How a Combat Unit Passes the Time While Standing Down

After approximately nine months of combat missions, the 22nd Bomb Group’s B-26s had reached the age of being designated war-weary. Due to the “Europe First” mentality, those fighting in the Pacific Theater had been receiving far fewer replacement aircraft than they desperately needed. In the case of the 22nd, this was a breaking point for the Group. Headquarters did not feel that men could safely fly in their B-26s any longer and ordered the Group to stand down on January 11, 1943.

Not long after the orders were received, the 19th and 33rd Bomb Squadrons were told that they were moving from Iron Range back to their old camp at Woodstock. The 500+ mile trip was filled with torrential downpours, delays and crowded conditions aboard the S.S. Paine Wingate. Once the men made it back to Woodstock, though, they happily found that their camp had been improved since their last stay. This time, they enjoyed electricity in their tents, upgraded shower and latrines and eating in wooden mess halls. Picking weevils out of bread was also a distant memory, as the food had greatly improved.

As the men adapted to a slower life, they enjoyed the routine flight training and transport runs, playing sports, and visiting cities such as Sydney and Brisbane. They read books, put on skits, played music and a few of the men decided to run for mayor in the Australian town nearby. Their campaigns were unsuccessful.

 

Woodstock Stage

One way to pass the time while under orders to stand down is to perform. A stage was built at Woodstock during the spring of 1943, and numerous shows, both locally produced and traveling USO groups, entertained the troops. Several talented enlisted men are shown here during one of these performances. On stage was Milt Weiner, singer and emcee. From left the others were Walter Shook on the clarinet, Jones on the accordion, Scott Day on the guitar, “Buckwheat” Westmoreland on the piano and Davis on the drums. (Walter Gaylor Collection)

 

22nd Bomb Group men play baseball

What does a combat unit do while under orders to stand down? Various leisure time activities helped pass the time during the spring of 1943, with baseball being one of the most popular. Under the direction of the newly assigned Special Services Officer, 2/Lt. “Buck” Weaver, many teams were formed and tournaments were organized. This photo was taken at Reid River, the camp for the 2nd and 408th Bomb Squadrons. (William K. Miller Collection)

 

Days of little activity stretched into weeks and the men grew restless. They wanted to be back in the action, helping the Allies fight in New Guinea. The fate of the 22nd was still unknown, leading to various rumors going around the camp. Maybe they would go back to the U.S. for reassignment, they would be re-equipped with B-25s, or they would receive new B-26s. It wasn’t until mid-March when they finally got some answers.

General George C. Kenney and a few others had flown to Washington DC, where they met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff about operation plans for the remainder of the year. Out of the meeting came an authorization for additional aircraft, an order to push the Japanese out of New Guinea as far as Madang and a policy to rotate original crews back to the States. The 22nd Bomb Group was also going to transition from a medium bombardment group to a heavy bombardment group equipped with B-24s.

Before the transition to the B-24, three of the four squadrons would fly B-25s for a short time (the fourth, the 19th, would stick with the B-26 a little longer). Like the B-17, the B-26 would be phased out of operation in the Pacific Theater and sent to Europe. This news was not entirely welcomed by the crews who had grown fond of their fast, durable B-26s and they weren’t certain how the B-25 would hold up in comparison. Nonetheless, the days of inactivity soon reached an end as the 22nd received new crews, said goodbye to the old crews being sent Stateside and refurbished as many B-26s as they could for the 19th Bomb Squadron’s new “Silver Fleet.”

In July, the Silver Fleet of unpainted B-26s left the rest of the 22nd in Australia and flew to Dobodura, where the crews would began flying combat missions on July 21st. The three remaining squadrons began receiving their new B-25s in Australia and wasted no time learning the ins and outs of the new planes. Transition training took approximately three months. Finally, the 2nd, 408th and 33rd Squadrons were sent back to combat in early October. All four squadrons were reunited in combat on October 14th.

Going Home

A reflection on the process of going home after World War II ended, written by Richard Golze of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group.

The war had ended. Rotation points were totaled. The Blanchard/Golze crew had enough points to fly a B-24 home rather than go by boat. Ten man crews were assembled based on points. For some unknown reason, crews were set at 10 men. A B-24 without bomb load and armament could easily transport 20-25 men.

