The Japanese struck Pearl Harbor on Sunday, 7 Dec, Hawaii time, but due to the vast distances involved and the international dateline, the strike occurred on Monday 8 Dec local time in Tokyo and across the Western and Southern Pacific Ocean. The Japanese did not actually begin their war with the Western Allies with the raid on Hawaii. It began with landings in Malaya and Thailand that occurred about 90 minutes before Fuchida dropped the first torpedo into the USS Nevada.
Just after midnight on 8 December (local time), assault units of LieutGen Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 25th Army landed in Thailand and Malaya. (We will hear his name again) The Royal Thai Army gave a good account of itself (they killed more Japanese than America did on that day), but was eventually overwhelmed. Further south, bombers attacked the naval base at Singapore, and more assault units landed outside Koto Barhu in Malaya. British and Indian units stubbornly defended and counterattacked, and the battle on the beaches gave a rare glimpse of what the US amphibious forces would face in the future. But with Royal Navy nowhere in sight, and the RAF hopelessly outmatched and outnumbered, the Japanese invasion fleet landed more troops with impunity. When evening came and a fog rolled in, the fighting died down; the Japanese reinforced the small beachhead. All of the Japanese were veterans of the war in China, and had developed sophisticated night fighting techniques, and more importantly a willingness to use them (especially given the complete lack of portable night vision, a technology that wouldn’t invented for another 15 years). As the Brits and Indians remained in their positions, the Japanese infiltrated. When the sun came up, the Japanese swarmed them. It was a cycle that would repeat itself for the next few weeks.
Further north, Gen MacArthur in Manila was informed of the attack on Pearl Harbor as it was happening at 0230 local time on 8 December. He met with the Philippine president, but didn’t tell anyone outside of his chief of staff and small inner circle. He most definitely didn’t order his troops on alert. About 1000 he ordered his bombers to prepare for a strike on Japanese airstrips on Formosa (Taiwan). However, before they could launch the Japanese struck an undefended Clark Field at noon – nearly nine hours after MacArthur was informed of the attack on Hawaii. The Japanese nearly wiped out the entire American Far Eastern Air Force in a single blow. The only reason MacArthur wasn’t fired in disgrace like Adm Kimmel and MG Short at Pearl Harbor was anyone would could testify against him was dead or captured by the Japanese by the time the inquiries began. North of Luzon, the advanced elements of LieutGen Masaharu Homma’s 14th Army landed on Bataan Island (not to be confused with the Bataan Peninsula) to establish a forward base before landing on Luzon proper.
In other areas of the Pacific the Japanese attacked smaller isolated Allied bases. In China, they overran the international quarter at Shanghai, and forced their way into Hong Kong. Two destroyers caused heavy damage to the small base on the island of Midway. A landing force from Saipan captured Guam, and bombers from the Marshall Islands struck Wake Island, virtually wiping out the fighter squadron that Adm Halsey took such pains to deliver days before.
Adm Yamaoto told the Prime Minister Hidejki Tojo that, “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” He was off to a good start.
Clark Airfield, 8 Dec 1941
Sketch of the Invasion of Thailand and Malaya
Wake Island, 8 Dec 1941