Coleman Had the Right Stuff
I thoroughly enjoyed the article about Bessie Coleman in your November issue (“People and Planes”). Ron Edwards painted a well-focused picture of a determined, enthusiastic and adventurous young person aspiring to become an aviator. Ethnicity and gender notwithstanding, these characteristics are the basic building blocks for all successful aviators.
It should be noted that Frank Peterson, the first and most senior of U.S. Marine Corps African-American aviators, retired with the grade of lieutenant general rather than brigadier general.
Colonel R.E. Fix
U.S. Marine Corps (ret.)
Executive Vice President
OV-10 Bronco Association
The summary of John Whitman’s article “Disaster in the Philippines: Air Raid on Cavite” (September 1998) states: “The morning of December 10, 1941, would be to the Americans on Luzon what December 7 had been for those in Hawaii–but without the element of surprise.” Well, of course the December 10 attack was without the element of surprise, since the Japanese had already attacked the Philippine bases on Monday, December 8 (the same “day” as the Pearl Harbor attack only on the other side of the dateline).
Like the December 10 attack, the December 8 attack was also not without warning. First there was the November 26 message from Washington to alert all Pacific commanders that negotiations were at the breaking point. The message specifically stated that the Philippines were regarded as being in imminent danger of attack because Japan was in a drive to gain the sources of much-needed oil in Southeast Asia. Pearl Harbor was considered so geographically remote from the Japanese advance into Southeast Asia that neither Washington nor the local commanders, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, suspected it would be the target of any initial attack. Indeed, when, at 1330 hours Washington time, Navy Secretary Frank Knox was handed the message that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, he immediately exclaimed, “This must mean the Philippines!” When he phoned President Roosevelt, the latter was equally incredulous that it was not the Philippines. So, while it was the general belief that the Philippines would be the first U.S. target if Japan made an overt attack, MacArthur made no special preparations after receipt of the November 26 war warning. On the other hand, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, the U.S. Asiatic Fleet commander, also based in Manila, described this war warning as “right from the horse’s mouth” and sent his major surface units south and ordered his submarines to spend the days submerged on the bottom of Manila Bay.
A second and certainly more unmistakable warning was the Pearl Harbor attack itself, which occurred at 0130 Manila time. MacArthur’s headquarters received word of the attack a short time later and at 0530 received the presidential directive ordering implementation of the war plan, which included bombing the Japanese air bases on Formosa. However, in spite of the pleas of General Lewis H. Brererton, MacArthur’s Army Air Corps commander, to bomb the Formosa bases with B-17s, no airstrikes were permitted. When the Japanese finally arrived over Luzon at 1130 Manila time, they found most of the U.S. planes on the ground. Loss of three-quarters of the fighter strength (using the figure from another reference) and half the bombers was the result of this 30-minute attack.
It was apparently not the purpose of John Whitman’s article to question command responsibility. Nevertheless, it would have been relevant to at least mention that most of the damage was the result of MacArthur’s inaction after receiving word of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Also, Whitman might have noted that no official blame was ever leveled at MacArthur nor was any investigation ever held of his egregious failure of command, a failure now judged to have been far more costly to our war effort in the Pacific than the Pearl Harbor disaster.
Robert K. Awtrey
Commander, U.S. Navy (ret.)
John W. Whitman replies: I have no problems with your comments and agree with almost all of them. Your main point seems to be that you wanted additional details about MacArthur, the war warnings, blame and the absence of surprise. You acknowledge that my intention was to describe the December 10 Cavite attack. That is true. I concentrated on aviation issues. The war warning situation, MacArthur’s responsibilities, lack of strategic surprise on December 8 and official blame are quite separate matters and would not have fit in an article on Cavite written for aviation enthusiasts.
You state that “MacArthur made no special preparations after receipt of the November 26 war warning.” Not true. My research on the Japanese invasion of the Philippines has numerous pages concerning MacArthur’s orders and subsequent responses to those orders. I could not have included that detail in the Cavite article, nor would it have been appropriate.
You cited a different source saying that three-quarters of MacArthur’s fighter strength had been destroyed at Clark Field on December 8. I said 37 percent of MacArthur’s modern (Curtiss P-40) fighter strength had been destroyed on December 8. Your source might have counted planes lost only at Clark and Iba while I took all of MacArthur’s P-40s into account, even those not engaged–aircraft undergoing repair and two P-40 squadrons in the air that did not intercept the Japanese. Thus the difference.
Noorduyn On Noorduyn
I want to draw your attention to a misstatement of facts in C.V. Glines’ article “Fokker: The Flying Dutchman” in the September 1998 issue. Page 43 contains two errors regarding Robert B.C. Noorduyn: 1. He did not design the Fokker Universal. That aircraft was designed in Holland by Rheinhold Platz. Most of the Universals were assembled in the Fokker factory in Teterboro, N.J., using components built in Holland. Several of them were sold to customers in Canada for use in transporting supplies and personnel in the far north. Noorduyn was responsible for the Super Universal, which incorporated modifications to the basic aircraft resulting from input from Bernt Balchen and Canadian owner/operators. 2. Noorduyn’s Norseman was not a “spinoff of the Universal.” It was a completely new design, and its only similarity to the Universal was that it was also a high-wing, single-engine monoplane.
Robert H. Noorduyn
C.V. Glines replies: I assume that Robert B.C. Noorduyn is a close relative of yours, so I take your comments very seriously. I want to thank you for taking the time to write, and I’m glad to be corrected. Please know that I do not enjoy being incorrect in my writing and always use the best references I can obtain.
From the references I consulted, it is my understanding that Noorduyn did design the Universal, and I would appreciate knowing if you can refer me to a reliable source that will confirm that Platz was the original designer. It certainly does make sense that it would have been designed in Holland, so I don’t dispute what you say.
I flew the Norseman while in the U.S. Air Force and liked it very much. Perhaps you don’t like the word “spinoff” in my assertion, but it certainly seems not too far from reality to assume that it had some of the flying and/or design characteristics of the Universal and Super Universal.
Thanks again for writing. I would be interested to learn about your background and connection with Robert B.C. Noorduyn. He was a highly respected designer and engineer.
Bull Date Questioned
I read each issue of Aviation History with great pleasure. That is why I cannot leave two statements in the “People and Planes” department of the May 1998 issue unchallenged regarding the Bruning flight with bulls from Westport, Mass., to Italy in 1947. On page 8, the article states, “Animals that big [bulls] hadn’t been transported by air before….” This is incorrect, or (dare I say it?) a lot of bull. The first air transport of a live bull took place in 1924, when KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flew a bull from Rotterdam in Holland, to Paris, France, in one of its Fokker F.3s. Perhaps the author meant to say that “animals that big hadn’t been transported by air before in the United States.”
Also included is the statement: “International flights were not common in 1947 [at Paris, France].” This is also incorrect. Paris at that time was served by all major airlines of Europe and by TWA from the United States. Since these flights crossed national borders of independent countries, they most certainly were international flights. Perhaps the authors meant to say that intercontinental flights at Paris were not common in 1947.
Donald E. Foster and Bernie Michaels reply: You are quite right on both of the counts you raised. Our research into the carrying of large animals by air did not extend beyond the United States, and we should have clarified that. As to the reference to international flights into Paris, we should have been more precise: Intercontinental is absolutely correct.