Clark field

Discussion in 'War Against Japan' started by CaptainJTuttle1951, Apr 2, 2021.

  1. Recently on CPAN , an historian claimed that the destruction of the 16 or so B17 C's based at Clark field was arguably worse than Pearl Harbor. He never mentioned the number of B17's or the type involved but he felt it was fair to say that this force represented an offensive threat that was misused and destroyed on the ground. The B17 model C was a training aircraft that , among other things , lacked self-sealing wing tanks. There were no 500 pound bombs available probably because the B17C was designed to carry 100 and 300 pound practice bombs. The 100 pounder was almost inevitably loaded with sand. This same historian implied that the FEAF (which he never mentioned by name) never reacted to the news of Pearl Harbor and somehow managed to blame MacArthur. The fact is that after fueling every operational B17 C available they were airborne in expectation of a Japanese air attack. The IJN air forces based on Formosa planned an early morning attack on Clark field but they were slowed by bad weather. When an attack on Clark field did not right away materialize , someone decided that it was a good idea to return to base and refuel. All at once. Some say that General Brereton intended to prepare for a late afternoon strike at airfields on Formosa. That is nonsense and would have been a complete folly. IJN and IJA air forces enjoyed a 10-1 numerical advantage over the FEAF with more experienced pilots flying superior aircraft.
  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Hello might be an idea if you also placed your thoughts on our sister site which has more of an American interest in WW2
    WWII Forums
  3. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    In that one paragraph are more errors and misunderstandings than I’ve seen in a long time.

    Firstly, just how many four engine heavy bombers do you think the USAAF had on 7/8 Dec 1941? The USAAF heavy bomber force of 1941 was nothing like that of 1945. In Dec 1941 the total number was less than 200, broken down as follows:-

    Y1B-17 – 13
    Y1B-17A/B-17A – 1
    B-17B – 39
    B-17C – 38 (20 of which went to Britain in 1941 and the rest upgraded to B-17D standard)
    B-17D – 42 (last produced around April 1941)
    B-17E – 42 (delivered between Sept and Nov 1941, with first deliveries to combat units in Nov 1941)

    So about 155 B-17 of various models plus 20 B-24 of various models.

    The only heavy bombers in the Philippines on 7/8 Dec 1941 were 6 B-17C and 29 B-17D of the 19th Bomb Group which had flown there in Sept/Oct 1941. The B-17C/D were equipped with self-sealing fuel tanks and were not training aircraft. They represented about the best heavy bombers the USAAF could put on the front line at the time. The first 2 much improved B-17E to deploy to the Pacific and belonging to the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron, were famously caught up in the Japanese strikes at Pearl Harbor on 7th Dec, with another 6 from the 7th BG following just after the attack.

    On 7/8 Dec there were 19 B-17 at Clark Field and another 16 some 500 miles south at Del Monte on Mindanao.

    Secondly, there is a need to get the timeline straight which can be confusing. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began at 0748 Hawaiian time 7th Dec 1941 (GMT – 10.5 hours). That was 0218 Manila time 8th Dec 1941 (GMT + 8 hours). News of it came from an intercepted radio transmission. It was passed to MacArthur at 0330 by Admiral Hart (alternatively Gen. Sutherland, MacArthur’s Chief of Staff told him at that time having heard a commercial radio broadcast).

    At 0500 Brereton tried to see MacArthur to get permission to strike Formosa in accordance with the Rainbow 5 Plan. Access denied by Sutherland.

    Shortly after Gen Marshall in Washington ordered MacArthur to implement Rainbow 5 and Brereton is ordered to have a strike in readiness for later approval.

    At 0600 a planning meeting was held at FEAF HQ and it was agreed that a raid on Formosa should take place ASAP.

    At 0800 Gen Brereton arrived at FEAF HQ to advise that the request to launch the strike had been rejected, apparently by Sutherland. Both MacArthur and Sutherland later denied Brereton had made such a request. But the latter two individuals said they had agreed a 3 aircraft recce flight over Formosa.

    About 0800, after the first intrusions of Japanese aircraft had been tracked (some small raids by IJA aircraft from Formosa on northern Luzon and IJN aircraft in the southern Philippines), Col George, Brereton’s Chief of Staff, recommended that all flyable B-17s leave the ground to avoid being caught as had happened at PH. Brereton also had a phone call with Gen Arnold, head of the USAAF around this time who also urged him not to have his aircraft caught on the ground. The 15 serviceable aircraft took off from Clark Field within about 30 mins with another following some hours later.

