The Saga of the Pacific Clipper

Pan American had been operating its flying boats in the Pacific since its legendary pilot Ed Musick had flown the first Sikorsky clipper from San Francisco to Honolulu on April 16, 1935. Although the route had never been flown by a passenger-carrying plane, Pan American was so confident it would be profitable that crews were building runways, towers, and hotels on Midway and Wake islands before Musick made the pioneering flight.

Now, six years later, the flights were almost commonplace, and four of Pan American's clippers were operating in the Pacific on the morning of December 7. The Anzac Clipper was on its way from San Francisco to Honolulu. The Philippine Clipper was sitting in the lagoon at Wake Island, ready to resume its flight to the Orient; the Hong Kong Clipper was in Hong Kong Harbor; and the Pacific Clipper was in the air between New Caledonia and New Zealand.

Each plane was equipped with an envelope of sealed orders telling the captain what to do in case war did break out. The basic instructions were the same for each crew: Their first responsibility was the safety of passengers and evacuation of all ground personnel possible; they were to maintain radio silence and to alter their course; to fly with no exterior lights and with windows covered; to guard or destroy all mail being carried. In addition, each plane had specific instructions relating to the route it flew. That morning every plane captain flying anywhere in the world tore open the envelope.

Captain H. Lanier Turner's Anzac Clipper was still about an hour east


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The Day the War Began


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