|Manila as a Logistics Center
|by Lieutenant Colonel John W. Whitman, USA
For a brief period
after Japan attacked the United States in World War II,
Manila served as the center for American logistics in the
As part of their attack on the United States in December 1941,
the Japanese attacked U.S. Forces in the Philippines only hours
after their attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. When the attack
on the Philippines occurred on 8 December, General Douglas
MacArthur’s Philippine Army was in the early stages of
mobilization. MacArthur was trying to create an army from U.S.
troops, native Regular U.S. Army Philippine scouts, recent
Philippine Army draftees, and Philippine Constabulary policemen.
[The Philippine Constabulary was a Philippine national police
force that was organized by the United States in 1901. It became
the backbone of the Philippine Regular Army under General MacArthur.]
Although the United States was busy shipping equipment and
supplies for the Army to the Philippines, planners estimated
that it would take another 4 to 5 months to meet minimum requirements.
Eighty thousand Soldiers on Luzon, the largest and most populous
Philippine island, needed supplies. Without adequate supplies
from the United States, MacArthur’s U.S. Army Forces
in the Far East (USAFFE) had to draw its supplies from those
available on Luzon.
After the attack on the Philippines, the port area in Manila
had no serious bomb damage and was fully functional. Manila
had large docks that the United States had been using to unload
its military supplies. Manila became the center of American
logistics. Luzon’s government, business, finance, maritime
shipping, and wire and radio communications were centered in
Manila. Luzon had the finest transportation network in the
Far East and Pacific outside of Japan. When war began, Manila
started exercising its primacy as the largest commercial storage
center in the islands.
Soldiers conduct training before the attack by Japan.
Before Japan attacked, the War Department already had lifted
all financial restrictions on the Army’s local purchase
authority. Almost all of the advance depots’ supplies
flowed from the Manila Quartermaster Depot, except for perishable
food, rice, sugar, and coffee, which Army officers in the
field purchased locally
as needed. Starting on
8 December, 35 trainloads of supplies
were shipped to the depots at Tarlac in northern Luzon; Los
Baños, south of Manila; and Guagua, northeast of Bataan.
Simultaneously, the Quartermaster Depot began procuring large
stocks of polished
The military soon was making so many purchases that civilian
businesses nearly stopped serving the Filipino populace. In
the most blatant cases, the requisitioning of property trended
toward outright theft. American officers’ actions were
so arbitrary and technically illegal that, had it been peacetime,
they would have spent the rest of their lives justifying their
actions. Commander Harry H. Keith was acting as the Navy’s
fleet maintenance officer while he recuperated from the bombing
of his destroyer, the USS Peary. “You just walked into
a store,” he wrote to his wife, “took what you
wanted, and walked out. If you had time, you signed a receipt
and if not, you tried to remember to send one the next day.
My name is signed to thousands of dollars [worth] of paper
all over Manila.”
The USAFFE Finance Office put its peacetime regulations in a
bottom drawer and never looked at them again. They approved claims
if they were arithmetically correct and had some kind of proof
that the supplies had been delivered, dispersing cash for the
supplies received. Vendors delivering supplies appeared with
hand-written receipts that were signed by just about anybody.
USAFFE also hired temporary labor as needed and paid them in
cash at the end of each shift. Finance officers developed shortcuts
to help fund the Philippine Army. These solutions and casual
bookkeeping practices would have made a pre-war auditor scream.
Quartermaster officers boarded ships in Manila Bay, examined
their manifests, and brought the vessels carrying militarily
useful supplies and equipment to the docks. The ships could discharge
cargo only during daylight hours. Nightly blackouts prevented
unloading, so the ships would leave the docks and anchor in the
bay each evening. These blackouts were actually more harmful
than helpful. The Japanese seldom flew at night, and blackouts
slowed land convoys carrying needed materiel to the troops. An
exception to this restriction would have permitted cargo to be
discharged at night, which would have sped cargo deliveries.
destruction were left in the wake of the Japanese
bombing of the Cavite Navy Yard on 10 December 1941.
The Maréchal Joffre
The Vichy French ship, Maréchal Joffre, posed its own
problem. Its skipper had reported that, although fully fueled
and manned, the ship could not sail. Dissension between crewmen
supporting the Vichy government sympathetic to Nazi Germany and
crewmen supporting the Free French forces led by General Charles
de Gaulle had immobilized the ship. The Americans decided to
send an armed boarding party to seize the ship and sail it to
Australia. The Americans were uncertain as to how the French
might react. Would they need cutlasses and pikes to board the
ship? Would the French resist? A Navy lieutenant, armed with
a sword, a pistol, and a carbine, led his men aboard. The French
were calm and offered no fight. The ship’s captain strode
up, smiled, and welcomed the Americans with an accented “Allo.”
The Americans had each man choose either Vichy or de Gaulle.
Vichy men stepped to the port side and went ashore into internment.
The 63 de Gaulle supporters assembled starboard. A Navy lieutenant
gathered 100 American naval air ground crewmen and aviators and
raised anchor late on 18 December. They sailed the ship through
Japanese waters to Australia, where the Maréchal Joffre
was renamed the USS Rochambeau.
