Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Iba Field, Attack on (8 December 1941)

Japanese air attack in the Philippines Islands, simultaneous with the raid on Clark Field. The Japanese planned to fly at night from Formosa (Taiwan) to avoid interception, arriving at first light to strike Nichols and Clark Fields, the main U.S. fighter and bomber bases in the Philippines. However, early-morning fog on Formosa grounded the aircraft of the Japanese navy's Eleventh Air Fleet. With no prospect of surprise, planners decided to ignore Nichols Field in favor of Iba, a pursuit-aircraft base northwest of Manila on Luzon's west coast. An attack on Iba would cover the flank of the Japanese force attacking Clark. When the fog lifted on the morning of 8 December, 54 twin-engine navy Mitsubishi G4M1 Type medium bombers (known to the Allied side by the code name betty) of the Takao and Kanoya Air Groups and 50 Mitsubishi A6M Reisen (Zero) fighters of the 3rd Air Group took off from Formosa and flew toward the Philippines.

At Iba, the U.S. 3rd Pursuit Squadron flew 16 P-40Es off the grass strip about 11:45 a.m. to intercept the Japanese planes, reportedly heading for Manila. This action was the Americans' second scramble of the morning. They failed to detect any Japanese, and the planes raced back when they heard Iba Field's radio warn of a hostile force approaching from the sea. The 3rd Pursuit Squadron reached Iba low on fuel and, in any case, failed to locate the Japanese aircraft. The squadron entered the landing pattern at 12:45 p.m. Six aircraft landed just as the Japanese bombers and fighters struck. Japanese bombs tore into barracks, service buildings, and maintenance equipment. A bomb also destroyed Iba's radar, a fatal blow to subsequent U.S. air-defense efforts.

A few American pilots turned their aircraft against the Zeros, despite near empty fuel tanks. The nimble Japanese shot down five P-40s, and swirling dogfights ran three more Americans out of gas. These desperate American attacks prevented the Zeros from strafing Iba. Ultimately, however, the 3rd Pursuit lost 16 P-40s in the air and on the ground—nearly the entire squadron—as well as 45 trained pilots and mechanics. Damage to the field and equipment was significant.

The unexpected success of the Japanese raids on Clark and Iba stunned both the Japanese and the Americans. The attacks crippled General Douglas MacArthur's air force and made possible the safe approach of the Japanese invasion convoys.

John W. Whitman


Further Reading
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 F., and James E. Cate, eds. The Army Air Forces in World War II. Vol. 1, Plans and Early Operations, January 1939 to August 1942. Chicago: Office of Air Force History, University of Chicago Press, 1948.; Edmonds, Walter D. They Fought with What They Had. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.; Sakai, Saburo. Samurai! New York: E. P. Dutton, 1957.
 

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