Pearl Harbor Plus 71…a Matter of Minutes

It isn’t often that a book utterly alters my understanding of the past, but the book “ECHOES OVER THE PACIFIC — An overview of Allied Air Warning Radar in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to the Philippines Campaign” by Ed Simmonds and Norm Smith has done just that for me regards for both WW2 in general, and for today, Pearl Harbor.

ECHOS is the story of Australian and wider Anglosphere efforts to field radar in the Pacific during WW2. I am still reading it at page 60 of under 300 pages — but it has these passages regards Pearl Harbor:

Page 18 —

The following is summarized from Radar in WWII by Henry E Guerlac and an article ‘The
Air Warning Service and The Signal Company, Aircraft Warning, Hawaii’ by Stephen L
The strategic importance of Oahu was recognized in late 1939 and the Air Warning Service
(AWS) was to provide warning of approaching enemy aircraft using the newly developed
Extensive negotiations were needed as the sites, for the three SCR271s received in Hawaii on
3 June 1941, were located on land owned by either the Department of Interior National Parks
Service or the Territory of Hawaii. In addition access roads, power supply, water supply,
buildings et cetera had to be constructed – which occasioned even further delay. The net
result was that none of the SCR271s had been installed by 7 December 1941 !
Six mobile SCR270Bs arrived in Hawaii on 1 August 1941 and were shortly thereafter put
into operation because very little site preparation was required. Extensive testing of the sets
was carried out in the next few months on installations at Kaaawa, Kawailoa, Waianae and
Koko Head, Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter.
On 27 September 1941 the SCR270Bs were tested in an exercise which, in retrospect,
resembled to a remarkable degree the actual attack of 7 December
. The exercise began at
0430 hours. Attacking planes were detected by the equipment at Waianae and Koko Head as
they assembled near the carrier from which they had taken off 85 miles away. When they had
assembled, the planes headed for Hawaii. The ‘enemy’ were clearly seen on the cathode ray
tube and fighter aircraft were notified within about six minutes.
They took off and intercepted
the incoming bombers at about 25 miles from Pearl Harbour

Under the control of the Signal Corps, Air Warning, Hawaii, the Schofield training SCR270B
was moved to the site at Opana about two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbour. The
construction of a temporary Combat Information Centre (CIC) was in progress and training
of the personnel at the centre was under way with reporting coming from six mobiles
SCR270Bs. Ironically the program was to hand the CIC over to the Air Corps when the
installation had been completed and the personnel had been properly trained – scheduled for
about two weeks after Pearl Harbour

And from page 38 —


A training period for operators of the SCR270Bs and the Combat Information Centre was
scheduled for Sunday morning, between 0400 and 0700 hours, on 7 December 1941. There
were two operators at the Opana site, George Elliot a recent transferee from the Air Corps,
and Joseph Lockard.23 Because the supply truck did not arrive on time Lockard decided to
give Elliott some more training on the SCR270B.
At 0702 hours a huge echo, almost due north of Opana at a range of 137 miles, appeared on
the screen. Lockard immediately checked the equipment to ensure that it was functioning
properly since it was a maximum size or saturation echo. Having established that it was
indeed moving and needed to be reported, efforts were made to report it to the plotters at the
Information Centre but these proved to be fruitless as the Centre had closed down.
Eventually, on another phone, a Lt Kermit A Tyler was spoken to and he told Lockard not to
worry even though it was a huge echo and travelling towards Oahu – mention was later made
about a flight of B17s being expected.
Plotting continued until 0740 hours when the supply truck finally arrived at which time the
aircraft had disappeared in the Permanent Echoes (PEs) at a range of 20 miles. These PEs
were the result of back radiation from the antenna as the mountains were behind the radar set.
The unit was closed down, the men boarded the truck and proceeded towards Kawailoa for
breakfast meeting another truck travelling at high speed towards the SCR270B. On reaching
the camp they learned that Pearl Harbour had been attacked by the Japanese thereupon they
realized that they had plotted the enemy approaching Hawaii for more than half an hour.
In his reminiscences Lockard summed up the situation:

The incident at Opana is one of those ‘what if’ footnotes in historyWhat if
the attacking planes had left their carriers 15 minutes earlier?

The book details the similar “misuse of radar” disaster that befell British airpower in Malaya and the organizational failings of American radar units in the Philippines.

