November 2011 Web Mailbag
Wrong About Brereton
Your article in the May 2011 issue on the losses suffered by The Far East Air Force (FEAF) on December 8th, 1941 places the blame on MG Lewis Brereton, the FAEF commander, indicating that he twice failed to comply with direct orders from General MacArthur. While Brereton was the one who ordered the B-17s to land at Clark that day, I cannot find any confirmation that he ignored any direct order from MacArthur during the very short time that he commanded FEAF.
You wrote that, on November 21st, 1941, MacArthur “wisely ordered Brereton to withdraw all the B-17s from vulnerable Clark Field and move them 600 miles south to Del Monte airfield on Mindanao … Brereton, however, ignored his orders.” Brereton, who only opened his FEAF headquarters on November 16th, was not even in the Philippines on November 21st, 1941. MacArthur sent him to Australia on 18 November to negotiate plans to use that nation’s airbases in case of war. He returned to the Philippines around the 30th of the month. The official account of the 1941-42 fall of the Philippines prepared by OCMH makes no reference to such an order. Nor does Brereton in his book written after the war. And it seems unlikely that, if such an important order were transmitted and not executed, neither MacArthur nor his staff noticed it for over two weeks.
You note that MacArthur reiterated his order to withdraw all the B-17s from Clark on December 6th and “Again, Brereton ignored MacArthur’s directives.” Brereton has explained his reasoning for only sending half of his Flying Fortresses to Mindanao. He notes that the 7th Bombardment Group (B-17s) was already on the move to the Philippines from the States and his plan was to send them to Del Monte. When they arrived, the very primitive Del Monte base would be at its capacity for support and operations.
Finally, you quote MacArthur as viewing Brereton’s request to bomb Formosa as a “suicide mission” that he never approved. The OCMH official history concluded otherwise. It states that in a call to the War Department to summarize the results of the Japanese attack on December 8th, MacArthur told them “I am launching a heavy bombardment counterattack tomorrow (Dec 9th) morning on enemy airdromes in southern Formosa.” The OCMA report then goes on to say that “it is evident, then, that MacArthur himself planned … to execute an attack against Formosa with the remaining B-17s.”
Eight years after the FEAF bomber forces were devastated at Clark Field when the Japanese attacked, General “Hap” Arnold, our WW II Army Air Force Commander, wrote that he never was able “to get the real story of what happened in the Philippines.” I doubt very much that your article would bring closure to Arnold’s quest.
Maj. Gen. (U.S. Army Ret.)