt, descended the stairway to the second floor of the Munitions Building and headed over to Room 2103, which was shared by two high-ranking Air Corps officers assigned to staff duties in the War Department’s War Plans Division. Burt was following up on a February 11 memorandum from Maj. Gen. George H. Brett in the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps to Brig. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow ...

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Chapter 3: “They Will Be Shot Down as Fast as They Are Put in the Air”

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pp. 70-90

Early in the afternoon on Friday, April 4, Brig. Gen. Henry B. Clagett eased his corpulent frame into a chair as Air Vice Marshal Hugh Dowding prepared to address a group of sixty-three officers assembled in a large room at the newly established Air Defense School at Mitchel Field, Long Island. It was Clagett’s tenth day at the special course on air defense arranged by the General Headquarters (GHQ) Air Force to indoctrinate Air Corps, Signal Corps, ...

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Part 2: “If We Make Our Attack Now, the War is Not Hopeless”

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pp. 91-105

Germany's unexpected invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, emboldened the Japanese Navy Ministry and the naval General Staff in their planning for southern operations. On June 23, they decided to set up bases and airfields in southern Indochina even if that action “risked war with Britain and the United States.” The newly appointed (from April 10, 1941) chief of the naval General Staff, Adm. Osami Nagano, ...

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Chapter 4: “Why Send Over These Ninety-Day Wonders?”

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pp. 106-129

On the morning of Tuesday, June 24, 1941, Maj. Kirtley Gregg was surprised to learn that the USAT President Pierce was at Pier 7 in Manila Bay with a load of pilots being assigned to the Philippine Department Air Force. He was expecting the pilots’ arrival about June 27 or 28, but no one in the Philippine Department had been informed of the exact date. The Pierce had maintained radio silence during its entire voyage from San Francisco due to security ...

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Chapter 5: “The Creation of the Five-Engine Bomber Has Completely Changed the Strategy in the Pacific”

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pp. 130-152

In early September, while still in Manila’s Sternberg Hospital being treated for tertiary malaria, Brig. Gen. Henry Clagett called his executive officer at air force headquarters at Nielson Field. He demanded to be shown the finished product of Colonel George’s efforts to prepare the plan on air force requirements for MacArthur that he and George had wrangled over in late August just before he turned himself in ...

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Chapter 6: “Feasibility of Direct Attack on Luzon in the Philippines”

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pp. 153-178

At 9:45 on the morning of Wednesday, October 15, 1941, General Brereton was back in Hap Arnold’s office as a follow-up to his initial meeting with the AAF chief on October 6. During the preceding week he had gone back to Tampa to make arrangements for winding up his duties as the Third Air Force commander.1 This time Arnold had called Brig. Gen. Oliver P. Echols, Maj. James A. Doolittle, and Spaatz to join him for discussions with the newly designated—as of October 7—commander of the USAFFE air force ...

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Part 3: “The Inability of an Enemy to Launch his Air Attack on These Islands Is Our Greatest Security”

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pp. 179-196

At the Imperial conference held November 5, Emperor Hirohito made his near-final decision for war by sanctioning the completion of “preparations for operations” and approving the midnight December 1 deadline set at the November 1 liaison conference for terminating negotiations with the United States. The emperor was no longer “agonized” over the deadlocked negotiations and had become committed ...

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Chapter 7: “We Are Going Much Too Far on the Offensive Side”

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pp. 197-236

The new commanding general of the air force units assigned to U.S. Army Forces in the Far East was checking out the situation at the Nichols Field air depot and did not like what he found. “Completely inadequate,” he told his staff and the officer in charge of the depot as they went through the depot’s hangar one day during the second week of his assignment (November 10–15). He found no spare parts available for the fifty P-40Es that the depot ...

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Chapter 8: “Struck by Its Resemblance to a Railroad Timetable”

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pp. 237-254

At about eight o’clock one evening at the beginning of December, the air-raid alarm suddenly went off all over blacked-out Clark Field. Another practice alert! Reacting quickly, the 19th Bomb Group’s B-17 and B-18 crews ran from their squadron operations areas to meet the trucks rushing to collect them and piled in for the quick After Capt. Bill McDonald and his navigator, 2d Lt Francis Cappelletti, had climbed into their 93d Squadron B-17D and taken ...