    It was 1015 before the strike was approved by MacArthur and orders issued for the B-17s to return to refuel for a raid on Formosa in the afternoon. By 1200 14 B-17s were back on the ground being refuelled with one aircraft sent on a recce towards Formosa.

    Around 1130 radar starts to detect incoming raids about 130 miles away from the Clark Field complex of airfields. Confusion reigns within the USAAF fighter units.

    Around 1235 the major IJN strikes began to hit Clark Field and surrounding US bases. They destroyed 12 of the 14 serviceable B-17 at Clark and 2 others in a hangar. Of the remaining 5, only 2 were serviceable the next day having been away on recce sorties when the Japanese struck.

    The bottom line is that we will never know exactly what happened in those vital few hours between 0230 and 1015 on 8 Dec 1941 in the Philippines. No formal investigation took place. Post war Brereton and Sutherland blamed each other and MacArthur denied any knowledge of a recommendation to attack Formosa with B-17s. But the he had a reputation to protect.

    To me responsibility for the fiasco lies with MacArthur. He was the commander on the spot. He had a war plan, Rainbow 5, which AIUI included provision for air strikes on Formosa on the outbreak of war and he had been ordered to implement it around 0500. The unexplained part is why it took him 5 hours to authorise those strikes.

    Brereton was in a difficult spot. At 0800 he had advice from his subordinates and pressure from Arnold not to have his aircraft caught on the ground but no clearance from his immediate commander, MacArthur, for the strike on Formosa. No one knew that the anticipated Japanese strike would be delayed by weather or for how long. By the time he had that clearance his aircraft in the air needed to be refuelled having been airborne for nearly 2 hours. As for bringing them back together, why not? Extending the landing operation merely extends the length of time it would take to stage the proposed raid on Formosa. To stand any chance at all it needed to be a raid with the maximum possible number of aircraft and not a series of penny packet raids. It wasn’t as if he had hundreds of aircraft to play with.
    Orwell1984 and davidbfpo like this.
  4. I posted that 16 or so B17 model C were destroyed on the ground at Clark Field. That is not entirely accurate , a few survived including those that engaged in a recce mission over Formosa. I am not interested in your comment that some of them had to be the vaunted B17D , all 29 of them (as you submit) newly based on the Islands. I never once mentioned the pineapple base at Del Monte which was the only escape route for B17's at Clark and MacArthur. I am stunned by your comment that the B17E was much improved. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that the B17 in those numbers , in any modification and however a wonderful aircraft it truly was , would be defenseless even if the FEAF tossed every fighter plane they had. Your implication , if not bold statement , that the B17D was a page turner is grossly inaccurate. Late model B17F's and the B17G were the ultimate refinement. Good thing the drop tank and the P51D were mastered.

    Let us refer to your comment that a B17 or two performed a 'recce' mission over Formosa. My guess is they saw the Island and did a 180. Exactly what type of intel did they gather given that this changes by the hour. It appears to me that you claim that they were looking for targets or perhaps study the movements of the enemy , in order to back General Breretons charge that is was all Sutherland's fault and therefore MacArthur's . Nonsense. I will not debate an issue like this that thinks William Manchester is an historian.

    I enjoyed your well intentioned list and it is true that the Brit's modified some B17C's to include self sealing fuel tanks.
    davidbfpo likes this.
  5. MacArthur was opposed to any version of War Plan Orange that did not include a stubborn defense of Luzon. He did not entirely resent the planned withdrawal of Admiral Hart's Asiatic fleet ( 'small fleet , big Admiral') observing that "the Navy has its plans , the Army has its plans" , with regard to WPO. It is crucial to keep in mind that WPO5 was not an operational plan , it was a contingency plan under development. It was not unreasonable to conclude , as WPO5 stipulated , that a retrograde to Bataan would serve to maintain an outnumbered and outflanked Army opposing a battle tested and mobile enemy that owned air supremacy. The idea being that the objective was to deny the IJN usage of Manila Bay for as long as possible.

    Planners somewhat spontaneously decided that there was a 4 to 6 month window within which a relief force must arrive. Logistically speaking , this means that WPO accounted for a certain number of troops provided with a certain amount of supplies , and this contingency was post dated to April of 1942. They miscalculated.

    The question to me is , how does the deployment of B17's alter the equation. As you point out , the USAAF had a limited number of any type at that time. Clearly , the US thought that the best use of these aircraft was for geo-political purposes. There was simply no equation in WPO for such a move and few actually considered how they would be effectively utilized. General Brereton argued that the FEAF needed to expand its ability to defend itself before offensive aircraft like the B17 were introduced. This was not MacArthur's decision to make.

Share This Page