But for minutes of reaction time, effective resistance to the Japanese was lost across the Pacific. It is a lesson well worth remembering on “Pearl Harbor Day” seventy-one years on.

14 thoughts on “Pearl Harbor Plus 71…a Matter of Minutes”

  1. This incident is dramatized in Tora! Tora! Tora!. From the Wiki page:

    Just after 7:00 am, the two privates posted at the remote radar, Joseph Lockard and George Elliot, spot the incoming Japanese aircraft and inform the Hickham Field Information Center, but the Army Air Forces Lieutenant in charge, Kermit Tyler, dismisses the report, thinking it is a group of American B-17 bombers coming from the mainland, and he is frankly too tired to care.

  2. Yes it was.

    What was not mentioned was that the exercise replicating the attack a week earlier and what a few minutes difference — between the center closed and open — would have meant.

    There is no guarantee that the battle would have been anything other that an American defeat.

    The Japanese pilots were well trained, some being combat experiences, and well rehearsed for this operation while the American Army Air corps pilots had few hours in the cockpit and were flying inferior planes.

    However, the Japanese naval air corps would have taken more pilot casualties sooner.

    Pilots losses they could never make good.

    _That_ would have made a big difference.

  3. There still is no excuse that I am aware of for the delay in dispersing and defending the two US bases in the Philippines. I read “Queens Die Proudly” as a child of ten and could not understand the delay then. I even went to college with Swoosie Kurtz, the daughter of Frank Kurtz whose reminiscences are the material in the book. The only conclusion I can draw is that MacArthur froze in the moment of crisis, making his Medal of Honor even more ludicrous. The result was an even more inexplicable defeat 8 hours after Pearl Harbor.

    Midway and Guadalcanal won the war in the Pacific. MacArthur was a cipher.

  4. Mike K,

    I see you have bought the “Blame MacArthur” line on the loss of the FEAF at Clark field, and the USAAF’s “If only the B-17’s struck first” propaganda defending Gen Hap Arnold and General Marshall’s reputations post-war.

    Here are some figures of merit on B-17 WW2 combat performance, and points of USAAF doctrine/technology for consideration in the MacArthur’s FEAF debacle.

    First figure of merit:

    To hit one 60 ft. x 100 ft. target in WWII required 1500 B-17 sorties
    carrying nine thousand 250 lb bombs because they had a circular error
    probability of 3300 feet. [1]

    Circular error probability is defined as 50% within the CEP circle
    around the target and 50% landing somewhere else outside it.

    That level of performance assumed,
    1) Good daylight visibility and
    2) Good target contrast from the background to achieve a good aim point.

    A second figure of merit:

    There were nineteen B-17’s available to the FEAF at Clark Air field
    with a maximum payload of 12 x 500 lb bombs for a total of 228 bombs
    in one 19 sortie mission.

    Point in fact, the FEAF B-17’s only had 100 lb and 300 lb bombs to
    work with. [2] And this was 12-15 months before USAAF armorers got
    around to placing multiple lighter bombs on the B-17 500 lb. bomb

    The Norden bomb site could only be set for one kind of bomb at a time,
    so either different planes in the same formation carried different bomb
    loads and dropped at different times, or mixed loads were used with
    guarentted misses for part of the load.

    A third figure of merit:

    The Japanese naval airfields on Formosa were fogged in, which was why their strike
    arrived so late in the day at Clark field Dec 8, 1941.

    It was years before the US Military deployed radio beam navigation for
    night/bad weather bombing (LORAN) and it was February 1944 before the
    H2X (AKA “Mickey set” or more properly the AN/APS-15) 3cm airborne
    radar arrived in USAAF service in UK based B-17’s to aim bombs through
    clouds and murk. [3] This also leaves out considerations of upper
    level wind patterns over Formosa.

    There was no effective way in 1941 for FEAF B-17’s to deliver their loads
    of bombs through fog on Formosan airfields, to get in the first punch,
    even if MacArthur had said yes sooner.