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Part 4: “I Shall Die Only for the Emperor, I Shall Never Look Back”

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pp. 255-263

In Washington on the morning of Sunday December 7, 1941, Navy and War Department officers were fretting about a Japanese message that had just been intercepted. The Foreign Ministry was instructing Ambassador Nomura to submit to Secretary of State Hull the fourteen-part message received earlier “at 1:00 p.m. on the 7th your time.” The officers feared that a Japanese attack was imminent and wanted ...

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Chapter 9: “What a Fog!”

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pp. 264-290

Shortly after midnight on December 7–8, 1941, Pvt. Henry Brodginski was in the Iba operations truck manipulating the oscilloscope of the SCR-270B radar set. Generally considered the Air Warning Company’s best scope operator, he had reported for duty on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift. He immediately began following blips on the screen, moving south ...

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Chapter 10: “Go Get ’Em!”

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pp. 291-310

As his P-40E circled over the Tarlac area in central Luzon at between twelve thousand and fifteen thousand feet, Dave Obert wondered where the Japanese intruders were that had been reported coming in from the north. He and the rest of Buzz Wagner’s 17th Pursuit Squadron had reached the assigned position at about 8:45, but there was no sight of the enemy. Suddenly, Obert’s radio crackled: “prepare to attack!” In response to his CO’s order, he went into a sharp diving turn ...

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Chapter 11: “Navy, Hell, It’s the Japs!”

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pp. 311-340

Joe Moore was still outside the 20th Pursuit Squadron operations shack at Clark Field at 12:35 p.m., waiting for orders from Major Grover at 24th Group operations to scramble his pilots for takeoff. Suddenly, one of the squadron’s crew chiefs standing near the shack cried, “Good God Almighty, yonder they come!” The 20th Pursuit’s CO looked up into the cloudless sky and saw a long line of planes flying ...

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Chapter 12: “Whatever You Do, Don’t Get under the Damned Truck!”

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pp. 341-357

Private Henry Brodginski was still behind the oscilloscope in the SCR-270B operations van at 12:40 p.m., excitedly monitoring the approaching Japanese bombers. His commanding officer, Lieutenant Wimer, had told him to stay on the scope until the first bombs hit. Except for the plotter and Brodginski, all of the other operations van crewmen had taken refuge in the trench just off Iba beach. Sergeant Wade Nelms was in the Air Warning Company ...

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Chapter 13: “All We’ve Got Left Is the Key to the Airplane”

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pp. 358-381

At about 1 p.m., three of the Tainan Kū’s chutai broke off their devastating strafing attack on Clark Field and, according to plan, headed south for the airfield at Del Carmen, fifteen miles due south. They were going to shoot up the landing strip and thirty-four or so pursuit ships that were reported to be based there by a 3d Kū reconnaissance pilot on December 5. 1 However, barely outside Clark Field ...

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Chapter 14: “What Is the Matter with the Enemy?”

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pp. 382-408

High over Luzon’s west coast in his C5M2 observation plane, Lt. Masami Miza was heading north to his Tainan base accompanied by the pilots of four damaged Zeros from his Tainan Kū with whom he had joined up at about 1:30 p.m. at the rendezvous point. He felt fortunate that no enemy fighters were chasing them. In one of the damaged ships, ...

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pp. 409-424

In carrying out their strategy of destroying American air strength in the Philippines before attempting to land invasion forces, the Japanese achieved greater success on the first day of their effort to gain air superiority in the skies over Luzon than they had imagined possible. In materiel terms, they destroyed twelve of the Far East Air Force’s nineteen Clark-based B-17s (of a total Philippines force of thirty-five) and thirty-four of its ninety-two P-40Es, ...

Appendix A

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pp. 425

Appendix B

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pp. 426

Appendix C

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pp. 427

Appendix D

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pp. 428-429

Appendix E

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pp. 430-431

Appendix F

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pp. 432-434

Appendix G

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pp. 435-438

Appendix H

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pp. 439-441

Appendix I

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pp. 442

Appendix J

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pp. 443-444


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pp. 445-504


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pp. 505-531


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pp. 531-557

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446624
E-ISBN-10: 1603446621
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585442461
Print-ISBN-10: 1585442461

Page Count: 568
Illustrations: 44 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2003

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Subject Headings

  • MacArthur, Douglas, 1880-1964.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial operations, Japanese.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial operations, American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Philippines.
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