Defenders of the Philippines

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Early American Planes

Gillett aside a P-26 plane


Lt.  Lamar Gillett standing next to P-26 Plane.  At age 20 he joined the Army Air Corps and was the youngest fighter pilot in the Philippines when WWII started.  Read his story. 


The Boeing P-26, produced in 1934, was the first monoplane fighter adopted by the U.S. Army Corps.  The plane serviced the front lines in the Panama Canal and Hawaii.  In 1936 China bought 11 planes and used them against the Japanese.  The Philippines also had purchased some of the planes and these took part in the defense of the islands in early military operations in the Pacific.  The first P26s-P26A received the nickname “Peashooter.”  A more powerful engine was put in the P26B and they also revised some of the earlier models to be brought up to the newer standards.  The armaments for the guns included two machine guns with a 200-pound bomb load.  The P-26 planes served as the backbone in the Philippines until P-35 planes arrived.  The planes were transferred to the Philippine Air Corps in 1941, and their pilots shot several Japanese planes down while defending their homeland.  Source:  Complete Book of World War II Combat Aircraft by Enzo Angelluci and Paolo Matricardi


 Don Berlin designed the P-40 in an effort to make the Curtiss Corporation the top fighter aircraft producer.  In May 1939, the P-40 proved successful in a U.S. Army Pursuit Contest staged at Wright Field, and the Curtiss Corporation received the largest production order at the time for a US fighter, totaling 13 million dollars.  The first production series P-40 took to the air on April 4, 1940.

The P-40 project improved on features from previous planes, such as the airframe of the P-36A and its engine, which was upgraded to an Allison V-1710-12-Cylinder liquid-cooled-engine.    The P-40 design was unusual in having a fully retractable tail wheel.  Almost 200 P-40s were built in 1939-40 for the USAAF.  France and Britain bought many more at the time. 

 The P-40 went through several model improvements.  Over 16,000 planes were built through 1944.  The P-40s engaged the Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

 According to Freeman Westel in “Last Ditch on Luzon” in Air Classics magazine, on Dec. 8, 1941 there were 20 P-40s on the ground at Clark Field in the Philippines, 19 at Nichols field and 18 at Iba.  When the Japanese flew over Clark Field they saw rows of unpainted B-17s and P-40s, making for an easy target.  Three of the P-40s were able to take to the air at Clark, but after three attacks by the Japanese all the Clark P-40s were destroyed.  When the Japanese struck at Iba, six of their P-40s were returning to their base.  Only one pilot escaped; the others were shot down.  By .  The P-40s would disappear to only one by March 1942 when Ed Dyess, another famous pilot subject of "Last Ditch on Luzon," was begging for more planes.

Likewise, Alfred Littlefield Smith related in an interview for U.S. Navy Medicine entitled "Guest of the Emperor" that one sailor on Corregidor wrote a letter saying, "Dear Mr. President [Roosevelt], Please send us another P-40. The one we've got is all worn out."

For a detailed list of the P-40s' demise throughout the Philippines, see Eugene Souberman’s Philippine Air Diary.

John Koot's (ADBC Commander) biography contains information about his friendship with Lt. Boyd Wagner  who flew  P-40s and became the first flying ace of WWII by shooting down five Japanese planes. 

More about P-40s


Seversky P-35 and P35A (Company renamed to Republic Aircraft Corporation for the P-35A)

 Seversky Aircraft Corporation built 77 aircraft for the US Army Air Corps and then started on 120 planes that Sweden requisitioned.  When war started the Americans asked for half the order of planes designated for Sweden to be sent to equip fighter areas. 

 The Seversky P-35 was the only plane that bore the American insignia when the war broke out in the Pacific.  Unfortunately, the planes suffered a quick demise. Of the 48 planes in the Philippines, only eight were still operating after the first two days of attacks from the Japanese.

 Alexander Kartvell designed the plane; he later gained fame with the P-47 Thunderbolt. His plans began in 35 with the SEV-2XP.  After an accident with that model, changes were made and retractable landing gear was fit in a single-seat cockpit with an 850 HP Wright HR1820 G-5 Cyclone Radial engine.  Because that engine did not perform satisfactorily the company upgraded it to a Pratt & Whitney R-1820-9 Twin Wasp.  The planes were produced in July 1937, with deliveries beginning in spring of 1938.  The Seversky Company reorganized and took a Republic Aircraft Corporation. They added horsepower to the engine for the Swedish to 1050 and doubled the armanent and called this plane the P-35A.  These planes began shipment to Sweden in February 1940, but the US asked for sixty planes and these were the planes that went to the Philippines and that had a short life span there. 