    A fourth figure of merit is the following partial list of Japanese
    military airfields on Formosa. [4]

    Okayama Airfield
    Shenei, Shoka

    Tainan Airfield
    Japanese airfield
    (Home of 84 A6M2 Zero/Zeke fighters & 100 bombers used 8 Dec 1941 at Clark Field)

    Kaohsiung (Takao)
    Harbor and airfield

    Toko Airfield
    Japanese airfield

    Toshein Airfield
    Japanese airfield

    Toyohara Airfield
    Japanese airfield, located in the central portion of the island

    Koshun Airfield
    Japanese emergency airfield

    Matsuyama Airfield
    Japanese airfield

    Karenko Airfield
    Japanese airfield

    Shinchiku Airfield [5]
    Japanese wartime airfield

    Koryu Airfield
    Japanese wartime airfield

    Anyone who thinks nineteen pre-B-17E model Flying Fortresses in
    December 1941 could make a meaningful dent in the above Japanese
    airfield infrastructure on Formosa, given that B-17 force’s technical
    limitations, and the efforts in terms of sorties that the 5th Air
    Force put into suppressing Formosan airpower in the anti-Kamikaze
    campaign of March thru June 1945, is trafficking in delusion. [6]

    In matters of doctrine and technology,

    1) The B-17 pre-war doctrine called for unescorted daylight, high
    altitude formation attacks with tight pattern bombing.

    2) B-17’s with the FEAF could not hit targets using pre-war doctrine
    because there were not enough of them to implement that doctrine.[7]

    3) The 19th Bombardment Group B-17’s could not operate at lower altitudes
    where they could hit targets due to defensive firepower weakness
    (No tail gun!)and poor logistical issues with the available P-40 fighters.
    The P-40, as the first in-line liquid coolant engine mono-plane fighter in
    US service, suffered from a general shortage of Ethylene Glycol coolant in
    the FEAF, .50 Cal ammunition shortages and self-sealing fuel tank maintenance
    issues.[8] [9]

    4) The 19th BG B-17’s lacked the pre-attack intelligence to properly plan
    the attack on formosa, including where to set up initial points in their runs to
    targets, and had no dedicated battle damage assessment capability to
    support them for any attacks made. Point in fact, Gen Brereton requested
    several times of MacArthur permission to send high altitude B-17’s over
    Formosa to get that photo intelligence prior to Dec 7th 1941. Not wanting to
    start a war against stated American National Security policy prior to
    the arrival of his scheduled reinforcements, MacArthur turned Brereton
    down flat.

    5) And finally Clark Air Field lacked an effective early warning to
    enable B-17’s to avoid counter-air attacks by Japanese planes.
    (Which ECHOES OVER THE PACIFIC made clear).

    Given all of the above, there was little if anything that General
    MacArthur could have done or failed to do to avert the debacle that
    befell the FEAF.

    There was no way that the FEAF could survive in range of Japanese air
    power on Formosa in 1941, and it didn’t.

    Nothing MacArthur did, or didn’t do, would have changed that outcome.

    The only thing that would be different, had MacArthur said “Yes” to a
    B-17 raid on Formosa hours sooner, was the place where those B-17’s


    [1] “Effects-Based Operations” Col Gary Crowder, Chief, Strategy,
    Concepts and Doctrine Air Combat Command. See Document Link:

    [2] See the “MacArthur’s Pearl Harbor” section at

    [3] See and

    [4] See:

    [5] The following link shows B-25 Mitchells using 5th Air Force low
    level airdrome attack techniques on the Shinchiku Airfield complex in
    April 1945 —

    [6] See the 5th Air Force’s 1945 Formosa campaign history at

    [7] See pages 28-29 of “A War of Their Own: Bombers over the Southwest Pacific” by
    Matthew K. Rodman (2005, 184 pages ISBN: 1-58566-135-X, AU Press Code:B-96)
    Air University press offers the PDF version at no cost at this link:

    [8] See: “Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines,
    1941-1942” (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History
    Series) William H. Bartsch

    [9] “Exploding Fuel Tanks –The saga of technology that changed the course
    of the Pacific air war” Self-published by Richard L. Dunn’s (2011,
    ISBN: 1450773052) See:

  5. I’m not supporting the idea of attacking Formosa and didn’t say so. What I do think was his failure was that they were not dispersed and that Iba Field was not dispersed. The B 17s (Granted later models) did OK in flying from Australia and even Mindanao. Those at Clark and the P 40s at Iba had no chance to show what they could do.

    My point of the comment was that I have never seen an explanation of MacArthur’s behavior. Roosevelt seems to have been more responsible for the fact that the Philippines were indefensible. Congress bears responsibility for the failure to reenforce Wake but Guam and the Philippines were sacrificial symbols.

