It was March 17, 1942. Far across the Philippine Islands archipelago from Bataan, General Douglas MacArthur boarded a 19th Bomb Group B-17 Flying Fortress at Del Monte Airfield, Mindanao.
Arriving at Del Monte near midnight on March 16 after a 1,425 nautical mile flight from Batchelor Field, Australia, 1st Lt Frank P. Bostrom, the senior pilot of the B-17E “San Antonio Rose II” (S/N 41-2447), had eight cups of coffee before the return flight with the general to Australia.
Not long after midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, Bostrom’s B-17 taxied out for takeoff, General MacArthur sitting in the radio operator’s seat in the middle of his aircraft. Accompanied by another B-17 carrying members of MacArthur’s staff, and with runway lights provided by two flares, the two overloaded bombers took off on a five hour flight for Darwin, Australia, where MacArthur intended to rally forces for a return to the Philippines.
They managed to avoid enemy forces all the way up until their approach to Darwin, when they learned it was under attack by Japanese aircraft, they diverted over to Batchelor Field, some 50 miles away, landing there at about 0900 local time. Wishing to continue the journey to eastern Australia, the passengers from the B-17s boarded two Australian National Airways DC-3 airliners. One report suggested the aircraft made a “rather bumpy and dramatic departure” after a Japanese air raid warning, though the field was not bombed. Reaching Alice Springs later on March 18, the general had his staff continue on the aircraft while he took a train with his family 1,028 miles to Adelaide and on to other points.
MacArthur arrived in Australia expecting a large army awaiting his leadership. But when he was informed that there were only 32,000 US, Australian troops in Australia, and less than 100 aircraft (and only a few modern types), he reportedly whispered “God have mercy on us.” One report says it was his greatest shock of the whole war.
Back on Bataan, MacArthur’s departure resulted in the Luzon Force commander, Major General Wainwright, taking command of the U.S. Forces in the Philippines (USFIP) a new command, which included Army and Navy elements. He pinned on a third star and moved to Corregidor to assume his new command early on March 21. Wainwright selected Major General Edward P. King, Jr. to succeed his as Luzon Force commander.
Meanwhile, the health of the defenders of Bataan, Philippine Army, Americans and Philippine Scouts alike, gradually deteriorated due to the meager rations, disease and limited medicines.
On March 14, an aide to General King noted that doctors indicated “that our combat efficiency is a little below 45 percent.” On St. Patrick’s Day, 1942, it was a difficult situation all around.
“General Douglas MacArthur in Australia during WW2,” at http://www.ozatwar.com/macarthur.htm
Morton, Louis, “The Fall of the Philippines,” Center of Military History, US Army, Washington D.C., 1993, at: http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/005/5-2-1/CMH_Pub_5-2-1.pdf