December 8, 1941: Macarthur's Pearl Harbor

December 8, 1941: Macarthur's Pearl Harbor

December 8, 1941: Macarthur's Pearl Harbor

December 8, 1941: Macarthur's Pearl Harbor


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. Bartsch juxtaposes the experiences of staff of the U.S. War Department in Washington and its Far East Air Force bomber, fighter, and radar personnel in the Philippines, who were affected by its decisions, with those of Japan's Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo and the 11th Air Fleet staff and pilots on Formosa, who were assigned the responsibility for carrying out the attack on the Philippines five hundred miles to the south. In order to put the December 8th attack in broader context, Bartsch details micro-level personal experiences and presents the political and strategic aspects of American and Japanese planning for a war in the Pacific.

Despite the significance of this subject matter, it has never before been given full book-length treatment. This book represents the culmination of decades-long efforts of the author to fill this historical gap.


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 11, 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 during the ensuing years and this new book is a greatly expanded report of the events of those early days of World War II in the Philippine Islands, which he has aptly entitled December 8, 1941: MacArthur’s Pearl Harbor.

A person’s view of any unusual event, chaotic occurrence, accident, or, as in this case, the opening days of a war, is myopic, limited to what he heard or saw. Other people on the scene will report what they saw, and each person will offer a different version of what happened. Confusion so often prevails.

I was particularly impressed with the meticulous way in which Bill Bartsch conducted his research. He has taken all the stories related by the many participants, checked and cross-checked them, and pieced together the big picture of the opening day of World War II in the Philippine Islands. the result was surprising even to me—who was there in what I thought was the very center of all that was happening. So much more was going on, on a much grander scale than I had seen or imagined.

In Doomed at the Start, Bill told the graphic story of the pursuit pilots in the Philippine Islands during the military buildup that took place the preceding year and the day of the Japanese strike on Clark Field, December 8, 1941.

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