Hospital Visitors

This week’s post was written up by our co-author, Edward Rogers.

It was customary for members of a flight crew, especially the pilot, to look in on their comrades if they had been injured or were sick in the hospital. Being part of the same crew formed strong bonds of friendship. 90th Bomb Squadron pilot 1/Lt. Lynn Schmidt visited his turret gunner, Sgt. James A. Carter, at the hospital in Cairns, Australia on June 10th. Carter had been wounded in the legs during a strafing attack on their B-25 #41-12496, DER SCHPY, by Japanese Zero fighters at Seven Mile airdrome on May 9, 1942.

Schmidt summarized the visit in his diary, “Flew to Cairns to see Sgt. Carter.  He was doing fine – in nice clean hospital with pretty nurses, good clean town et. cet. – loaned him my last five pounds – took him books, clothes, mail and the like.”

Two days later Carter wrote a letter of thanks to Schmidt.

“Your visit the other day would have been worth the writing of a dozen letters.  I was never so glad to see anyone in all my life.  Maybe I didn’t act it but I was really pleased to see you fellows.  I deeply appreciate your coming up and bringing the things.  The letters, to me, were worth their weight in radium, because as I believe you know they were the first letters I’ve rec’d.  It took me ‘til late in the night to read them all.

I hope this letter finds you all in the best of health.  I’m still improving.  The cast comes off in five more days but I know I won’t be able to walk on the foot for another week after that.

Will sign off for now so the nurses can mail this.  The best of luck to you on your missions.  Take care of yourself, the crew, and “Der Schpy”.  Give my regards to the others, please”

Very sincerely yours,
Jimmie Carter

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Strafer – Mission to Kaveing

345th Bomb Group B-25s over KaveingMajor Chester Coltharp, commanding officer of the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group is seen sweeping into the Kavieng, New Ireland Japanese seaplane anchorage, which was Fifth Air Force’s target for destruction on February 15, 1944. Major Coltharp’s B-25D, PRINCESS PAT and 1/Lt. G. D. McCall’s NEAR MISS are the embodiment of the legendary Major Paul I. “Pappy” Gunn’s revolutionary gun-toting field conversion of the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber to the devastating tool of destruction that was to become known as the strafer.

For more information or to purchase a copy of this piece by Jack Fellows, please visit our website.

Ditching Black Jack

A new crew had taken off in the 63rd Squadron B-17 named BLACK JACK early on July 11, 1943. It was the first time this crew flew together as well as the first mission for one of the two waist gunners. The initial part of the flight was more difficult than it should have been, as pilot 1/Lt. Ralph K. De Loach was having a hard time gaining enough altitude to fly over the Owen Stanley mountain range. Before he was able to clear the mountains, De Loach circled near Hood Point three times. Then the gyroscopic compass (heading indicator) began to malfunction. Pressing on, BLACK JACK began to cause additional problems for the crew as the men flew over the Solomon Sea. The #3 engine’s oil pressure dropped to 50 pounds, leading to the engine shaking severely and the crew questioning whether or not they should continue the mission to Rabaul. After a quick poll, they decided to keep going.

When the crew approached Vunakanau, the RPMs in BLACK JACK‘s #4 engine dropped significantly, resulting in a second vibrating engine. De Loach feathered the #4 engine, causing a drop in altitude from 14,000 to 10,500 feet (4.267 to 3.2 km) before beginning a bombing run. The bombardier, 2/Lt. Herman Dias, quickly dropped all the bombs while De Loach got the ailing B-17 away from the target area and Japanese territory. Engine #3 continued to weaken, leaving the crew in a perilous state as the bomber’s altitude continued to drop. By now, the plane was below the tops of the Owen Stanley peaks, which De Loach needed to fly over in order to reach the Solomon Sea. He restarted engine #4, resulting in engine #3 vibrating even more severely than before, in hopes of increasing the altitude. He was able to get BLACK JACK over New Britain, only to run into a thunderstorm. Radio operator T/Sgt. George Prezioso began transmitting their location to New Guinea in case the plane had to ditch.