We were flown to Clark Field from Ie Shima. When we landed, we noted the field was covered with brand new B- 24, B-25, A-26 and fighter aircraft. These were the reserves for the planned invasion. We were assigned a new B-24M. It is interesting to note that most of the 65th aircraft were “J” models I many of which had in excess of 100 missions. It is also a matter of interest to note that these line combat aircraft had fewer deviations than the stateside training command B-24’s thanks to the competant dedicated ground crews. The aircraft we drew smelled new. We were cautioned that the aircraft had to be complete when it took off for home. It seems that military personnel were stealing the Plexiglas waist windows, cutting them into strips and fashioning transparent grips for the Colt M1911 service pistol. Many had pictures of nude women under the transparent grip panel. To avoid this potential problem, we had one crew man stay with the aircraft at all times, including sleeping in the waist overnight.

The first leg of OPERATION SUNSET was a flight from Clark Field to Guam. Guam was stateside civilization. They had flush toilets and cold drinks in the officers club. While we were flying to Guam I reasoned that we could gain air speed and also eliminate the hazard of the pilots being trapped in their seats by the top turrets in the event of a ditching. The center of gravity of the top Martin turret was well below the top skin of the aircraft. The weight was centered in the armor plated seat and caliber 50 ammunition containers. When a B-24 was ditched, the bomb bay doors were torn off by the water which exposed the vertical bulkhead at the rear of the bomb bay. This bulkhead acted as a very effective water brake. The catwalk or keel of the aircraft usually broke and the tail section rotated upward. This rapid deceleration provided enough “G” forces acting through the top turret center of gravity (at a long moment arm) to tear it from its mounts. When the turret was free, it flew forward to wedge itself against the two vertical structural members behind the pilots seats and the control pedestal thus trapping the pilots. Many B-24’s had small metal framed windows on the side of the cockpit. The one window that slid open was not large enough for a man to slide through. Wise pilots carried hand fire axes so this metal framing could be chopped out if there were time before a ditching. An escape route would then be available for the pilots.

When we landed at Guam I located the base Engineering Officer. I told him I wanted to remove the turret and crate it for return to the USA. He said there was no interest in the return of the turret. He also said NO to removal since it would change the basic load index for weight and balance. I convinced him I could make the mathematical correction. He then said OK but with two conditions. One was that we could not delay our scheduled departure. The second was that he would ground our aircraft if we damaged the skin in the process of removal. After a discussion with the crew we started. We were able to remove the light weight Plexiglas top, guns and part of the seat. We then unbolted the remaining assembly from the bronze trunion ring. This ring had internal gear teeth. It was about 48″ in diameter. The whole assembly, including the electro/hydraulic drive and armor plated seat had to be removed out of the top of the fuselage. All hands set to the job and we worked it to the top of the left wing where we set it on the cloth engine covers to prevent damage to the skin by sharp edge. The turret assembly was carefully moved to a position between the number one and two engines. Four lines were attached to the turret assembly and it was moved foreward to clear the leading edge of the wing. Holding this assembly in suspension was the most difficult part of the removal process. When it was clear, it was lowered to the ground — with no damage to the plane! The Engineering Officer came along at this time. He was satisfied we had done a good job. He told us to dispose of the turret by placing it in the lush tropical vegetation at the edge of the ramp.

Now we had a 4 foot hole in the top of the aircraft and evening was approaching. A trip to the repair hanger netted a 4’x4′ piece of aluminum skin. We needed some means of cutting the aluminum into a circular plug. There were no tin snips available but Sam Dante, our engineer located a single hack saw blade. We circumscribed a circle of proper size by placing a nail hole in the center of the panel. A string with a scriber was attached at the proper radius and the line was scribed. We then took turns hand holding the hack saw’ blade to cut the circle – some 12′ of lineal length. The plug fit perfectly. Sam tried to borrow a speed drill and bit with no success. I went to the hanger and left my watch and sun glasses as hostage but did borrow the band speed drill and a bit . Screws, lock washers and nuts were also obtained. It seems as if Second Lieutenants of the 5th Air Force were not trusted by Sargents of the 20th Air Force. We used the turret mounting holes as locators, drilled the holes) inserted and secured the fasteners and then reclaimed my watch and sun glasses.

