JAPANESE AIR ATTACK ON 10 DECEMBER 1941 at Cavite Navy Yard, small-arms shells explode (left) as the torpedo-loaded barge (center) burns.


The weather over Formosa on the morning of 10 December was threatening, but the Japanese, anticipating a change for the better, decided to press their advantage. Naval planes took off about 1000 to strike Luzon again. This time the target was the Manila Bay area.69 First warning of the approach of Japanese planes reached the Interceptor Command at Nielson Field at 1115, and fighters were immediately dispatched to cover Manila Bay, the port area, and Bataan. A half hour later, the enemy aircraft hit the Del Carmen Field near Clark, and the Nichols and Nielson Fields, near Manila. So severe was the attack against Nichols and so great the number of bombs dropped that the men at Nielson, nearly two miles away, thought the bombs were falling on their own field. The pattern set at Clark Field two days earlier was repeated. High-level bombers came in first and hit the barracks, offices, and warehouses. The fighters then came in at low level to strafe the grounded planes and installations. American planes returning to refuel were attacked by Zeros and destroyed. There was no antiaircraft fire and no fighter protection over the field; all the pursuits were engaged over Manila Bay.

The naval base at Cavite received no less attention than Nichols Field. The Japanese force had divided north of Manila, and part had turned east toward the army installations. The rest, 54 bombers, had continued south toward Cavite on the south shore of Manila Bay. Half of these bombers attacked ships and small craft in the bay and the remainder went on toward the naval base. With maddening deliberation, the bombers flew over Cavite, dropping their bombs from a height of 20,000 feet, above the range of the 9 3-inch antiaircraft guns protecting the base. Almost every bomb fell within the navy yard. After the first run, the first flight withdrew and the other 27 bombers, having completed their attack against ships in the bay, flew in to strike the target.

The attack lasted for two hours. As at Clark and Nichols, the opposition was feeble and the damage extensive. The entire yard was set ablaze; the power plant, dispensary, repair shops, warehouses, barracks, and radio station received direct hits. Greatest damage was done by the fire which spread rapidly and was soon out of control. Admiral Rockwell estimated that five hundred men were killed or seriously wounded that day. The large submarine Sealion received a direct hit, but Seadragon was pulled away in time by its tender. The most serious loss to the submarine force, however, was the destruction of well over two hundred torpedoes.

Throughout the attack, Admiral Hart had watched the destruction of Cavite from atop the Marsman Building. That night, after receiving an account of the damage done, he reported to the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington that he regarded Manila untenable as a naval base since the enemy had control of the air, but promised to "continue submarine and air operations as long as possible." He then sent 2 destroyers, 3 gunboats, 2 submarine tenders, and 2 minesweepers south to join Task Force 5. "It is unfortunate," he noted in his report, "that two or three additional small ships were not sent south at this time."

On the morning of the 11th the fires at Cavite were burning more fiercely than ever. Evidently there was no chance of saving the yard. When Rockwell reported to Hart in Manila that day the two men agreed to salvage as much as possible from the ruins. Remaining supplies were to be distributed among the installations at Manila, Corregidor, and Mariveles. The base at Sangley Point was to be maintained as long as possible, and when no longer tenable the radio station and fuel supply were to be moved to Corregidor.



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