The plane continued to burn through its fuel and lose altitude, cruising at only 2000 feet (.61km), when De Loach made the decision to ditch BLACK JACK. The crew prepared for the ditching as best as it could while De Loach gave his co-pilot, Lt. Joseph H. Moore, controls for the actual ditching. De Loach thought it best for Moore to execute the ditching since he had experience doing so. Moore intended to set the plane down on a reef, but BLACK JACK instead went over the edge and into the deeper water. The men escaped the plane as quickly as possible, helping their three injured comrades however they could.

Meanwhile, a couple of Australian Spotters were stationed at Cape Vogel when they heard a plane nearby. “The mate and I heard plane’s motors,” Cpl. Eric Foster recalled, “and we went outside to look for it…As it got closer we still could not identify it as we had never seen any of our planes close up. As it got closer it started to climb to get over the cliff. It then banked round to the left and we saw the big white star and heaved a great sigh of relief [that it was not a Japanese plane], not knowing that they were in trouble. We looked away and the next thing we heard a terrific crash. They had crash landed at Boga Boga, a native village about 3 miles from us. The mate and I took off thinking there was likely to be injured. By the time we reached Boga Boga the natives had gone out in canoes and towed them in. When we arrived the Americans said ‘Thank God, Aussies. We didn’t have a clue where we were.’”

A message was soon dispatched to Milne Bay, then forwarded to Port Moresby, where the men of the 43rd learned that the crew was safe and no one had died during the crash. Forty-three years later, in 1986, Australian diver Rodney Pearce found BLACK JACK completely intact. De Loach visited Boga Boga village that year after he was invited by historian Steve Birdsall. Reflecting on the remarkable preservation of the veteran B-17 bomber in the documentary “Black Jack’s Last Mission” De Loach said “I think the way it’s ended up now, sitting under the sea, being encrusted in coral is one of the finest endings it could have had. It was a very proper ending for a gallant aircraft.”

B-17 Black Jack

Black Jack in its final resting place.

Riding out the Storm

While World War II had officially ended in August 1945, men were still stationed in the Pacific in October as groups went through the demobilization process. On October 7th, men from the 22nd Bomb Group were going about their business when a weather announcement interrupted the radio broadcast. A typhoon that had previously been on a northwesterly course that would take it 150 miles west of Okinawa had suddenly veered off that path, headed north towards Okinawa, where it was predicted to make landfall the next day. October 8th started out calm and sunny, but the men kept an ear out for any new information and an eye on the sky. That afternoon, the weather changed drastically as Typhoon Louise began her march across Okinawa.

The camp was pelted by heavy rain and high winds that night, with the weather deteriorating even further the following day. When the men woke up on the 9th, the wind was gusting up to 70mph (112.7km/h). Pilots and crew chiefs kept the noses of their B-24s pointed into the winds to minimize damage to the planes. Out in Bruckner Bay, the Navy recorded a barometric pressure of 989 millibars and falling at 1000 hours. Later that morning, the wind and rain lessened, then stopped as the eye of the storm passed over the camp. For a few hours, the sun was out and it was ominously calm and very muggy. The men knew the storm wasn’t over and braced themselves for round two.

The rain and wind began again around 1500 with a ferocity greater than the Group had already experienced. They hurried to secure tents and buildings as the typhoon’s powerful winds increased. Back in the bay, the pressure had dropped to 968.5 millibars, its lowest recording, by 1600. Three hours later at camp, a group of men were huddling in a four-foot square insulated food locker to avoid getting hit by flying debris as tents and buildings were ripped apart by the howling winds. The storm continued to intensify, only to finally start letting up around the early morning hours of the 10th and completely moved out by the 11th. The men inspected the damage and began the arduous tasks of cleaning up and rebuilding. The Group’s anemometer blew away after recording 132mph (212.4 km/h), though it was estimated that Louise’s peak windspeed at the camp was at least 150mph (241.4 km/h).

22nd Bomb Group Area After Typhoon

The aftermath of Typhoon Louise

Thankfully, none of the 22nd men were killed by what would go down as the strongest storm to hit Okinawa at that time. The Navy was not so lucky. Because of Louise’s quick change, hundreds of Navy vessels had to ride out the storm in Bruckner Bay instead of out at sea. Ships that had laid anchor were dragged back and forth across the harbor or onto dry land, scraping against other ships along the way. The storm killed 36 men, injured 100 and 47 more were missing. Twelve vessels were sunk, with 222 grounded and 32 damaged. Over 60 planes were also damaged.