  6. I read your link about “MacArthur’s Pearl Harbor.” Frank Kurtz does not mention any B17 mission that morning. His account in “Queens Die Proudly” says that the pilots never got any orders to take off. I don’t know why the discrepancy.

  7. The reason we lost those planes on Dec 8th 1941 was American bad luck meeting a prepared Japanese enemy.

    This was posted to the H-War list back in late May 2012 that addresses the timing of the raid on Clark and Iba fields Dec 8th 1941 —

    “Hi Gang

    I’ve refrained from commenting on this thread because of the subject’s
    complexity, the dearth of primary documents, and a desire to avoid
    replying to endless questions, but I will make a bit of an effort here:

    From 0330 until 1014, HQ USAFFE specifically denied Brereton permission to
    launch his bomber force at Clark (19 B-17s) against the Japanese
    facilities on Formosa and did not allow him to speak directly with
    MacArthur either in person or on the telephone.

    FEAF dispersed the bombers to holding positions in the air at about 0800
    to avoid an attack expected that morning. Most of the bombers were in the air
    most of that morning.

    MacArthur gave Brereton permission to attack Formosa during a telephone
    call at 1014, and Brereton recalled the dispersed force which began landing
    about 1100.

    It took two to two and a half hours to refuel, load bombs, and prepare an attack,
    thus FEAF’s aircraft were on the ground at about 1220 when the Japanese air
    forces, delayed by fog on Formosa for roughly five hours, reached Clark.

    USAFFE persistently denied Brereton’s efforts to conduct reconnaissance of
    Formosa prior to 8 December, but the 19th Bomb Group’s target files
    apparently contained enough information that, although dated, made an
    attack on Formosa more than just a thrust into the unknown.

    Who ignored MacArthur’s chain of command and in what way?

    I am still working on my biography of Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton.

    Hopefully, it will get done.


    Roger G. Miller, Ph.D., GS-14
    Deputy Director
    Air Force Historical Studies Office
    Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling
    Washington, D.C. 20373-5899”

  8. Micheal,

    Kurtz tends to leave out things when he is trying to make a point.

    He is neither the first or last person to do that.

    The Far Eastern Air Force (FEAF) took precautions to protect their
    B-17’s from a dawn Japanese strike on Dec 8, 1941, but as Dr. Miller
    mentioned, they landed out of fuel just in time for the delayed by fog
    Japanese naval air force strike from Tainan Airfield, Formosa.

    More modern evaluations — AKA less colored by immediate post-war
    reputation protection and organizational agendas — of the FEAF
    performance are more telling.

    The best look at that I have seen on that debacle is in Chapter 10 of
    “Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat”, edited by Robin Higham,
    Stephen J. Harris, which evaluated the real readiness of the Far
    Eastern Air Force on Dec 8, 1941. That essay, titled “The United States
    in the Pacific” by Mark Parillo, addresses the FEAF Philippines performance
    starting at page 296.

    The bottom line was that the B-17 force at Clark field did not have:

    1) The intelligence to effectively strike Formosa air fields with the
    limited number of bombs available at Clark Field. There were No
    pre-war over flights of Formosa, No human intelligence and thus No
    intelligence photos for inexperience photo interpreters to work from,

    2) The B-17 did not have the accuracy to strike ships at sea. See B-17
    performance per pre-war doctrine at Midway, but unknown at the time,

    3) Nor did the B-17 force have the logistical chops in its supporting
    fighter units — which lacked coolent for high altitude operations and
    were so short of .50 cal ammunition for its P-40E’s there was no test
    firing of guns until combat commenced — to conduct escorted strikes at
    the B-17’s normal operating altitudes anywhere within P-40 range,

    5) The B-17 force at Clark Air field were pre B-17E models lacking
    tail guns and powered turret guns. Thus they were dead meat for
    Japanese A6M Zero/Zeke fighters with 20mm cannon on Formosa (See,

    6) There was no effective early warning system at Clark Field, as then
    Captain Chennault’s exercise tested as effective telephone radio &
    binocular equipped ground observer system was drummed out of the Army
    Air Service (along with his person) as a threat to the Heavy
    Bombardment clique’s B-17 budget.

    The B-17 force was sold as a high value “force in being” to the
    American high command and General Marshall in particular such that
    it made the force’s commitment without a clear high value target
    — like the expected Japanese invasion convoy — a non-starter,
    given a lack of clear targets on Formosa.

