American planners had long recognized the vulnerability of the Philippines to Japanese attack. In July 1941, President Franklin F. Roosevelt named General Douglas MacArthur commander of United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). His air commander was Major General Lewis Brereton. By the fall of 1941, Brereton had priority in aircraft deliveries, and in early December, the Far East Air Force (FEAF) possessed 35 Boeing B-17s Flying Fortresses, more than 100 modern Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters, and some 135 older aircraft.
At 2:40 a.m. on 8 December 1941 (7 December on Hawaii time), the U.S. Navy's Asiatic Fleet Headquarters in Manila learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor but then had trouble informing MacArthur. An hour later, MacArthur's chief of staff, Brigadier General Richard Sutherland, heard a commercial broadcast reporting the attack and woke the general. Official word from the War Department did not arrive until 5:30 a.m. Brereton placed his aircraft on standby and requested permission from MacArthur to strike Takao harbor, Formosa, to destroy Japanese warships and shipping gathering there for the invasion of the Philippines. MacArthur refused permission, and Sutherland denied Brereton access to MacArthur.
At 9:20 a.m., Japanese army aircraft bombed Baguio, the Philippine summer capital north of Clark Field. Fog on Formosa, however, delayed the Japanese navy raid on the Clark and Iba airfields. At 11:30 a.m., reports of incoming aircraft reached FEAF headquarters. Clark Field received a warning, but it was not passed to V Bomber Command. Although the Americans had one radar station operating and nearly 10 hours had elapsed since the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese caught most of Clark's aircraft on the ground, launching 53 bombers and 44 Zero fighters at the airfield. All the attacks on Luzon cost the Japanese only 7 fighters lost. The Americans lost 18 B-17s; 35 P-35s and P-40s; and another 25 to 30 B-10s, B-18s, and observation aircraft. The FEAF ceased to exist as a meaningful force on the first day of the war.
Blame for the American disaster has never been suitably determined. Complacency played a role, as American strategists discounted the technical achievements and fighting ability of the Japanese. Brereton wrote that had permission been granted to attack Formosa, his Clark Field bombers would not have been caught on the ground. Sutherland blamed Brereton for not dispersing all his B-17s to the south (only half had been sent there) as ordered prior to 8 December, whereas MacArthur held the War Department responsible for not strengthening the defense of the Philippines soon enough. Nonetheless, although army and navy commanders at Pearl Harbor were removed following the Japanese attack there, MacArthur retained his post in the Philippines.
Bartsch, William H. Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1992.; Bartsch, William H. December 8, 1941: MacArthur's Pearl Harbor. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2003.; Craven, Wesley Frank, and James Lea Cate, eds. The Army Air Forces in World War II. Vol. 4, The Pacific: Guadalcanal to Saipan, August 1942 to July 1944. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983.; James, D. Clayton. "The Other Pearl Harbor." MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 7 (Winter 1994): 22–29.; Morton, Louis. The United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific—The Fall of the Philippines. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1989.