WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PHILIPPINES
On the early afternoon of December 10th Japanese bombers destroyed the navy yard at Cavite. More than 50 two-engine bombers came over in two waves and dropped their bombs from above the range of the nine 3-inch antiaircraft guns which were supposed to protect the station. There was no fighter opposition and the bombing was leisurely and accurate. Practically the entire establishment was destroyed. Among the ships the most serious loss was the large submarine Sealion, which was destroyed in dock by two direct hits. Seadragon escaped serious damage, thanks to the excellent work of Pigeon in pulling her away from the fire which enveloped Sealion. The Peary, which was completing repairs, received a hit on the foremast, but escaped with only minor damage and a few casualties.
This episode made it painfully evident that the enemy had complete control of the air over Manila and that we could no longer base our ships there. Our submarines did continue for a while to operate from Manila, but only with the greatest difficulty. They were in port as little as
possible and had to submerge during the day. The Canopus remained to service them. She was placed in shallow water and covered with a camouflage net, but was hit several times.
Since it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the submarines would have to abandon Manila, Capt. Doyle, just relieved as Commander of Submarines, was sent south with the Otus and Holland to set up an alternate command in the south. They sailed on the evening of the 10th, accompanied by the gunboat Isabel and two destroyers. They were followed by a second group consisting of the Tulsa, the Asheville and two mine sweepers, Lark and Whippoorwill. All arrived safely in Borneo without having encountered any enemy ships. Admiral Hart later regretted that he did not send other small ships south at this time while they could still be taken out.
This movement of naval vessels to the south was followed by an exodus of merchant shipping. About 40 deep sea ships had sought refuge in Manila Harbor in addition to several smaller inter-island boats. During the bombing of Cavite on the 10th one medium size vessel had been hit and sunk. The following day Admiral Hart called a conference of owners and agents, at which he expressed the opinion that the small ships were as safe underway as in harbor. He advised that although the fleet could provide no escort, the larger ships had a fairly good chance of escape to the south. Practically all did depart safely during the next few days with cargoes of considerable aggregate value. As Admiral Hart remarked, "We were lucky."
The destruction of the Army's fighter power made it too dangerous to continue to base the PBY's in the Philippines. This was made obvious on the 12th, when our PBY's were followed in by enemy fighters which attacked after our planes had landed. Seven PBY's were burned on the water. An enemy raid on Subic Bay on the 13th destroyed further patrol planes, leaving fewer than one full squadron. Admiral Hart on the 14th directed the remainder of Patrol Wing TEN to move to the Netherlands East Indies. The three tenders sailed south with such personnel and spare parts as they could carry. There were left in Manila only damaged planes, of which four were eventually repaired. This loss of air reconnaissance was a severe handicap to our submarines in their attempt to intercept enemy landing forces.
The Japanese landed about December 10th at Aparri on the north and at Vigan on the northwest coast of Luzon and on the 12th at Legaspi in
the south. The Army expected the enemy to attempt his main landing at Lingayen Gulf, and some of our submarines were stationed accordingly. But when the enemy came, on the 21st, so skillfully did he bring in his transports that out of at least eighty we sank only one.
Meanwhile the advance of Japanese forces in both north and south was accompanied by a rush of events which meant the end of our naval operations in the Philippines. On the 19th Sangley Point was heavily bombed, most of the aviation gas was destroyed and the radio was put out. On the 23d Admiral Hart learned that General MacArthur contemplated an early withdrawal to Bataan and Corregidor. The following day he learned that such a move was already underway and that Manila was to be declared an open city. This meant that the Canopus had to be moved, that submarine spare parts and Diesel oil had to be taken from Manila, and the remaining oil stores destroyed. Provisions had to be moved to Corregidor and Mariveles. It meant, in fact, that it would very shortly be impossible to operate our submarines from Manila. On the 24th and 25th bombs falling around the office building of the Commander of Submarines damaged equipment and supplies. On the 29th the Japs found the Canopus in her new location, and a stray bomb killed six men on board.
Admiral Hart had determined to remain on Luzon so long as the submarines were operating from Manila. Now that most of his fleet was already in the south and it was evident that the submarines would very soon have to follow, he decided to go directly to the Netherlands East Indies, rather than move into Corregidor as Admiral Rockwell had done on the 21st. One plane was sent south with staff officers on the evening of the 24th. At the last minute half the seats were given up to high Army officers. Admiral Hart had planned to leave the evening of the 25th, but during the day the Japanese found and destroyed the planes which were to take him. Consequently he left on the submarine Shark on the 26th. The two remaining destroyers, Pillsbury and Peary, were sent south the next day, after the Japanese had made a determined attempt to destroy them in the harbor. One of them, the Peary, had an eventful passage.
Manila Bay was bombed daily without opposition. Our submarines while at the base had to lie on the bottom during daylight, so that the crew had no opportunity for rest or recreation. Submarines at sea were therefore ordered to go south to the Malay Barrier when forced to leave
their stations. On December 31st the last of our submarines left Manila Bay, taking the submarine staff and as much material as possible. It was too late to get out Canopus and Pigeon. On January 2d the Japanese entered Manila unopposed.
Admiral Rockwell remained at Corregidor where a unified command was set up under General MacArthur. There was left at Corregidor and Mariveles the gunboats Mindanao, Luzon and Oahu, the mine sweepers Tanager, Finch and Quail, and a few tugs and ex-yachts for patrol. There were, too, the six PT boats of MTB Squadron THREE. Three Philippine Q-Boats were operated by the Army but serviced and maintained by the Navy.