The next leg of OPERATION SUNSET was from Guam to Kwajalein. Take off was at 3-5 minute intervals. We were in the middle of the flight. The reduced drag from the removal of the turret gave us a 7-10 MPH increase in speed at cruise power. We were first in at Kwajalein! The tower was contacted about 10 miles out. We were cleared for landing on a brilliant clear tropical day. Wind was from the west so we entered the down wind leg of the pattern. The tower was contacted on final. As we came over the shore, a Navy SBD cut in front of us at a distance of about 20 feet. The pilot and passenger was clearly visible. We went around but spoke harsh words to the tower operator. There was no response– we were on a Navy island.

A high noise was generated from a standing vibration wave on our 4′ plug. However, no one complained because of the speed increase, the removal of the ditching hazard and the wide open space on the flight deck. The vibration wave was eliminated at Kwajalein by screwing a l” x l” x 48″ wood strip across the panel. This stiffner eliminated the vibration/noise problem.

Kawajalein to Oahu was the longest flight we made in the B-24. Our increased air s peed along with the extra flight deck space made the long flight pleasant. We lead the flight from Oahu to Camp Stoneman, California. A scare marked our take off. The runway was just above high tide sea level. We planned a typical flight take off which used the full runway and then retract the gear as we passed over the sea. This avoided a climb at max load. While we were rolling down the runway some GI’s in a 6×6 stopped their truck on the end of the runway and proceeded to get out and sit on the hood and the top of the cab in order to watch the take offs. We were approaching the critical three engine speed of 136 MPH when this event happened so Blanchard opted to lift the aircraft over them rather than try to abort. We made it but the subsequent conversation with the tower was quite directed.

When we were about 2/3 of the way to California, Mel Shroeder our radio operator made contact. We were told the Bay area was in heavy fog and we were to change direction and land at Edwards Air Force Base. The course change was relayed to the aircraft behind us. When we approached Edwards we were unable to contact the tower for landing instructions. We called on all four VHF channels with no answer. The field was circled and then the tower was buzzed. Still no contact. By then other B-24s had entered the pattern so we picked a runway and landed. We taxied to a ramp and parked with the other B-24s following. After a while a staff car appeared. A WAC captain came out demanding to know what we were doing on her field and also why we were out of uniform since we were in kahki. We explained but she said we were lying about out trip from Hawaii. A trip to operations resolved the matter. We got a meal of sorts and fuel for a flight to our original destination since the fog had lifted.

We cleared customs at Camp Stonemam and got a barracks assignment. It was about 2200 hours. We then went to the mess hall where we got our return home meal of a steak dinner with a tossed salad.

The next day saw more processing. During a physical examination we were treated for the “crud”. Crud was a fungus growth in your arm pits and crotch. It manifested itself as a raw red rash. We were sprayed with an engine oil like liquid and told to wait for 30 minutes before a shower. After 15 minutes the spray took effect. The raw rash areas felt as if they were on fire. We took cold showers to try to put out the hot torment. Crud came about as a result of the lack of sanitary conditions on IE Shima. There was no natural water on the solid coral is land. The natives built large 10′ x 10′ catch basins to trap rain water. This water flowed into 6′ x 6′ x 8′ deep holding basins. This was the natives only source of fresh water. Army health officers found malaria mosquito larva in some of the basins so they either pumped them dry or poured oil in the basin. These basins were used by some as air raid shelters during the nightly Jap raids. All of the water we had came from Okinawa by Navy boat. If the sea was up, the Navy did not come. The wearing of unwashed clothes and unwashed bodies resulted in the crud. Our flight surgeon tried Silver Nitrate, Iodine and Methiolate with no results. Bathing in the sea felt good while you were in the water but the sticky feeling after you dried off made this action less than desirable. The cure was daily bathing and clean clothing. It cleared itself once we got home.

Black Sunday: The 345th’s Perspective

April 16, 1944 would go down as a dark day for Fifth Air Force. It started out uncertain, with a big mission to Hollandia delayed because of weather. Finally, the 345th’s B-25 bombers took off at mid-morning to combine forces with other groups and all reached Hollandia without issue. The area was thoroughly pounded by more than 200 bombers as they took out antiaircraft positions, camp areas and supply dumps. With the mission complete, the crews turned for home, only to encounter a large frontal boundary over the Markham Valley that cut off their route.

