Remembering “a date which will live in infamy,” the Land of the Rising Sun’s attack on Pearl Harbor in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, many only equate that horrific event to Hawaii. However, Japan’s far reaching goal for a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” went far beyond the shores of the Hawaiian Islands.
The well-organized Nippon forces positioned themselves across the Pacific in an attempt to block American transports to reach their allies in Australia and other South Pacific areas, and to assure complete and utter control of that region. Thus, benefiting from this area rich with raw materials needed for their continued expansion.
During President Franklin D Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” 6-minute, riveting speech before the joint session of congress and on national radio, he listed the numerous aggressions by the enemy that took place within hours of each other.
“Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.”
Emperor Hirohito, who was viewed throughout Japan as a God, gathered the power of millions of indoctrinated troops willing to never surrender but to sacrifice their lives for his cause. Influenced by the aggressive Prime Minister and general of the Imperial Japanese Army, Hideki Tojo, the Japanese were able to stage simultaneous attacks. Imagine the vast undertaking and planning that went into mounting aggressions on 6 islands plus striking the United States of America.
Due to the International Date Line the attack on the Philippines is recorded as December 8, 1941, when in truth, it was only a matter of hours after the attack on Pearl.
The first US ship to encounter enemy fire, and life lost, occurred in Davao Bay in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The USS William B. Preston, a destroyer sea plane tender, had heard of the attack on Pearl and was told “Japan has commenced hostilities. Govern yourselves accordingly.” The tender sent some PBY’s, patrol bombers – “Catalina’s”, out to search for incoming enemy aircraft. Two of the Cat’s remained moored to their buoys and became easy targets for the incoming Japanese “Vals” and “Claudes”. The two PBY’s were destroyed and sunk in the bay as their crew, along with one dead and one injured, swam toward a small boat lowered by the Preston. Under fire, the tender zigzagged to open water and remained unscathed, only to return later for the small boat of survivors.
Inexplicitly, at that time Lieutenant General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the US Army Forces in the Far East, having hosted a wild party the night before in his grand hotel, did not appear to take command of his troops. He ignored his orders to follow Rainbow Five, codename for the plan to initiate US planes to attack Japanese airbases within reach after Japan had made the first strike.
MacArthur’s failure to act left his airplanes and personnel exposed and directly in harms way. He did little to prevent the ensuing damage that the enemy would deliver to American bases and, over a matter of weeks, to the entirety of the Philippines. On the 21st of December MacArthur retreated to the island fortress of Corregidor. Then on the 26th, at Philippine President Manuel Quezon’s urging, MacArthur would declare Manila an “open city.” Thus, in a short eighteen day span, Manila would be left as an “open city” in the hopes the Japanese would respect the Laws of War, which state an “open city” was not to be attacked. However, the Japanese ignored the declaration, claiming the islands as their own, killing not only US soldiers but several of the Philippine Scouts, civilians and taking thousands as prisoners to be placed in camps. This was a precursor to the devastating Bataan Death March.
Their “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere” concept had no one fooled. It was an obvious ploy for Japan to rule the Pacific Rim. Sadly, it took over three years, mass destruction of the city and over a hundred thousand lives to evict them from our Pearl of the Orient. It was to change the landscape and the minds of Filipinos and Manila residents forever.
A Day in Infamy | Manila Nostalgia (lougopal.com)
The Japanese had prepared well. Over the years their spies positioned around the world, including in America, had provided them with maps, photos, and intelligence to stage the resounding call to war that echoed across oceans and continents.
So, we should always remember and cherish not only those who died at Pearl Harbor, but all the souls throughout the South Pacific who were lost on this notorious Day of Infamy, whose lives marked the beginning of the global battle, World War Two. And give thanks to those who fought so bravely over the following five years for our cherished freedom.
Highly Recommended Reading
Kemp Tolley was commander of the Lanikiai, stationed in Manila, when the Japanese attacked the Philippines on December 8, 1941. The Cruise of the Lanikai recounts Tolley’s escape and adventures as he sails south to Australia through Japanese waters. An exceptional book of survival.
For more on Pearl Harbor please read my other blogs:
December 7th 1941 and interview with Dr. Raleigh who was at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Maryland during the bombing.
Captain Richard McNees who was stationed at Kaneohe during the attack.