The Other "Pearl Harbor"

March 09, 2017

The attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the worst foreign attacks on American soil in history, launching a campaign across the country to enter World War II and retaliate against the Japanese aggressors. Soon after the attack on the Oahu harbor, Japan had its sights set elsewhere, looking to expand its hold across the Pacific and grab a vital site for additional military installations.

Several hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Philippines felt the devastation of the same Japanese military force as bombers and fighters started swooping in, attacking multiple US military airbases as well as the city of Manila. While the Hawaiian port was still regrouping from the attack, the smoke from the stricken ships still billowing in the tropical air, Japan launched the second of two devastating attacks that would alter the course of the war.

Bombing the Philippines

At around midday in the Philippines, a Japanese force of nearly 200 bombers and fighters swooped in on Clark Field, the main military air base for the United States in the Philippines. Just as they had done at Pearl Harbor hours earlier, Japan’s fighters targeted American assets with the intention of crippling their ability to retaliate and participate in the war.

When Japan’s forces arrived, they were expecting a fight, especially since they arrived later than originally planned. Hindered by fog, the takeoff of the 200 aircraft was delayed, so when they arrived in the Philippines, they believed the attack on Pearl Harbor would have led to American fighters being scattered. Surprisingly, this was not the case. American aircraft were still on the ground, laid out as perfect targets for the Japanese bombers.

It wasn’t long before the aircraft at Clark Field were completely decimated, a surprise considering the United States had known about Japan’s hostility from the Pearl Harbor attack nine hours prior. Blame was passed around extensively, eventually landing mostly on General Douglas MacArthur. That would be the least of the general’s worries.

The Surrender of the Philippines

The attack on Clark Field was just the start of Japan’s plan. Its success in destroying the American planes was a large victory in its continued invasion of the Philippines. From December of 1941 to May of 1942, the American and Filipino forces engaged Japan in a bloody conflict.

The lengthy battle raged on until the Battle of Corregidor, when the United States was forced to give up control of the Philippines to the Japanese, marking their first big victory of World War II.

Unlike Pearl Harbor, the attack on the Philippines is generally believed to have been avoidable had the attack on Pearl Harbor been heeded as a warning. Had the American planes at Clark Field been dispatched to intercept the invading forces, it’s possible that US and Filipino troops may have been able to hold their ground and push Japan back.

The final battle of the Philippines, fought at Corregidor, a strategic island in Manila Bay, was a day-long fight that pitted 75,000 Japanese troops against 13,000 Allies, resulting in over 1,800 Allied casualties. Japan’s victory would be short-lived, however. In 1945, American forces returned to retake the island.

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