New Guinea weather was not to be trifled with. Not only were there issues with wind and rain, the crews now had to proceed cautiously in order to avoid flying into cloud-covered mountains. Twenty-seven planes from the 499th, 500th and 501st Squadron had bombed supply dumps along Jautega Bay and in Pim Village met the same front over the Ramu Valley. Led by Capt. Dale Speicher, the 345th plunged into the clouds and flew on instruments until they managed to find a clear spot from Madang to Bogadjim that was about ten miles wide. The clearing was crowded with B-24s, A-20s, P-38s and B-25s looking for a break in the clouds to make the flight home.

One of the 345th’s squadrons, the 501st, got separated while they were in the clouds and popped out near Bogadjim. Those crews also saw planes circling as they waited for an opening. Lieutenant Kortemeyer, who had the only navigator in the eight-plane formation on board, lead the Squadron through the chaos and down to sea level. They turned east towards Finschhafen, flying just above the water in low visibility and through the occasional downpour. Low on fuel, one of the B-25s broke from the formation and landed at Saidor, which was overwhelmed with other planes also nearly out of fuel. The crew landed safely.

Continuing through the storms, the rest of the 501st finally crossed the frontal boundary at Umboi Island, located north of Finschhafen. The airfield at Finschhafen was also quickly overwhelmed with aircraft needing to land quickly before running out of fuel. Lieutenant T.K. Lewis and his wingman noticed their fuel tanks were low, but instead of joining the chaos at Finschhafen, they made for the base at Cape Gloucester. Two other 501st B-25s took a chance and were able to land at Finschhafen, refuel, then headed back to their base at Nadzab. None of the 501st’s planes disappeared that day, a distinction among the many squadrons that participated in that Hollandia strike.

Meanwhile, the 499th and 500th Squadrons had split up, each looking for the best way back to Nadzab. The 500th Squadron flew 50-100 feet above the water in a trail formation, eventually breaking through the storm. A new transfer from the 498th Squadron, a B-25 nicknamed TINKIE, and its crew had disappeared. First Lieutenant James A. Waggle and his crew were never found. The rest of the Squadron made it back to base safely.

Captain Dick Baker led the nine B-25s from the 499th Squadron down to a break in the clouds near Madang. One plane disappeared during the 7000+ foot dive from their previous altitude to the opening below. Two stuck with Baker as he followed the coastline back to Finschhafen. The rest arrived at Finschhafen shortly afterwards. First Lieutenant Bill Graham landed with all of six gallons of gas left in his tank. STINGEROO, flown by 1/Lt. James H. MacWilliam Jr., was the B-25 that disappeared. The right engine of his plane had been leaking oil ever since the crew left the target area. Rather than risk getting lost in the storm, MacWilliam decided to stick with the rest of the Squadron as long as possible, which was up until the dive to sea level when the prop ran away and the engine caught fire.

MacWilliam crew

The 499th’s 1/Lt. James H. MacWilliam (left) was forced to ditch his B-25 nicknamed STINGEROO off Karkar Island when he got lost in the storm on April 16, 1944. The crew was picked up by a Catalina the next morning after the men spent 19 hours in a life raft near the Japanese-held island. MacWilliam is shown in front of a different bomber, #379. The others are: 1/Lt. Leo E. Fleniken Jr., co-pilot, and 1/t. Gail R. Holmes, navigator. The names of the rest are not known. Fleniken was with the downed crew on April 16th.

MacWilliam ditched in the choppy water, then STINGEROO sunk right after the crew escaped with their lives, a raft, radio and rations. Once in the raft, the men took in their surroundings and saw the faint outlines of two mountain peaks that they could have crashed into. Not knowing if they were in Japanese or Allied territory, the crew elected to stay away from the nearby islands and spent a rainy night in the water. The next morning, they found that they had drifted about two miles away from Karkar, which was in the hands of the Japanese. They quickly started paddling away from the island.

Allied planes flew overhead, though it wasn’t until the middle of the day when the downed crew was spotted by three Allied fighters, who radioed for a Catalina. The rescue plane landed near the men an hour later and they were soon back in the air and heading for home.

 

Find this week’s story on page 156 of Warpath Across the Pacific. For more Black Sunday stories, read these posts.

