We can still listen to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he delivers his famous speech on this day in 1941.
We can still listen to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he delivers his famous speech on this day in 1941.
We sell art prints as well as books! These limited edition 38th Bomb Group prints by Steve Ferguson depict one moment in each squadron’s history. Each print has been numbered and signed by some of the 38th Bomb Group veterans. … Continue reading
In January 1945, the 312th was flying missions over Japanese territory on Luzon. As the pilots flew around looking for targets, they would sometimes come across haystacks in the middle of fields. These haystacks looked perfectly until harmless until flames erupted from the antiaircraft guns camouflaged by these haystacks. One pilot reported the Japanese positioning antiaircraft gunners in church bell towers as well. The Japanese would also camouflage their machine guns and other materials in hopes of catching the Allied pilots by surprise.
On the 10th, the 312th was out on one of these patrols, specifically bombing highways and railroads north of Manila. At one point, the 388th Squadron was flying near Gerona and picked out a train to attack. On the first pass, pilots had noticed huts and haystacks in the fields. The second time the A-20s appeared over the fields, the haystacks were gone and machine and antiaircraft guns had taken their place. The A-20 flown by 2/Lt. Wickcliff M. Waltmire got caught in the gunfire, crashed, and exploded, killing him and his gunner, Capt. Franklyn D. Rosenburg . Sadly, Waltmire had received a letter from his wife the previous day saying he was the father of a baby boy.
Waltmire’s A-20 was not the only one hit by the antiaircraft fire that day, though he and Rosenburg were the only ones killed. First Lieutenant Everett L. Almon’s A-20 was hit by flack that damaged the hydraulic system, leaving him unable to lower his landing gear. Almon was able to crash-land back at Tanauan without injuring himself or his gunner. The plane, on the other hand, was a total loss.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 marked the official end of hostilities between Germany and the Allies. This was, as you know, supposed to be the “war to end all wars.” With that sentiment still fresh in the minds of everyone a year later, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11th as Armistice Day by saying, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”
Unfortunately, the peace didn’t last and the world was back at war approximately 20 years later. The US would be involved in yet another war, the Korean War, in the 1950s. These two wars brought about the feeling that Armistice Day should honor all the veterans, not just those from WWI. With that, Armistice Day was officially changed to Veterans Day in 1954.
In 1968, a law was passed to changed the day of observance from November 11th to the fourth Monday in October. This was to go into effect in 1971. Not every state was thrilled with the change and many of the states slowly moved the observance of Veterans Day back to November. A new law was passed in 1975 that officially moved Veterans Day back to November 11th, with the law going into effect in 1978.
Over the years, thousands of men and women have served in the military. Here at IHRA, we share the stories of handfuls of men who served in WWII. We have read and written about their experiences in combat and through that, we have developed a better understanding of what they gave up to fight for their country. We want to extend our thanks to all the veterans out there. Thank you for your service.
The B-17 was a legendary aircraft among aircrews during World War II. Because of the amount of damage the planes could withstand, they earned the nickname of the Flying Fortress. The extra armor on the Fortress not only protected the plane from enemy fire in battle–if something did go wrong, the B-17 was better-protected in a crash-landing.
December 14, 1942 started out like any other day for Lt. Ealon S. Hocutt. That day, Hocutt had his crew plus Lt. Charles B. Downer’s crew on his plane, as he was ferrying them to Milne Bay. After packing 20 people into B-17 #550, the plane took off in calm weather from Seven Mile Drome and climbed approximately 500 feet when trouble began: the #4 engine went dead. To compromise for the loss of power, Hocutt increased power to the remaining engines only to have the #2 engine cut out, followed by the #1 engine.
The B-17 began to descend rapidly on the single working engine and Hocutt looked for a place to land. He glided over Bootless Bay, touching down on the water at 140 miles per hour. The drag created by the ball turret underneath the fuselage split open the bottom of the plane as it skidded to a halt. All things considered, it was a smooth landing, thanks to Hocutt’s skill at the controls and the good weather.
