Morning light was just beginning to emerge over Manila Bay as Rear Admiral Francis Rockwell stood staring calmly at the brightening sky from his headquarters building near the Cavite Navy Yard. “They ought to be here any minute,” he told a subordinate.1 The grim-faced admiral was referring to the Japanese bombers he believed would be arriving. Only hours earlier his command had received an ominous message from his immediate superior, U.S. Asiatic Fleet commander Admiral Thomas Hart: “Japan started hostilities. Govern yourselves accordingly.”2
It was 8 December 1941. Nearly 5,100 miles to the east—across the International Date Line—Japanese naval and air forces had launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The 55-year-old Rockwell commanded the Sixteenth Naval District, a geographic area covering the Philippines that included an assortment of naval facilities and some local defense forces.
2. War Diary, Sixteenth Naval District, 8 December 1941, National Archives.
3. RADM F. W. Rockwell to CinC, U.S. Fleet, “Narrative of Naval Activities in Luzon Area, December 1, 1941 to March 9, 1942,” 1 August 1942, 3, National Archives.
4. Clayton Chun and Howard Gerrard, The Fall of the Philippines 1941–42 (Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2012), 38–39.
5. Samuel Eliot Morison, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, vol. 3, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2001), 171.
6. War Diary, Sixteenth Naval District, 10 December 1941.
7. John Gordon, Fighting for MacArthur: The Navy and Marine Corps’ Desperate Defense of the Philippines (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011), 55.
8. H. F. Wilkins, “Admiral at Cavite Narrowly Escapes Bomb; Filipino at His Side in Shelter Ditch is Killed,” The New York Times, 15 December 1941.
9. John Toland, But Not in Shame: The Six Months after Pearl Harbor (New York: Random House, 1961), 68.
10. “Seadragon” in Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/s/seadragon-i.html, 1.
11. “Bittern” in Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/b/bittern-i.html, 1.
12. Morison, Rising Sun, 172.
13. Bill Sloan, Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), 43.
14. White, Expendable, 19.
15. Michael J. Miller, “From Shanghai to Corregidor: Marines in the Defense of the Philippines,” www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/npswapa/extcontent/usmc/pcn-190-003140-00/sec5.htm, 1.