Cow Wrangling at Charters Towers

To the newly-arrived American airmen, Australia was a completely different world. Sailing across the Pacific on the USAT Ancon, the 3rd Bomb Group went up the Brisbane River in February 1942 and disembarked at Hamilton Wharf. When the men were allowed to explore their new surroundings, they were warmly greeted by the Australians. Still, changes in climate, currency, popular sports, and general culture were a lot to get used to in a short time. Some of the men tried to learn about cricket and rugby but neither sport really caught on with the Group. Twelve days after the 3rd reached Australia, it was ordered to head north to the small town of Charters Towers by March 7th.

On March 8th, the 3rd got on trains and began a slow journey northward. Two days later, the 89th Squadron got off at Townsville to fulfill an assignment of servicing 40th Reconnaissance Squadron B-17s. The rest of the Group rode the remaining 70 miles to Charters Towers. Upon arrival, the men were taken to their campsite, which was nothing more than tall grass and a few trees. They spent their first night in Charters Towers under the stars. The next day, they began to put their camp area together. Not long after the camp was set up, the men pitched in to work on the new airstrips.

Soon, they were given permission to go into the town itself and have a look around. For them, it was like stepping into an old Western film, complete with wooden sidewalks and bars with swinging doors. Charters Towers was certainly small, but it thrived due to its proximity to gold mines. With plans to set up a major air base, though, Charters Towers wouldn’t remain a small town for much longer.

Main Street, Charters Towers

A photograph of the Main Street in Charters Towers during the summer of 1942. Although only a small town, Charters Towers had prospered from a gold mining boom and was well-appointed for a frontier outpost. The town underwent a rapid expansion as it became a major airbase and thoroughfare for the Allied war effort. (Harry Mangan Collection)

By June 1942, the 3rd Bomb Group was well-established in Australia. The men were flying more bombing and gunnery training missions, and their current space at the RAAF bombing range in Townsville was quickly becoming insufficient for their needs. The men searched for a new space that they could use for a range. Harold Chapman, a Charters Towers rancher, gave permission to the Group to use part of his cattle station for their practice. Chapman requested a day’s notice from the men whenever they needed to use the range. In turn, Chapman would round up his cattle so that they wouldn’t get shot.

The Group would always send a few men to help Chapman round up his cattle. Private Charles Valade of the 13th Squadron soon developed a reputation as quite a cowhand. During one unfortunate training mission, “Pappy” Gunn reportedly shot and killed a cow by accident with .50-caliber ammo. He had to paid Chapman five pounds as a reimbursement. For the most part, using Chapman’s range for training proved to be extremely valuable for the combat crews.

Repost: Shot Down over Yulin Bay: Part 1

This week, we’re taking a look back at a post from last year.

For the 500th Squadron, planes were hard to come by in late March 1945. A quarter of their B-25s and crews had been lost over the last month, with additional planes being grounded due to combat damage. The remaining crews felt stretched thin as they continued to fly missions over the South China Sea. On this particular day, March 30th, 1/Lt. James McGuire was hoping he wouldn’t have to fly, as he felt sick and fatigued. He was slated as a spare pilot for the mission to Yulin Bay (located on the southeast tip of Hainan Island), meaning he would only have to complete the mission if one of the scheduled planes turned back. Unfortunately for him, one of the planes did turn back and McGuire took his place in the flight.

The crews were hoping to find the rest of a convoy that had escaped under the cover of stormy weather the previous day. They flew a few miles beyond the bay before heading back towards it to fool the Japanese guarding Yulin Bay. As the B-25s came over the ridge, they discovered they had not mislead the Japanese who greeted them with heavy antiaircraft fire…

Read the rest of this exciting story here.

The Most Decorated American Aircrew

The Most Decorated American Air Crew, cover art for Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I. Painting by Jack Fellows

This painting depicts B-17E #41-2666, nicknamed LUCY, piloted by Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on June 16, 1943 flying a crucial photomapping mission for the invasion of Bougainville Island in the Solomons later that year. LUCY, alone, without fighter cover, was surrounded and attacked over the objective by eight Japanese Zero fighters from 251 Kokutai. The pilot refused to abort and held the plane on the required straight and level course until his assignment was finished.

During the air battle that followed, half of his crew was seriously wounded. The bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, fought back heroically throughout the engagement until he died of his injuries, earning him the Medal of Honor. Zeamer, although grievously injured himself, was also awarded the Medal of Honor for piloting the B-17 until the mission was complete, then assisting other crewmen on the long flight back to base in the severely damaged bomber, ensuring the safe return of the precious photos. The rest of the crew received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor, making them the most highly decorated American aircrew in history. Zeamer eventually recovered from his near-fatal injures. This artwork is published on the cover of our upcoming book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume I.