The crews escaped with just two injured men, one on the head, and the other in the leg. The rest of the crew scrambled to get their injured crewmembers into life rafts before the plane sank, but the touchdown must have damaged the lift raft release; they didn’t inflate on impact or from the inside release hatch. Fortunately, the manual release hatch on the outside of the plane worked just fine. Each life raft carried an injured man as well as a few crewmembers and they safely rowed to shore.
Wary of sharks, Hocutt and the rest of the airmen that didn’t row to shore sat on the B-17′s wings and decided to wait for a friendly ship rather than risk a few-hundred yard swim to dry land. As they sat, something very unusual happened. The plane, which had been sinking, suddenly stopped. In fact, #550 had settled on a coral reef, where it remained for over a year.
This is the last installment in the series involving the 312th on Black Sunday. Read the previous installment here.
The US wasn’t the only country that lost aircraft and crews around Black Sunday. Two weeks prior, a violent storm took a toll on the Japanese Navy when the Commander in Chief, Admiral Mineichi Koga, was killed in a plane crash. Koga believed the Americans would invade the Netherlands New Guinea (the western half of the island of New Guinea) and he wanted to be closer to the action to better direct the Navy’s response. On March 31st, he and his staff boarded two flights from the Caroline Islands to Mindanao in the Philippines. While in the air, the planes encountered a storm and Koga’s plane crashed into the ocean, killing all aboard. The second plane transporting Koga’s Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, crash-landed in Bohol Strait. The survivors, including the injured Fukudome, made it to shore, but did not make it back to the Japanese forces in the Philippines until April 10th. Fukudome had important documents with him, including Koga’s “Z Plan,” which was recovered by Filipino guerrillas and turned over to the Americans. The Americans then made copies and returned the originals to the crashed plane. The Japanese never knew the Americans intercepted their “Z Plan.”
Though Black Sunday was a bitter loss for Allied airforces, the operation it was a part of was an overwhelming success. On April 3rd, the Fifth Air Force attack nearly demolished the 6th Air Division, which led to Lt. Gen. Giichi Itabana being relieved of his command. Twelve days after the attack, Gen. Teramoto withdrew the rest of the 4th Air Army to Manado, hundreds of miles away from the action around Hollandia. On April 22nd, Allied forces landed at Homboldt Bay, Tanahmerah Bay, Tadji and Aitape with little opposition. Operation Reckless was working according to plan.
As the 312th reflected on the events of Black Sunday, the biggest obstacle of the day was the weather on the flight home to Gusap. Weather in the Ramu Valley tended to get stormy between 1530 and 1630 each day, which meant flights needed to leave by 1000 to avoid the storms on the trip home. That day, the Group left a little before 1100, though the pilots did not have a choice in the matter. Arriving at the target, there was no opposition from the Japanese in the air or on the ground at Hollandia. Aside from leaving late, the formation missed Hollandia by 100 miles due to a navigation error. The fuel used up during that time may have made a difference for crews as they tried to get home.
Lt. Nathaniel Rothstein noted three rules pilots need to follow: stay with the formation and follow the flight leader, flight leaders must follow squadron leaders and the squadrons must follow the lead plane. The flights that stayed with Col. Strauss on April 16th made it back safely. After the raid, Strauss told his pilots, “If you follow me, I’ll take full responsibility for bringing you back safely. If you go off on your own, upon you rests the responsibility of you and your ship.”
The men of the 312th tried not to dwell on the events of April 16th. These type of events were the occupational hazards that came with the job of a combat pilot. After the Hollandia raids, their sights were set on other Japanese bases in New Guinea: But, Boram, Wewak and Dagua were up next.