    The pattern of Axis versus Allied airpower in WW2 was that the two
    major Axis powers had made the transition to 1st Generation piston
    engine mono-plane fighters & bombers, and it took a year of these more
    advanced aircraft being in service before they could be used to best
    advantage in terms of proper logistics.

    Then it took further months of combat to get proper tactical doctrine
    for this new equipment.

    German had the Czech crisis, Spain and Poland to iron these things out
    before the main event in the Battle of France.

    Japan had the Sino-China War starting in 1937, plus major border
    incidents with Russia, before dropping down on the FEAF at Clark

    Clark field was too close to a modern, combat tested Japanese Air
    Force to survive and nothing Gen MacArthur did, or did not, do would
    have changed that outcome.

  9. I don’t contest your points but the actions of MacArthur are still puzzling. If he did order a raid and the events happened as you say, there is more excuse. That is a very different version of the story from what I have believed since 1946 when I read “Queens Die Proudly.” It’s interesting that Herman Wouk, in his novels about the war, uses the same story I have believed. Wouk did very intense research and was not constrained by any considerations of reputation, as can be seen in his devastating criticism of Halsey at Leyte Gulf.

    Both the Pacific War and the European theater were filled with errors by command. We got enough right to win but, as Wellington said, “It was a damned close run thing.” Closer than most realize given the lack of history in US education. Without McCluskey finding the Japanese at Midway and Hitler’s late sleeping on June 7, it might have gone the other way. Wade McCluskey should be in every US history book but very few know who he was.

  10. Michael,

    The B-17’s were billed a strategic force in being not to be committed lightly.

    MacArthur didn’t commit them lightly and got his head handed to him.

    In 20-20 hind sight, the best option after skipping on the dawn launch of Dec 8th would have been to disperse the B-17’s and many P-40’s to Mindinao for a try on Dec 9th.

    Had Mac dropped his B-17’s on Formosa Dec 8th and swarms of vengful A6M Zeros clawed them out of the sky on their return trip to Clark field. Which they could have, as they were both faster than B-17’s and had the range to trail them all the way to Clark Field. He would have been dinged for committing them before he knew what he was up against.

    Sometimes everything you do is wrong, including nothing.

    Such was the case for MacArthur on Dec 8th 1941.

  11. I have never been a fan of Mac Arthur. When I was about five (I don’t remember it) my mother’s family taught me to call him “Dugout Doug” and other epithets. I have often wondered who the model for the villainous general Massengale in “Once an Eagle” was. I have wondered if it was MacArthur or just a composite of officers that Myrer met in the Marines. David Hackworth told me that he knew many similar officers in Viet Nam. Sam Damon is supposed to have been based on Evans Carlson. One of my high school teachers had been in Carlson’s Raiders.

    The Dean of my medical school, who I knew quite well, had been MacArthur’s personal physician in WWII. He didn’t talk about him but MacArthur died of the complications of a hernia which hung to his knees. Eccentric to say the least.

  12. MacArthur was vain, publicity conscience but also a brilliant tactician. Wm Manchester wrote a book about him – ,American Caesar, in which he says that his causalities by island hopping – letting the Japanese die on the vine – at minimal US casualties – was brilliant.

    And while I am no military tactician I believe his landing at Inchon in Korea turned the tide in one brilliant move.

    And yet – he was very conscience of publicity – the famous photo of him coming ashore at Leyte was re shot at least once – to get it right.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if half the reason Truman fired him was the dueling between them for public support.

  13. I find it interesting that few people can — even now — be a fan of MacArthur’s accomplishments without being a partisan of the man.

    The best and shortest charactor study I have seen on “Big Mac” is from British liaison officer, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Wilkinson, who reported to Churchill that (Schaller 1989):

    “He is shrewd, selfish, proud, remote, highly strung and vastly vain. He has imagination, self-confidence, physical courage and charm, but no humor about himself, no regard for truth, and is unaware of these defects. He mistakes his emotions and ambitions for principles. With moral depth he would be a great man; as it is he is a near miss which may be worse than mile…. His main ambition would be to end the war as pan-American hero in the form of generalissimo of all Pacific theaters…. he hates Roosevelt and dislikes Winston’s control of Roosevelt’s strategy. He is not basically anti British, just pro-MacArthur.”

    MacArthur was all those things and a military genius to boot.

    When he was good, he was very, very good.

    When he was bad, that man was awful.

    He learned from his mistakes…but never admitted to them.

Comments are closed.