Bent Flagpole

Taken in front of Group headquarters shortly after the October typhoon, the tremendous power of the storm is evident. The steel flagpole was bent parallel to the ground by the ferocious winds.

Pesky Parafrags

On January 8, 1945, the 345th Bomb Group’s 498th and 499th Squadrons were sent to hit Fabrica Airdrome on the Negros Islands. Between the two squadrons, two B-25s were fatally damaged, but they destroyed three Japanese fighters on the ground. One of the two B-25s, PLANE LONESOME, sustained a hit to the right wing tank by machine gun fire. It burst into flame and crashed in a forest, killing all aboard.

As the rest of the planes left the target area and headed home, one of 1/Lt. John B. Boyd’s wingmen noticed a parafrag was caught on the bomb bay doors of Boyd’s brand new B-25J, #44-29352. When Boyd opened the doors, two parafrags drifted away. A third, caught by its chute, exploded after it struck the fuselage of the plane. S/Sgt. William J. McGrath, the crew’s tail gunner, at first thought they had been hit by flak. When he turned around, he saw a three foot hole in the floor between himself and the radio operator, T/Sgt. Robert C. Dusenberry, blown out windows, a four foot gash in the plane’s ceiling, and a small fire that was soon extinguished by the air rushing through the fuselage. McGrath immediately went to the slumped Dusenberry, who had gone into shock due to his injuries from the blast.

Damage to B-25J #44-29352

The damaged fuselage after the parafrag exploded.

McGrath heard the B-25’s engines change pitch as the aircraft started climbing. He thought the pilot was preparing to order the crew to bail out, but he knew Dusenberry would not be able to do so. He quickly hurried to the cockpit to talk with Boyd and convinced him otherwise, then went back to Dusenberry. Within a few minutes McGrath felt the plane descending and once again went forward to voice his concern about he tail breaking off if they ditched in the water. Boyd agreed to keep the plane flying as long as possible.

After a tense hour, the crew sighted Tacloban, though they knew the landing was going to be rough. The tires on the main wheels were torn to pieces by the explosion and they weren’t sure if the fuselage would hold together. Fortunately, Boyd brought the plane down safely. Once the crew was back on the ground and Dusenberry was on his way to being treated for his injuries, another parafrag was discovered hanging in the bomb bay. It was promptly disarmed by the explosive ordnance demolition squad. The formerly new #352 was salvaged.

You can find this and many other stories about the 345th Bomb Group in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Attacking Babo

Back in April 1942, the Japanese landed at Babo, in what was then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), on the southern section of the McCluer Gulf. At the time, Babo’s airfield had a single runway, which had previously been used by the Dutch airline KLM. The Japanese built a second runway and Babo became a stronghold for its army and navy missions on the Vogelkop Peninsula—the west end of the island of New Guinea. After Japanese planes from Babo attacked an American amphibious landing at Biak in May 1944, Gen. Kenney hoped to get rid of the nuisance once and for all. With the 388th and 389th Squadrons recently having moved westward to Hollandia, Babo was in range of their low-level bombers. Even so, there were approximately 50 antiaircraft positions on the base, which would present quite a challenge to the squadrons.

Two dozen A-20s were led to Babo by the 312th’s C.O., Col. Strauss, on July 9, 1944. They flew along the Kasira River, six abreast, and were met with what was later described by Sgt. Charles H. Fessler as a “wall of fire” consisting of antiaircraft, machine gun, and possibly mortar fire. While the antiaircraft fire was intense, it was not well aimed, and probably hadn’t been set for enemy aircraft coming in at a low altitude. Col. Strauss’ plane, OLD S, still ended up with damage from ground fire.

