Some months prior to December 1941, Major Lester Maitland thought it would be a good idea to prepare for an enemy attack on Nichols Field in Manila, Philippines by digging trenches. Although this task was carried out, his idea was mocked and given the nickname of “Maitland’s folly.” Around the base and Manila as a whole, the idea of the Japanese attacking this island seemed to be incomprehensible.
By late November 1941, members of the 27th Bomb Group had arrived in Manila and noticed the peculiar attitude toward defense and cautionary measures. Lieutenant Harry Mangan of the 27th observed that “A strange sense of impending war was evident in small personal ways, but not in military ways that I could easily see…Dependents of military and certain civilian personnel had been sent to the United States…but there were no air raid shelters, gun emplacements, nor revetments at Fort McKinley, or at Nichols Field that I could see. There was a strange mixture of awareness, but still an attitude on the impossibility of war. Military dress was expected in the Officer’s Club after 5:00 p.m., and we actually got a lecture from the Fort McKinley Post Commander on his distaste for our airmen wearing Flight Line clothing during the day…”
News of the attack on Pearl Harbor came quickly on December 8th (the other side of the International Date Line) and Group C.O. Col. John H. Davies roused his men to give them the news. No one knew what to do, or had the planes to fly in the event of an attack, so they just went back to bed, where sleep would soon be hard to come by: several false alarms woke them up, and was eventually followed by a real attack on Nichols Field. It sent men running for the trenches. Others were given jobs as radio operators, antiaircraft gunners and whatever else was needed during the chaos. Eight hours later, Fort McKinley was attacked as well. With so few antiaircraft guns at the bases, there was very little that the U.S. troops could do to fend off the Japanese.
“In morning found Japs had hit Nichols Field and destroyed hangars. Also hit the PAA radio station near McKinley. Was issued a service type gas mask. Had two more raids near us at 1045. Ibea, a small pursuit field, has been completely wiped out. Japs dropped tons of bombs on it. At noon bombs hit in officer’s mess—killed lots. Some of the men are now assigned to our group—they’re all bomb happy. Almost everyone has moved and is living in the jungle at the edge of post.” Dick Birnn wrote.
About half the available B-17s and P-40s at Manila were destroyed. Men were left reeling from the ferocity of the Japanese attacks. The 27th suffered its first casualty, PFC. Jackson P. Chitwood, who had been manning a machine gun at Nichols Field when a bomb burst nearby. These raids wound up being the first of many on the bases at Manila and Clark Field, which was located to the northwest of Manila.