Marine Detachment, Air Warning Service
The 1st Separate Marine Battalion at Cavite provided
antiaircraft and ground protection for all naval activities there. It
manned three 3-inch, .50- caliber batteries; one 3-inch, .23-caliber
battery; and two .50-caliber machine gun batteries. When necessary,
enough men could be mustered to provide infantry protection for the Navy
Yard, the Naval Air Station and Hospital on Sangley Point and the Naval
Air Base at Los Banos.
What is not commonly known, for great secrecy appears
to have surrounded the matter, is that the battalion's communications
unit had equipment with the capability to intercept aircraft by "radio
detection." Its acronym, "radar," would not be freely spoken of in
military circles until early in 1943.
Marine Lieutenant Colonel Howard L. Davis, at that
time a captain and battalion communications officer, stated in 1956 that
three radar sets had been received at Cavite in November 1941. Two were
SCR-268s, short-range sets designed to be electronically coupled to Mark
IV fire control directors and thence to searchlight batteries and
antiaircraft batteries for effectively controlled fire on enemy
aircraft. Unfortunately, the battalion had no fire control directors.
These sets were subsequently used for training additional personnel at
The third set, a long-range mobile SCR-270B, was
designed for early air warning, capable of computing distance and
azimuth, but not altitude, of aircraft. It had been planned to connect
the detachment by a radio network to the Army Air Corps Air Warning
Service facility at Nichols Field. Its detachment was made up of a few
trained technicians and a majority of security and service personnel.
Warrant Officer John T. Brainard, who arrived in Cavite in mid-November
1941, commanded the detachment. Master Technical Sergeant Clarence L.
Bjork, an electronics expert, had reported for duty only two months
Private First Class Irvin C. Scott, Jr., one of six
enlisted Marines chosen from the 1st and 2d Defense Battalions in San
Diego to attend a formal course in radar at the U.S. Army's Signal Corps
School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in 1940 and 1941, was the
detachment's lone trained oscilloscope operator. However, in a short
time he had partially trained two other Marines to spell him in coming
months in the closed and secluded operator's van.
The unit's comings and goings within a guarded
enclosure next to Cavite's quartermaster supply at the Marine Barracks
were a mystery to its fellow Marines. On 4 December, Gunner Brainard
moved his 36-man detachment and one Navy corpsman into the field,
borrowing trucks and tractors from a Philippine Army unit to tow heavy
power and scope vans and one antenna trailer to Wawa Beach near Nasugbu
in Batangas Province, about 100 miles south of Cavite. Here, the
detachment was placed under the direction of then-Colonel Harold H.
George, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanding the V Interceptor Command, U.S.
Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), for training and to augment the
aircraft warning network covering Luzon. The unit remained in place
following the news that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, technical
personnel maintaining a 24-hour watch over Manila Bay and the nearby
China Sea. At mid-morning, 10 December 1941, Scott picked up on his
screen an elongated blip unlike anything witnessed in recent training.
Continual tracking brought about the startled realization that he had
spotted a massive airplane formation at approximately 120 miles to the
southwest, approaching Manila Bay.
Attempts to raise the Sangley Point towers on the
radio were futile. When the duty radioman did succeed in reaching Army
Radio on Corregidor, operators there, having never heard of radar,
exasperatingly refused to acknowledge the transmission or to pass the
sighting on to higher headquarters. Cavite was subsequently bombed into
near rubble by succeeding waves of 54 Japanese bombers. Marine
antiaircraft fire was for the most part ineffective, for the aircraft
were beyond its range. More than 400 Marines, sailors and Filipino
workmen were killed or wounded. The effectiveness of Cavite as a
provider of support to the U.S. Fleet was brought to an end.
Realizing that the position on Wawa Beach was now
insecure, Brainard moved his radar inland several miles, near a sugar
cane refinery taking advantage of adjacent natural jungle cover to
camouflage his vehicles and equipment. His caution was rewarded, for
several nights later some of his security riflemen who kept a vigil on
the beach surprised a seaborne Japanese scouting party looking for the
radar emplacement there.
This sole Marine long-range radar became even more
precious, for on the opening day of the war in the Philippines, an
identical Army unit at Iba Field, on the west coast of Luzon, was bombed
out of existence. An Army emplacement at Aparri met the same fate, and
another north of Legaspi was destroyed to keep it from falling into the
hands of Japanese who landed there. Shortly there after, Colonel George
sent three surviving soldiers from one of those units to join the Marine
Meanwhile, few activities continued at Cavite. The
Naval Hospital moved to Manila, submarines and supply ships departed,
and surviving Marines established bivouacs in the barrio outside the
base and at the radio station on Sangley Point. However, these were also
destroyed in bombings of 19 and 20 December. The 1st Separate Marine
Battalion moved to Mariveles on the tip of Bataan and on to Corregidor
on 26 December, where on 1 January 1942 it was redesignated 3d
Battalion, 4th Marines.
Finding itself virtually isolated from allied
organization, and in danger of being cut off by Japanese forces
advancing on Manila from the southeast, the detachment evacuated its
lonely site on Colonel George's orders the day before Christmas. Despite
having found only balky and antiquated alcohol-burning Filipino trucks,
Brainard succeeded in extracting his secret cargo from the jungle in
separate convoys past a nearly abandoned Cavite. The unit paused in
Manila, now aflame and declared an open city only to collect what extra
supplies it could find. Two convoys were reunited in the courtyard haven
of a Catholic church on the outskirts of San Fernando on Christmas Eve.