Source:  Complete Book of World War II Combat Aircraft by Enzo Angelluci and Paolo Matricardi

Douglas B-18 plane


 Douglas B-18

The Douglas started out at the Douglas Bomber #1.  It was in contention with the Boeing Model 199 and the Martin Model 146.  The U.S. Army General Staff chose the plane because of its cost.  In 1936 they ordered 99 B-18s. They next year they added 35 more.  They made modifications on the plane as a B-18A and 217 of these were ordered in 1937 and 1939.

The Armament on the B-18 was three .30 caliber machine guns and 4, 400 lbs. of bombs.  The engines consisted of two Wright R-1820-45 radials of 930 hp each.   The plane could cruise at a speed of 167 miles per hour.  

This information is from the National Museum of The US Air Force

0-52 s plane
In 1940 the U.S. Army Air Corps ordered 203 Curtiss O-52s for observation duties -- signified by the designation "O" -- and used them for military maneuvers within the continental United States. Upon America's entry into World War II, however, the U.S. Army Air Forces realized that the airplane lacked the performance necessary for combat operations overseas. As a result, the Army relegated the O-52 to stateside courier duties and short-range submarine patrols off the coasts of the United States.

The O-52 was the last "O" type airplane procured in quantity for the Army. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Forces cancelled the "O" designation and adopted "L" for the liaison type airplanes that replaced it.

The Armanent on the O-52 was one forward and one rearward firing .30 cal machine gun.  The engine was a Pratt & Whitney R-1340-51 of 600 horsepower with a maximum speed of 215 miles per hour and cruising speed of 169 miles per hour.

This information is from the National Museum of the US Air Force

Cecil Forinash, former POW makes the following comment about the O-52 and O-46 planes.

"During the summer of 1941, the Second Observation Squadron received O-52 observation planes but they seemed to be underpowered and the pilots and observers preferred the O-46’s to the O-52’s.  I was told that the planes were built for Sweden and the Swedish government had rejected the airplanes."

O-19 plane   
0-19 Plane   

B-17 plane

B-17 (Boeing)

In 1934, Boeing began Project 299 to make a multiengine bomber against a “hypothetical” invader.  The bomb load desired was slightly over a ton, with a speed of between 200 and 250 miles per hour.  They deviated from the standard practice of the two engine designs of the time, and made a large low-wing four engine aircraft.  In its initial evaluation the aircraft covered 2,110 miles in nine hours, and 13 pre-series aircraft were ordered.  These began flying in December 2, 1936.  The tests on these aircraft proved so successful that they began further production.  In 1938, thirty-nine planes were produced (B-17B) and the following year the designers created more powerful engines and 38 (B-17C) planes were made.  In 1940, the company produced 42 B-17Ds.  The last two versions saw combat duty first in England and immediately after Pearl Harbor with the Americans.  “On December 10, 1941, the aircraft survived the Japanese attack had the honor of carrying out the first American offensive attack of the conflict against Japanese shipping.”

 In 1941 redesigns changed the rear section of the plane to add stability and to put a defensive gun in the tail.  They then increased the armament with the addition of two turrets, and 12.7 mm machine guns.  The Boeing Co. greatly jacked up the number of planes produced to 512 B17Es and then added armament and pushed out 3400 B17Fs.  With the progression of the war the total number of planes assembled was 8, 685 planes.

 Source: Complete Book of World War II Combat Aircraft by Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, and Pierluigi Pinto.

B-10 Plane

The B-10, the first "modern" all-metal monoplane bomber produced in quantity, featured such innovations as retractable landing gear, a rotating gun turret and enclosed cockpits. Powered by two 775-hp Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines, Martin's advanced design made the B-10 50 percent faster than contemporary biplane bombers and as fast as most of the fighters. This capability convinced many U.S. Army Air Corps planners that bombers could successfully attack strategic targets without long-range fighter escort.

In the largest procurement of bomber aircraft since World War I, the Air Corps ordered 121 B-10s from 1933-1936. The Air Corps also ordered an additional 32 of these aircraft with 700-hp with Pratt & Whitney R-1690 Hornet engines and designated them B-12s.

Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, who called the B-10 "the air power wonder of its day," led 10 B-10s on a 8,290-mile flight from Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back in 1934. By the late 1930s,  B-17s and B-18s had replaced the Air Corps' B-10s and B-12s, but the Chinese and Dutch air forces flew export versions in combat against Japan at the start of World War II.

The armament on the B-10 was three .30-cal. machine guns and 2,200 lbs. of bombs and it could hold a crew of four.
Its maximum speed was 215 mph and it cruised at 183 miles per hour.  Its range was 1, 370 miles The plane was 44 ft. and 9 inches long and 15 feet and 5 inches long.  It weighed 14,700 lbs. loaded.

This information is from the National Museum of the US Air Force.

In summation, the Americans lacked the tools and preparedness for an air war and the number of fighter planes and bombers reflected their deficiencies and inability to wage a proper defense.