On February 25 1943, six crews from the 63rd Squadron of the 43rd Bomb Group took off on a night mission to hit shipping at Rabaul. Capt. James C. Dieffenderfer’s crew in the B-17 OLD BALDY flew down to Hood Point to cross the Owen Stanley Range at its lowest point of 9000 feet. As expected, the crew ran into New Guinea’s notorious bad weather about halfway to the target. “…we hit an air pocket and dropped straight down as though we were thrown to the ceiling,” wrote 1/Lt. Frederick O. Blair. Sitting on the bombardier seat, Blair was able to put his hand up to the Plexiglas so that he wasn’t tossed around as much as the rest of the crew. Soon, he got a call from the radio compartment, where there were five other crew members: “Lt. Blair, the bombs are loose and are on the bomb bay doors.”
Lt. Blair continued, “I was so shocked by this message that I now cannot remember whether I answered but I immediately hit the bomb bay door switch, hoping the loose bombs would drop into the Pacific Ocean. However, as I did not know the real situation I waited a few second for the result of my action. The radio operator, T/Sgt. Louis N. Caroll, called me again to say that the bomb bay doors were open but a 500lb bomb was hanging by one lug. I believe I was never so afraid in my life as it takes only about 8lbs of pressure on the fuse to set the bomb off. I hit the bomb bay door switch to close the door and immediately hurried up through the pilot compartment on my way to the bomb bay. I knew it took about 30 seconds for our B-17 Bomb Bay doors to open or close. As I entered the Bomb Bay the doors were only partly closed and I started to walk across the narrow catwalk with only two ropes to hold on to. I wanted to get to the loose bomb which had broken loose from the rear lug. It was the lower bomb on the right side. All during my journey from the bombardier compartment to the bomb bay, we were in this terrible storm and being tossed around. At last I reached the rear end of the Bomb Bay and knew what I must do. I must sit on the bomb and keep the wire from coming out of the rear fuse as this would arm the bomb.
As I sat on the bomb and held on to the rack, bracing myself on the bomb above, I was facing the rear of the plane and I could observe the crew members in the radio compartment. I could see very tense, nervous, whitefaced fellows, apparently scared to death. If they were afraid of what they saw, I am sure that I was doubly afraid as I was the ‘guy’ sitting on the loose bomb.”
Blair sat on that bomb for 15 to 20 minutes before OLD BALDY flew out of the weather. Afterwards, he had some help from the crew to replace the bomb on the rack.
OLD BALDY‘s troubles weren’t over yet. Continuing on toward the target, Dieffenderfer had to feather an engine when it started to run roughly. The plane was losing altitude because of the heavy bomb load, which was soon resolved by dropping two of the bombs into the ocean. As the crew approached Rabaul, the weather hampered the search for a shipping target. Instead, they flew to the bomber base, Vunakanau, where they dropped their six remaining 500-pound bombs on the aerodrome. The Japanese knew OLD BALDY was over the drome due to the crew experiencing heavy antiaircraft fire and searchlight activity. Ack-ack shells were bursting around them and they felt the concussions as the shells burst near the aircraft. Because of the overcast conditions, the men were unable to observe the results of their dropped bombs.
Blair concludes, “I was very proud of our entire crew, especially James Dieffenderfer, the pilot and Jack Campbell, the co-pilot. I never heard a complain of dissatisfaction from any crew member on this occasion. In fact our entire crew never questions any decision from headquarter’s orders of our Bomber Command, Group Command or our Squadron Command. We were a team and I can say without reservation that we carried out our orders to the best of our abilities through our many missions. When we neared our targets, as a bombardier I took over command and the pilot followed my instructions to the letter.”
This is one of the many stories that will be included in the book Ken’s Men Against the Empire.
After a long hiatus, it’s time to resurrect this blog. Stay tuned as we bring you more stories from the Southwest Pacific during WWII, IHRA updates, and more!
Are you a book fan? Join us over at Goodreads.
If you’re interested in learning more about the 312th Bomb Group and you haven’t done so already, look into adding our book to your collection! Rampage of the Roarin’ 20′s traces the 312th from the Group’s formation stateside through the end of WWII. It’s packed with stories, photos, maps, and a color section that features the art of Jack Fellows! Check out some sample pages on our website.
In March, The Denver Post put up a gallery of 110 amazing photos taken in the Pacific during WWII. Check them out here.