Use of the City
Manila’s dock area was chaotic as the city prepared for
war. The Army had taken over all of Manila’s piers for
military use. The piers were jammed with pre-war goods that commercial
brokers had not hauled away and with stocks of food that Armour
and Company, Swift and Company, and Libby, McNeill, and Libby
had agreed to turn over to the military. In addition, the piers
were swamped with priority discharges. Vehicles and manpower
to clear the piers were irregular and insufficient to do the
The city hummed with military activity. Inter-island freighters
filled the mouth of the Pasig River. Truck convoys with American
Soldiers in khakis and Filipino recruits
in blue dungarees rushed through Manila. Many buildings and institutions
were used to house military activities. MacArthur’s headquarters
was there, and the Navy had offices at the Marsman Building on
the waterfront. U.S. Army engineers moved into the University
of the Philippines. Finance offices occupied the Villamor Hall
College of Liberal Arts, a two-story, reinforced concrete building
that was the Taft Avenue campus of the University of the Philippines.
The Quartermaster Corps took over Santo Tomas University and
San Beda College. USAFFE’s press relations section moved
into the monastery and school of the Order of the Virgin Mary.
The Office of the Superintendent, Army Transport Service, moved
into the Custom House opposite Pier 5.
The military coordinated with local oil companies to control
the distribution of approximately 10 million gallons of commercial
gasoline that were in storage. The oil companies agreed to open
their distribution centers at six sites. Those sites then serviced
30 issue points along the major highways. Each center could handle
from 75,000 to 100,000 gallons a day. The oil companies ran rail
tank cars out of Manila to replenish these centers.
Although most supplies for the Regular U.S. Army establishment
had arrived before the war, supplies for the Philippine Army
had not. Expected first in late October and then in late November,
the convoy carrying quartermaster supplies was diverted to Australia
after 8 December. The supplies and equipment requisitioned for
the Philippine Army never did arrive. The Filipinos would go
into battle with whatever they had been issued from local U.S.
Army stocks or could be purchased from the local economy.
To remedy that shortfall, USAFFE purchased or contracted for
what it needed. The Quartermaster Corps bought all the new cars
and trucks it could find, directly from salesrooms and warehouses.
Purchasing agents also bought all the second-hand vehicles they
could find. USAFFE acquired title to several complete commercial
motor transport companies. The cooperation of the vehicle dealers
was all that could be desired. Automotive companies in Manila
used their maintenance shops to service military vehicles. The
Army turned the grounds of Santo Tomas University into a motor
USAFFE took control of the various truck and bus companies on
the first day of war. USAFFE froze sale of all vehicles, parts,
and accessories without military clearance. The Army placed Soldiers
and its own civilians in all shops to ensure that nothing was
sold without Army permission. Bus companies stopped servicing
the civilian community and placed all their fuel, repair parts,
and vehicles at the disposal of the military. Without the support
of the civilian transportation system and its employees, MacArthur’s
army would have been nearly immobile.
burns on 7 December 1941 after the Japanese attack.
The Signal Corps purchased all available photographic, communications,
and radio gear. It took over the Manila Long Distance Telephone
Company and made its president a lieutenant colonel. The Army
leased the Mackay Radio high-speed, machine-operated radio channel
between Manila and San Francisco and staffed it with Signal Corps
Medical personnel swept through medical stores and surgical supply
houses and bought or signed for enormous quantities of medicine,
surgical instruments, and bedding. They used equipment from one
of the two general hospital sets received from the United States
to establish new hospitals at Santa Escolastica College, Rizal
Stadium, the Women’s Normal School, La Salle College, Holy
Cross, and the Philippine Women’s University. Doctors prepared
to treat as many as 10,000 casualties.
Rizal Stadium became a medical supply depot. The chrome, steel,
and glass jai alai building became a hospital. Its Keg Room served
as an x-ray room and operating pavilion. Workers stuffed the
once plush, red-carpeted, air-conditioned ballroom with cots
for doctors and staff. The cavernous courts became wards with
hundreds of metal-framed beds. The building was poorly suited
to provide medical care, so extensive work was required to turn
it into a hospital. Only one patient was ever treated there—a
Soldier who fell off a truck outside the hospital and dislocated
For 2 weeks, Manila pulsed with logistics activity, but it was
all for naught. The Japanese landed at Lingayen Gulf on 22 December
and swept aside the Philippine Army troops. MacArthur decided
to withdraw into Bataan, leaving Manila unprotected. After the
decision was made to move, the Army’s effort was focused
on getting as much as possible out of the city and over to Bataan
before the Japanese arrived. Even though Manila served as a logistics
base for less than a month, it had served the U.S. Army well.
Lieutenant Colonel John W. Whitman, USA (Ret.),
is the author of Bataan: Our Last Ditch, The Bataan Campaign,
1942. He has a bachelor's degree from San Jose State College
and a master of military art and science degree from the Army
Command and General Staff College, holds a secondary Army speciality
of historian, and is an Advanced Research Project Associate
of the Army Military History Institute.