Where are the planes?
March 7th In the Philippines, the ever-encroaching forces of the Imperial Japanese Army must have seemed relentless. The under gunned and under-protected American and Philippine forces were subjected to an increasingly powerful Japanese force.
Fall of the Philippines
Only in the Philippines, almost on Japan’s southern doorstep, was the timetable of conquest delayed. When the Japanese struck, the defending forces in talc islands numbered more than 130,000, including the Philippine Army which, though mobilized to a strength of ten divisions, was ill-trained and ill equipped. Of the U.S. Army contingent of 31,000, more than a third consisted of the Philippine Scouts, most of whom were part of the Regular Army Philippine Division, the core of the mobile defense forces. The Far East Air Force, before the Japanese attack, had a total of 277 aircraft of all types, mostly obsolescent but including 35 new heavy bombers. Admiral Thomas C. Hart’s Asiatic Fleet, based on the Philippines, consisted of 3 cruisers, 13 old destroyers, (6 gunboats, 6 motor torpedo boats, 32 patrol bombers, and 29 submarines.
A regiment of marines, withdrawn from Shanghai, also joined the defending forces late in November 1941. Before the end of December, however, American air and naval power in the Philippines had virtually ceased to exist. The handful of bombers surviving the early attacks had been evacuated to Australia, and the bulk of the Asiatic Fleet, its base facilities in ruins, had withdrawn southward to help in the defense of the Netherlands Indies.
The main Japanese invasion of the Philippines, following preliminary landings, began on December 22, 1941. While numerically inferior to the defenders, the invading force of two divisions with supporting units was well trained and equipped and enjoyed complete mastery of the air and on the sea. The attack centered on Luzon, the northernmost and largest island of the archipelago, where all but a small fraction of the defending forces were concentrated. The main landings were made on the beaches of Lingayen Gulf, in tile northwest, and Lamon Bay in the southeast. General MacArthur’s plan was to meet and destroy the invaders on the beaches, but his troops were unable to prevent the enemy from gaining secure lodgments. On December 23 MacArthur ordered a general withdrawal into the mountainous Bataan Peninsula, across Manila Bay from the capital city. Manila itself was occupied by the Japanese without resistance. The retreat into Bataan was a complex operation, involving converging movements over difficult terrain into a cramped assembly area from which only two roads led into the peninsula itself. Under constant enemy attack, the maneuver was executed with consummate skill and at considerable cost to the attackers. Yet American and Filipino losses were heavy, and the unavoidable abandonment of large stocks of supplies foredoomed the defenders of Bataan to ultimate defeat in the siege that followed. An ominous portent was the cutting of food rations by half on the last day of the retreat.
By January 7, 1942, General MacArthur’s forces held well-prepared positions across the upper part of the Bataan Peninsula. Their presence there, and on Corregidor and its satellite island fortresses guarding the entrance to Manila Bay, denied the enemy the use of the bay throughout the siege. In the first major enemy offensive, launched early in January, the “battling bastards of Bataan” at first gave ground but thereafter handled the Japanese so roughly that attacks ceased altogether from mid-February until April, while the enemy reorganized and heavily reinforced. The defenders were, however, too weak to seize the initiative themselves.
One of the greatest weaknesses was lack of air power.
Without reinforcements from the United States, the Japanese air forces could freely roam the skies, only facing the limited anti-aircraft weapons that were still usable. The lack of ammunition was also becoming critical.
Ammunition of all kinds was so scarce that the War Department was unwilling to commit more than one division and a single antiaircraft regiment for service in any theater where combat operations seemed imminent. Only one division-size task force, in fact, was sent to the far Pacific before April 1942.
Against air attacks, too, the country’s defenses were meager. Along the Pacific coast the Army had only 45 modern fighter planes ready to fly, and only twelve 3-inch antiaircraft guns to defend the whole Los Angeles area. On the east coast there were only 54 Army fighter planes ready for action.
While the coastal air forces, primarily training commands, could be reinforced by airlift the interior of the country, the total number of modern fighter aircraft available was less than 1,000. Fortunately, there was no real threat of an invasion in force, and the rapidly expanding output of munitions from American factories promised to remedy one of these weaknesses within a few months. Furthermore, temporary diversions of lend-lease equipment, especially aircraft, helped to bolster the overall defense posture within the first few weeks after Pearl Harbor. The Army hoped by April to have as many as thirteen divisions equipped and supplied with ammunition for combat.