The 388th Squadron flew over Babo first. Lt. Wayne C. Hoblit in 2/Lt. Lowell H. Morrow’s A-20, MISCHIEVOUS MARY II, had promised Morrow he would bring the plane back in one piece. Hoblit and his gunner, Fessler, heard several dull, thunking noises against the plane, which then jerked down to the left. Morrow’s A-20 was returned to him with a hole in the starboard wing, several holes in the fuselage, and piece of flak six inches long that landed very close to Fessler’s right foot. The 388th got away with damage to four A-20s and successfully took out three machine gun positions, a radio tower (hit by the right wing of an A-20), blew up a fuel tank, and damaged two Japanese fighters on the ground.

After the 388th’s runs, the Japanese readjusted the aim of their antiaircraft guns and were unfortunately prepared for the second wave of A-20s belonging to the 389th Squadron. 1/Lt. Earl G. Hill’s aircraft received a direct hit over the target, erupted into a ball of flame, lost its right wing and plunged into Bentoni Bay, killing him and his gunner, Sgt. Ray Glacken. A second A-20 flown by 1/Lt. Walter H. Van was hit by ground fire. His A-20 crashed and exploded. He and his gunner, S/Sgt. Gilbert V. Cooper did not survive.

312th Bomb Group A-20s flying over Babo Airdrome during WWII

1/Lt. Kenneth I. Hedges is flying THE QUEEN OF SPADES. He lost both of his wingmen (Hill and Van) on this raid.

The Squadron lost a third plane that day when 1/Lt. Walter S. Sparks’ A-20 was hit in both engines, forcing him to land in Bentoni Bay. Just before the aircraft touched the water, Sparks released the canopy. The plane hit the water, throwing Sparks 50 feet away from his plane. It is unknown whether his safety belt and shoulder harness had come undone or if they even fit correctly in the first place. Both of Sparks arms were broken, leaving him unable to inflate his life jacket. He yelled to his gunner, Sgt. Howard F. Williams, for help. Williams was also injured and fought his way over to Sparks, but it was too late. Sparks slipped beneath the surface. Williams took off his life jacket and dove several times to retrieve Sparks, but could not find him. He was soon rescued by a Catalina and relieved to be away from the sharks circling nearby. Sparks’ body was never found.

From a military standpoint, the attack on Babo was successful. The two squadrons severely damaged the airdrome and dispersal areas, started several fires, hit two fighters on the ground, and destroyed a radio tower, machine gun positions and a fuel tank. The raid also cost the Group five men and three aircraft, which were the heaviest losses to enemy fire at that time. “…however lucrative a target it might be, [Babo] was not yet a suitable target for two squadrons of A-20’s,” observed 312th historian Lt. Nathaniel Rothstein.

Sgt. John Spatharos’ bomber called ‘Steak & Eggs’ crashed in Coral Sea in WW II

Int'l Historical Research Associates:

This week’s story comes from War Tales, a site created by Don Moore. He has gathered stories from local veterans over the years and has been adding them for anyone to read.

Since we concentrate on certain Fifth Air Force bomb groups, we had to share this interesting story about a 3rd Bomb Group crew’s experience with the notoriously bad New Guinea weather.

Originally posted on War Tales:

 Muggie and John Spatharos are shown in their wedding photo. They were married on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1944, a week after he was discharged from the Air Force after serving in New Guinea during World War II. Photo provided

Muggie and John Spatharos are shown in their wedding photo. They were married on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1944, a week after he was discharged from the Air Force after serving in New Guinea during World War II. Photo provided

When Sgt. John Spatharos of Tangerine Woods, Englewood, Fla. climbed aboard an A-20, twin-engine attack bomber dubbed “Steak and Eggs” at Kila Airstrip on the island of New Guinea during World War II he had no idea what fate had in store for him.

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The Convoy of Rocks

After last week’s sad story and some inspiration from a recent post by pacificparatrooper, it’s time for something a little lighter.

In May 1943, the 90th and 43rd Bomb Groups were the only active heavy bomb groups in the Fifth Air Force (though the 380th was getting situated in the theater and would be fully operational by the end of the month), which led to the development of a friendly rivalry. One 90th crew was flying a reconnaissance (recco) mission on the 15th and reported seeing a convoy along the south coast of New Britain. The 43rd’s 65th Squadron sent out several reccos afterwards to prepare for a larger assault, only to discover that this supposed convoy was actually a chain of small islands. Not surprisingly, the 43rd berated the 90th for this mistake, and the 63rd Squadron’s combat diary noted that “the convoy of rocks, reported by the 90th Bombardment Group (H), on 15 May 1943, has now officially been confirmed.”