Landing with a Compass and Two Parachutes

By May 1945, the Japanese had been pushed back to Formosa, now known as Taiwan. Throughout May, the 22nd Bomb Group had been flying missions to various parts of Formosa. Now that the month was coming to a close, Fifth Air Force’s heavy bomber groups were sent back to Taihoku (Taipei) on May 31st to take out the city’s antiaircraft guns and give it a heavy pounding. The 90th Bomb Group was to hit the antiaircraft guns, which would be followed by the 22nd and 43rd Bomb Groups focusing their efforts on bombing administration and municipal buildings in the city.

As the 37 B-24s from the 22nd Bomb Group began making their runs, they discovered that the 90th had not been able to take out the antiaircraft guns as planned. Instead, the crews were met with flak so heavy that the smoke from it nearly obscured the flight leader. Somehow, only two planes were hit by the flak. One of those two, MISSLEADING, was severely damaged after a burst hit the #2 and #4 engines, the #4 gas tank, knocked out all navigational and radio communications except for Morse Code and broke the instrument panel. To make matters worse, both the pilot, 2/Lt. Charles E. Critchfield, and co-pilot, 1/Lt. Robert A. Morgan, were critically injured in the blast. Critchfield was wounded in both his right arm and leg as well as his groin. Morgan was bleeding profusely after his left leg was cut to the bone by shrapnel.

Once the stricken plane left the target area with the rest of the formation, a pilot in another plane noticed that MISSLEADING was having trouble and alerted the formation leader. He ordered one of the other crews to accompany the lagging aircraft as far as it could fly and contacted rescue planes about the situation. For reasons unknown, the Catalinas never showed up.

Back in MISSLEADING, Morgan wrestled with the B-24, as the trim tabs were inoperative and he had feathered the unusable engine #4, cut the throttle of #2 to partial power and feathered engine #3 because of a gas leak that was running over the hot exhaust, leaving engine #1 as the only fully operating engine. There was no way that they would be able to get back to base on one engine, so Morgan cautiously restarted engine #3 and hoped it wouldn’t burst into flames with the gas running over it. Fortunately, it did not. Critchfield had been carefully removed from his seat so that other crewmembers could administer first aid and Lt. Robert S. Edgar slid into the pilot’s seat to assist Morgan whenever possible. It had only been five minus since they were first hit.

To lighten the plane, the crew tossed out everything they didn’t need. Without a working instrument panel, flight engineer S/Sgt. Lloyd Watson kept an eye on the engines and gave the rest of the crew instructions as needed. Navigator 2/Lt. R.E. Grey fished a small compass out of an emergency kit, and with a heading provided by T/Sgt. Benjamin D. Oxley, they headed for Laoag, an emergency strip on the northwestern coast of Luzon. Upon their descent, they discovered that the B-24’s main hydraulic system had been shot out and they would have to lower the landing gear manually. The flaps to help slow the plane were also not working and the nose gear wouldn’t extend. Parachutes were tied to gun mounts in the rear waist windows to help slow the plane.

B-24 MISSLEADING after landing at Laoag

MISSLEADING had its hydraulics shot out by antiaircraft fire during a combat mission to Taihoku, Formosa on May 31, 1945. Without flaps, the 19th Squadron co-pilot, 2/Lt. Robert A. Morgan, made an emergency landing at Laoag Strip, Luzon, after the pilot, 2/Lt. Charles E. Critchfield, was badly wounded by flak. Parachutes were deployed out both side windows to slow down the brakeless plane. However, the nose gear folded and the plane crushed its nose when it smashed to the runway.

When the B-24 touched down on the 3500-foot runway, Morgan held the plane’s nose high so that the tailskid would act like a brake as long as possible. Once the brakes were engaged, the parachutes were deployed and MISSLEADING skidded to a stop 200 feet off the far end of the runway. Emergency crews waiting for the plane hurried to get Critchfield and Morgan out of the plane. Both were taken to the local field hospital, where most of the small anesthetic supply was used on Critchfield’s operation. Morgan was held down by two medics as shrapnel was removed from his leg. It would be two days before Critchfield’s injuries were no longer life-threatening, however, that mission would be his last before he rotated home. Morgan was recognized for his determination and skill and received a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1988.

