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
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
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.