General MacArthur is appointed Commander of US Army Forces in the Philippines

In July 1941, with tensions rising between Japan and the United States, the Philippine Army was incorporated into the American armed forces, and Lieutenant General Douglas MacArthur was recalled from retirement to take command of the newly created United States Army Forces in the Far East. The new military structure included American troops serving in the Philippines and the local Philippine Army. The appointment was obviously based upon MacArthur's lengthy military service in the Philippines which included service as Military Adviser to the Commonwealth of the Philippines since 1936.

The deeply flawed personality of General Douglas MacArthur

While acknowledging these special qualifications, it is still difficult to understand how this appointment could have been made. MacArthur possessed a deeply flawed personality. He was a commander with a mind that was too closed and inflexible for him to readily deduce an enemy's strategic and tactical goals or options, and this impaired his capacity to take appropriate measures to counter them. He ignored unpleasant realities when it did not suit him to acknowledge them, and tended to surround himself with servile staff officers who were aware of this dangerous weakness and indulged it. A surprise move by an enemy could produce paralysing indecision at MacArthur's headquarters. He distanced himself from his troops and was indifferent to their welfare. He was also a conceited man, with a passion for self-glorification, and incapable of admitting serious military mistakes or learning from them. These character flaws would lead him in the Philippines to squander his military resources and sacrifice his troops for the sake of his own vanity. This was the man President Roosevelt had placed in command of the United States army and air forces in the Philippines.

Despite nine hours warning, General Douglas MacArthur failed to prepare his Philippines command for the Japanese attack that followed Pearl Harbor. His air power was destroyed on the ground.

MacArthur persuades Washington that the whole of the Philippines can be defended

Driven by conceit, and unwillingness to acknowledge the stark realities of Japan's enormous military strength, the isolation of the Philippines from American support, and the difficulty of defending its thousands of islands, MacArthur persuaded Washington that the whole of the Philippines could be defended. He claimed that this could be done by providing him with more American troops, by arming his Far East Air Force with the new B-17 "Flying Fortress" heavy bomber, and by deploying American garrison troops, together with ten trained and fully equipped local Philippine Army divisions, across the nine major islands of the Philippines archipelago. [1] Employing the pompous and extravagant language that was typical of MacArthur's style of leadership and lack of concern for the lives of his troops, he boasted that they would stop the Japanese on the beaches or die in the attempt. [2]

MacArthur neglected to tell his superiors in Washington that the bulk of his local Philippine Army units existed only on paper, and that the units that did exist lacked the training and equipment necessary to meet Japanese troops on equal terms. [3]

Inspired by MacArthur's optimism, Washington amended the Rainbow-5 war plan on 19 November 1941to permit the whole of the Philippines to be defended in the event of war with Japan. The amended war plan included orders for the planes of the Far East Air Force to attack any Japanese forces and installations within range at the outbreak of war. [4] These attack orders acquire great significance in the light of the war warning sent to MacArthur from Washington on 27 November 1941 and his later attempt to exploit the words of that war warning in defence of his failure to bring his command to a state of readiness to resist a likely Japanese attack in the hours immediately following Pearl Harbor. The relevant part of the war warning is set out below at Reference [9].

In the light of this express authority, it is important to note that major Japanese airbases and harbour facilities on the island of Formosa (now Taiwan) were within the operational range of MacArthur's B-17s. In response to MacArthur's glib assurances, and without checking their truth, Washington greatly increased American troop numbers in the Philippines and supplied MacArthur with tanks, artillery, and the most modern fighters and bombers. By December 1941, MacArthur commanded 31,000 American troops and 110,000 under-trained and ill-equipped Philippine Army troops. MacArthur's Far East Air Force had one hundred front-line Curtis P-40 "Warhawk" fighters (in Australia known as the P-40 "Kittyhawk"), and thirty-five of the new B-17 heavy bombers. [5]

The headquarters of the United States Asiatic Fleet was also located in the Philippines. Although lacking battleships and aircraft carriers, Admiral Thomas C. Hart could deploy three cruisers, thirteen destroyers, six fast patrol torpedo boats, and twenty-nine submarines against the Japanese. The deadliest weapons at his command were the submarines because Japan would be heavily dependent on sea transport to move invasion forces to the islands of the South-West Pacific. The Navy Department in Washington did not share MacArthur's view that the Philippines could be held against a full-scale Japanese attack, and in November 1941, Admiral Hart was ordered to withdraw his fleet from the Philippines. [6]

In responding to MacArthur's request for more American troops and up-to-date military equipment to defend the whole of the Philippines, Washington was not at this stage abandoning the Rainbow-5 war plan that relegated the defence of the Philippines to a lower priority than the defeat of Germany. National pride was involved in the defence of the Philippines, and while acknowledging that it would become a secondary theatre in the event of war with both Japan and Germany, the United States was not prepared to abandon the Philippines to the Japanese without a fight. Another persuasive factor was the availability of the new B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber for the defence of the Philippines. The US Army Air Corps argued that it gave the United States the capability to strike with devastating effect at distant Japanese airbases and naval invasion forces before hostile planes and ships could reach the Philippines. Of course, that was only theory; the bomber had not seen military action at this time.

Having secured Washington's support, MacArthur then dispersed his troops widely and thinly across nine of the major Philippine islands. In doing so, he breached one of the cardinal rules of military tactics. He thought that the Japanese would be unlikely to attack the Philippines before April 1942, and had no realistic plan to defend the islands if the Japanese attacked earlier. [7] His poor military judgment would ensure the piecemeal loss of almost one third of his army when the Japanese attack came, and the loss of vital equipment and supplies that should have been concentrated on the heavily fortified island of Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula on the western side of Manila Bay.

Although he was overall commander of air forces in the Philippines, MacArthur appeared to have little understanding of the requirements of modern air warfare. When Major General Lewis H. Brereton arrived in the Philippines in October 1941 to take command of the Far East Air Force, he was surprised to find a makeshift air force that was slackly organised and short of aircraft, spare parts and trained personnel. Instead of allowing Brereton time to prepare this makeshift air force for combat, MacArthur immediately sent him off on liaison duties to Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. [8]

Prompted by alarming decoded Japanese signal intercepts, the following war warning was sent by the US Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, to all commands, including the Philippines, on 27 November 1941:

"Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot be avoided, the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not, repeat not, be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense....Should hostilities occur you will carry out the tasks assigned in Rainbow Five so far as they pertain to Japan" [9]

Even though the Philippines was regarded as a likely primary target in the event of war with Japan, MacArthur took no significant steps to place his command on war alert. As he was preparing to depart on another frivolous overseas liaison mission for MacArthur, General Brereton warned his commander that the B-17 bombers at Clark Field near Manila were within range of Japanese bombers from Formosa (now Taiwan). Brereton proposed that the B-17s be moved to an airbase on the southern Philippine island of Mindaneo. [10] MacArthur agreed, but seventeen of his total force of thirty-five B-17s were still sitting on the airstrip at Clark Field when the Japanese attacked that airbase on 8 December 1941.

The failure of MacArthur and Brereton to pay proper heed to General Marshall's war warning of 27 November is demonstrated by the fact that neither man saw any need to cancel a lavish party held in the ballroom of MacArthur's hotel on the night of 7 December 1941 (Manila Time). Crewmen of the B-17s still sitting on the ground at Clark Field attended the party which lasted until 2.00 am on the morning of 8 December 1941.The revelling pilots were carrying orders to fly these vital aircraft to Mindaneo on the very day that the Japanese attacked. [11]