 

This exciting story and many others can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders. Buy your copy now.

Surprise over Gusap

Today’s post comes from the diary of Capt. Albert L. Behrens, a pilot in the 822nd Bomb Squadron.

November 15, 1943

Strike! Wewak. About 85 B-25’s were to participate in this raid. We left at 8 AM to pick up fighter escort over Gusap and then to Wewak. I was flying #3 position in the last element. We arrived at Gusap and started circling at 9000 feet. I heard a terrific explosion in the navigation compartment and smelled odors of cordite and gasoline. I turned around and thru the smoke Pete came up holding his hands in front of him – he had been hit bad. Both wrists were cut to the bone and blood was gushing out. Norb called Brownie to come forward and then he got out of the co-pilot’s seat to give first aid to Pete. I now had fallen out of formation and with the gas fumes in the plane, it was an extreme fire hazard and with 21 HE shells and four 500 pounders aboard, we would be dead ducks.

I told the crew to prepare to bail out and stand by. Pete was being well taken care of by now.  I found that my throttles were gone and the manifold pressure was at 35 inches. The props ran away.  I knew I had to land so I started to let down to Gusap and to my horror I saw it being bombed by the Nips. Fires were burning fiercely and one C47 was hit. I decided to try to get first aid anyway and prepared to land. I dropped my wheels but they only came out of the nacelles and hung there limply. We tried the auxiliary hand pump, but that was shot away too. We used the emergency system and that too was gone.

I noticed a huge hole in my right wing thru the main gas tank. We were losing gas by the 10’s of gallons. I knew we couldn’t land at Gusap. Nadzab was only 50 miles away so we started out hoping the engines and gas would hold out and that we wouldn’t get jumped. I hopped from cloud to cloud for as much protection as possible. We came to Nadzab (we salvoed our bombs in the river) and flew over the field winking our red light to notify those that we had wounded on board.

I swung around and out to make a straight approach about 10 miles long. Brownie was in back and he, at my word, cranked down all the flaps and came forward for the crash. We had put Pete in the co-pilot’s seat and strapped him in and put cushions in front of him. I couldn’t decrease my throttles so when I was sure I could make the field I feathered both engines, cut the switches and slowly let down – we had opened our escape hatch over our heads on our approach so that we wouldn’t be jammed in. The crash and noise that followed was beyond description.

The plane slid sideways down the field and came to a stop in a cloud of dust and a terrific odor of gasoline. Norb went out first – Brownie next, Shorty after him and then I helped lift Pete out and then got out myself and started to run as fast as I could away from that fire trap. It took 5 of us between 3 and 5 seconds to get out and away. Pete was taken to the hospital right away. I stood by the operations shack. A Red Alert had just sounded. I was shaking all over now. The plane didn’t catch fire but just sat there pouring out gas and oil.

It was a sorry looking airplane. Both engines were torn off and lay about 300 yards down the runway. One main gear came off and was between the engines and plane. The nose had broken open and both nacelles ripped wide open. Hardly anything to salvage. We went to see Pete and he had quite a bit of shrapnel in both arms and his left leg.  They had given him some morphine and he was getting groggy.

They moved him to another hospital so I went out to the plane and got out our personal stuff. I dispatched a message to my Base telling them our situation. We ate and then were fortunate enough to catch a ride back to Moresby in a C47 (which had a single engine failure on the way). No one was hurt in the landing – except for a few bruises and bumps.

What a relief to get back to our own outfit. I washed and went to church and then to bed. I forgot to mention that we were hit from forward and below by machine gun slugs and two 20 mm explosive shells. No one but my gunner saw the plane and he identified it as a P-40 or P-39. I don’t know what it was. I never saw it.

Note from IHRA: The official combat narrative refers to the plane as ‘a SSF [single seat fighter], thought to be a Tony [Allied nickname for the Ki-61 Hein].’ There is no way of knowing for certain which fighter hit Capt. Behren’s B-25. However, eight P-40s from the 8th Fighter Group are known to have engaged Japanese aircraft near Gusap, and one of the P-40 pilots briefly fired on Allied B-25s (mistaking them for Ki-49s, or ‘Helens’) during the engagement.