Christmas dinner consisted of hardtack, cheese spread, and Ovaltine, the
missing trucks containing the regular rations.
On the following day the power and scope vans joined
the detachment at Orani, upper Bataan Peninsula, along side Manila Bay
Brainard selected a well-camouflaged site in a mango grove at KM
(kilometer) 148.5 between Orion and Limay and began operations. In the
31 days since the war began, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress fleet had
been partially destroyed, and the number of operational Curtiss P-40
Warhawk fighters was reduced to twelve. The Japanese had air superiority
Allied antiaircraft capability was desultory. The mission of the Marine
Air Warning Detachment was changed from defensive to offensive. Allied
aircraft sorties were carefully tracked, and any other blip on the radar
screen was considered an enemy U.S. pilots were advised and forewarned
by radio to elude these enemy aircraft and their antiaircraft
The vagaries of war had orphaned the detachment.
Although its personnel had been assigned to Headquarters Company of the
1st Separate Marine Battalion, that organization on Corregidor was now
unable to render support. Army and Army Air Corps quartermasters were
reluctant to logistically help them, and the Navy refused to supply a
Warrant Officer Brainard therefore directed select
Marines to "reconnoiter," or to scrounge for food, fuel, and other
supplies the length of the peninsula. Their ingenuity was a wonder. In
fact, chits signed by Brainard were issued to non-technical support
troops to cover their far-ranging activities, as well as for several men
to accompany Army tankers to the front lines as "observers." However,
three men were later court-martialed for plundering a foreign vessel
disabled offshore but not completely abandoned. Five men joined Army
Captain Arthur "One Man Army" Wermuth's Filipino Scouts for night raids
on Japanese positions, but Brainard put a stop to this after one Marine
was killed and two wounded. These and other bold forays earned the
Marine Air Warning Detachment the sobriquet "The Rogues of Bataan." As a
result, the Marine command on Corregidor sent First Lieutenant Lester A.
Schade, Company L, 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, to Bataan on 17 January to
relieve Brainard in command. Strictness reigned for a few days, until
necessity brought back the need to acquire supplies. Brainard stayed on
in a technical capacity
By the end of January Japanese advances in the II
Army Corps area on the eastern half of Bataan placed the site of the
detachment in jeopardy. Shells of 240mm artillery had straddled their
position, and spotter aircraft were getting too close for comfort. They
prepared to move again.
Newly promoted Brigadier General George and his
remaining pilots were flying mostly nocturnal missions with their P-40's
from the newly prepared Bataan and Cabcaben Fields just east of the
barrio of Cabcaben. Brainard chose an elevated site near the flyers'
bivouac, on the northwestern edge of Bataan Field. They began operations
there on 3 February continuing the mission of informing American pilots
when possible of encroaching enemy aircraft.
In January 1992, Scott, a retired geologist now
living in Richmond, Virginia, stated that one night in mid-March 1942 he
was experimenting with the possibility of picking up surface traffic on
Manila Bay and succeeded in following three American gunboats on patrol
out of Corregidor. General George was elated and wanted to know if he
could do it again. A few nights later he had the satisfaction of
tracking a flotilla of small enemy vessels in the bay. Under cover of
darkness and spewing a smokescreen, the Japanese were attempting an
amphibious landing behind American lines. Scott detected them well out
from the shoreline, and his prompt radio alert enabled pilots, Army
artillery in the vicinity and the Navy's gunboats to repulse the enemy.
No landing was effected.
A massive Good Friday assault by the Japanese coupled
with a general collapse of American and Filipino lines due to high
casualties, battle fatigue, epidemic disease, and short rations,
resulted in the final evacuation of the Marine radar unit. Orders
received on 8 April directed them to get their equipment and troops to
the docks at Mariveles for transfer to Corregidor. However, on reaching
the cut-off road from the East to West Road and within sight of their
destination, several factors brought about their disintegration. First,
a tremendous earthquake rocked the entire peninsula, followed by the
Navy and Army blowing up ships, ammunition, fuel, and other supplies
stored in tunnels and in the open. Japanese bombers contributed to the
confusion, bombing and strafing service facilities and hospitals, as
well as a mass of equipment and humanity streaming toward the port on
all roads and trails.
Finding their path effectively blocked and the last
of the major vessels capable of transporting their radar, men, and
equipment already departed, Brainard directed that the power, scope, and
antenna carriers be properly primed, charges placed, and set afire.
Other organizational vehicles were backed over a cliff onto rocks and
Pandemonium reigned. Lieutenant Schade released the
men from the unit, each to seek his own means of escape. Four men had
been transferred to Corregidor on 4 April. An additional five, some
together and the others singly made their precarious ways to "The Rock,"
where they joined the 4th Marines. A few, including Scott, could neither
escape northward, nor find the means to cross the channel. They were
gathered together at the shore by an Air Corps lieutenant who led them
to an assembly area, fed them, and promised that a boat was to be sent
from Corregidor. After destroying their small arms, they found to their
dismay that the lieutenant was acting under orders to surrender them to
the enemy. The following morning, the Japanese marched in and prepared
them for what was later to be notorious as the "Bataan Death March."
Richard A. Long