Gen. George Kenney wrote about the 90th’s response to the 43rd in his memoir General Kenney Reports. “The 90th Bombardment Group board of strategy went into a huddle to see what could be done to restore their own prestige and, if possible, to humiliate the overproud 43rd.” The 90th extended a party invitation to the 43rd, which was readily accepted, especially after hearing the 90th supposedly had some Australian beer in its possession.

43rd "Headquarters"

Men from the 90th Bomb Group pose outside the newly renamed latrine.

“That evening,” Kenney continued, “as the procession the the 43rd Group jeeps made the last turn in the winding road leading up the hill on which the 90th Group mess was perched, they were horrified to see just off the road an unmistakable Chic Sale [latrine] with a huge sign on top of it, reading ‘Headquarters 43rd Bombardment Group.’ The Kensmen didn’t say a word about it all evening. They helped their hosts eat an excellent meal and consume all the Australian beer and wound up the festivities by thanking them profusely for a fine party. The next morning just as the 90th was tumbling out of bed, a lone 43rd Group B-17, slipping in over the tops of the trees, suddenly opened fire on the Chic Sale with a pair of fifty-caliber guns shooting nothing but incendiary ammunition. The little building blazed up as the B-17 kept on going until it disappeared behind the hills.” The latrine couldn’t be saved.

While Kenney wasn’t pleased with the Group’s reaction, he only said he expected that sort of behavior to not continue in the future. Yet, he conceded, “little silly things like that, which now sound like a species of insanity, were wonderful incentives to morale and set up a spirit of competition and a desire to outdo the rival organization that meant more hits on the targets, a quicker end to the war, and thereby a saving of American lives.”

OUR HONEY’s Fiery Demise

By 1945, the 22nd Bomb Group had its sights set on new targets at Heito, Formosa. As was tradition, the Group Commander, Col. Richard W. “Red” Robinson, made a point to lead the first mission to new targets. The first mission to Heito, on January 16, 1945, was called off before they reached the target, and the strike was rescheduled for the 21st. Capt. Robert W. Hume of the 19th Squadron was listed as the flight leader and the 19th Squadron’s Operations Officer, Capt. Lawrence E. Wulf, was assigned as Hume’s co-pilot and the air commander for the mission.

Col. Robinson wanted to lead the strike, still the first one over a new target, as air commander. With that, Wulf gave up his spot to 2/Lt. Charles P. Heath, Hume’s co-pilot, who was eager to participate in the flight. Altogether, 11 men would be flying on the fully loaded B-24, nicknamed OUR HONEY. That morning, the weather was overcast and misty due to the intermittent rain the night before. Hume taxied to the takeoff position, where he awaited the green light from the control tower. When the ok was given, OUR HONEY started down the runway.

As the B-24 gained speed, it started drifting towards the left, unable to get off the ground. Disaster struck a few seconds later when the aircraft’s left wing hit a spinning propeller of one of the parked Corsair fighters. Six feet of the wing and aileron were hewn from OUR HONEY and thrown into the air. The plane lifted off slightly, only to hit a SeaBee construction vehicle at the east end of the runway, and burst into flames. The inferno set off some of the bombs, nearly collapsing the control tower at mid-field. If any of the crew had survived the original crash, they surely perished in the explosion.

A red flare was sent up from the control tower to signal the rest of the crews to abort their takeoffs and the mission was canceled. Later, once the wreckage had cooled, several members explored the debris for any unexploded bombs. One was found and successfully defused. The others that had exploded in the fire had “cooked off,” which is not nearly as destructive as being set off by detonation devices. Otherwise, the control tower would have probably collapsed.

The loss of Col. Robinson was a heavy blow to the Group. He was well-liked by his superior officers and the men serving under his lead. The Group’s nickname, The Red Raiders, came from the name of Robinson’s first plane, RED RAIDER, after Robinson was promoted to Group Commander. Following Robinson’s death, the nickname became somewhat of a living memorial to him.