To deploy these forces overseas was another matter. Although the U.S. merchant marine ranked second only to Great Britain’s and the country possessed an immense shipbuilding capacity, the process of chartering, assembling, and preparing shipping for the movement of troops and military cargo took time.
Time was also needed to schedule and organize convoys, and, owing to the desperate shortage of escort vessels, troop movements had to be widely spaced. Convoying and evasive routing, in themselves, greatly reduced the effective capacity of shipping. Moreover, vast distances separated U.S. ports from the areas threatened by Japan, and to these areas went the bulk of the forces deployed overseas during the months immediately following Pearl Harbor.
Through March 1942, as a result, the outflow of troops to overseas bases averaged only about 50,000 per month, as compared with upwards of 250,000 during 1944, when shipping was fully mobilized and plentiful and the sea lanes were secure.
The reality on the ground in the Philippines
This article was in the Washington Evening Star on March 7, 1942. Dean Schedler, a War Correspondent with the US Army forces, filed this report about the requests of the wounded.
Wounded on Bataan Plead for P40’s to Get Revenge on Japs
Sewing Machine Screwdriver Found in Enemy Shell Fragment
By DEAN SCHEDLER.
Associated Press War Correspondent.
WITH GEN. MACARTHUR’S FORCES ON BATAAN PENINSULA.
March 5 ‘Delayed’.
When are those P-40’s going to arrive to “raise hell on the other side of the line?”
That was the question, without exception, put to me by the wounded in an outdoor base hospital that I visited today. I was unable to answer that one, but I heartily agreed with the idea.
Col. J. W. Duckworth, from San Francisco, told of an incident where he took a piece of a Japanese shell fragment from a soldier’s wound and discovered it was a small United States sewing machine screwdriver.
It evidently had been mixed up with some old scrap iron Japan purchased in the United States before the war.
While the roar of dive bombers and pounding of artillery is quiet momentarily, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Philippine and American troops are kept busy day and night with various activities on the peninsula and on the fortified Islands in Manila Bay.
Under the glare of a tropical sun I took an all-day trip to various organizations on Bataan, making short “thumb-’ rides over the dust-covered roads. Leaving the road and going down pathways. I cut through the thick forest and came out at one of many motor pools.
Buried deep in the vines and foliage stood huge American-made trucks and cars undergoing checkups and repairs ranging from a little air for the tires to complete motor overhauling.
Out on the road again I got a ride for a few kilometers in a station wagon driven by Capt. F. H. Stonecifer of San Francisco. We said farewell at a roadside signpost reading: “Tokio—3.000 miles.”
I walked into a well-secluded camp to be greeted by Capt. Lee Stevens of Manila. He showed me through his “CP” (post command) which was one of his own buses.
“In a couple of weeks I’m going to drive this rolling office toward Manila.” he said.
Chatting with wounded Filipinos I found a sincere faith and trust in Gen. MacArthur and his staff.
They were all anxious to return to the front to avenge the enemy’s attack on their homeland and families.
Weeks of war have made those people determined to fight to the bitter end and drive out the Japanese.”
Mr. Schedler was working on The Manila Bulletin when war broke out. He became a civilian employee of the Army, and went to Corregidor with the headquarters of Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur.
In the final weeks of the Japanese assault on Corregidor, Mr. Schedler became a reporter for the A.P. and made his way to Australia with General Mac Arthur. He covered major operations of United States forces from New Guinea back to Manila. Mac Arthur was evacuated with his family just weeks after this report was filed.
In January and February of 1942, MacArthur had promised the beleaguered men of the army and the Philippine people that help was on the way.
Ships were being sent loaded with ammunition, arms and men. Most importantly, modern planes to sweep the Japs from the sky. Those ships were never sent. On May 6, 1942, U.S. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrenders all U.S. troops in the Philippines to the Japanese. The island of Corregidor remained the last Allied stronghold in the Philippines after the Japanese victory at Bataan (from which General Wainwright had managed to flee, to Corregidor). The death toll of the survivors is almost incomprehensible.