Trouble in Formosa

Near the end of May 1945, the Japanese had been pushed back to the island of Formosa and the 345th Bomb Group was flying regular raids over Japanese territory. Their targets typically included alcohol and sugar refineries as well as rail yards. A mission on May 27, 1945 was no different and 24 B-25s took off from Clark Field to destroy these targets once more. The 499th and 500th Squadron focused on the plants at Kobi, leaving raging fires behind them. Two planes had one engine each shot out, causing the pilots to break off any further attacks as they flew to the emergency airfield at Lingayen. Lester W. Morton safely landed there, while 1/Lt. Charles J. Cunningham had to make a water landing 50 miles away from the north coast of Luzon. He and his crew were rescued half an hour later by a Catalina.

Flying in the 501st Squadron was 2/Lt. Ted U. Hart, a pilot who typically approached targets by skimming treetops and telephone wires. He and the rest of the 501st had been tasked with destroying rail yards at Ensui, which, due to a navigational error, didn’t happen that day. Instead, the Squadron focused on attacking Mizukami’s sugar refinery. It was on this run that the left engine of the B-25 Hart was flying, APACHE PRINCESS, was hit by fire from an antiaircraft gun.

After releasing his bombs, Hart feathered the burning engine, only to have his right engine run away and a fire start in the bomb bay. Clearly, APACHE PRINCESS would not be in the air much longer. Shortly afterwards, it landed roughly in a rice paddy, knocking the pilot unconscious. When he woke up a minute or two later, he hurried out of the plane and joined three crewmen standing nearby. The turret gunner, Sgt. Bever, was the only one still in the plane. Hart went back to look for Bever, finding him slumped over and resisting any help to move. Soon, the heat of the fire spreading from the bomb bay to the rest of the plane drove Hart outside.

 

Paul Haller and B-25 Apache Princess

T/Sgt. Paul E. Haller was the crew chief of the 501st Squadron’s B-25 APACHE PRINCESS, which was shot down near Mizukami, Formosa on May 27, 1945. Second Lieutenant Ted U. Hart and three crewmen were captured and spent the rest of the war as prisoners at Taihoku. Haller is shown in front of the plane’s colorful insignia at Tacloban in January 1945. (Frank Hansen Collection)

 

Ted Hart

Second Lieutenant Ted U. Hart was photographed at Clark Field just a few days before he and four of his crewmen were shot down and captured on May 27th. He was brutally tortured and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp at Taihoku, Formosa. (Ted Hart Collection)

 

As hard as it was to leave their crewmember behind, they knew they had to withdraw from the area before they were captured by the Japanese. They jumped into a dry ditch and walked for about an hour, then stopped to look around. As they poked their heads out of the ditch, they realized they were surrounded by soldiers and civilians with weapons. Disarmed, the men were paraded through the nearby village before paper bags were put on their heads and they were loaded onto a train bound for Taihoku. On the two day trip to Taihoku, the men ate little or nothing and drank cups of tea.

Hart and his crew arrived at the Military Intelligence Headquarters in Taihoku, Formosa on May 29th. They were stripped of their personal effects and questioned, then taken to individual prison cells. The next day, Hart was taken to another room where he was interrogated by Capt. Yoshio Nakano. At first, Hart refused to give any information other than his name, rank, and serial number. As Nakano grew angry with Hart’s lack of cooperation, Hart figured they already knew about his final mission and subsequent shoot down, so he gave Nakano the details of it, then remained silent as the questioning continued.

Three men who were also in the room with Hart and Nakano were told to tie Hart’s hands, then put him on the floor and restrain him. Nakano then waterboarded Hart until he lost consciousness from a lack of air, before reviving him and waterboarding him again. Hart passed out six times while he was tortured, then Nakano’s superior officer arrived and ordered the torture to stop. His swollen hands were unbound, and sobbing, he told the officer everything he knew. During the crew’s imprisonment, that was the only time anyone was tortured. The rest of their stay was spent in their cells. Sometimes, a friendly guard would let Hart walk around the courtyard for 15 minutes or give him a little extra rice to eat.

Corporal Beck, the radio operator from Hart’s crew, discovered that another 345th member was also a prisoner there. This was Cpl. John Shott, who was the only survivor after his B-25 crashed on May 17, 1945. He and Beck would communicate using Morse code when the prison guards were out of earshot. Weeks passed and any hope of being rescued waned. On August 21, 1945, almost three months after Hart and his crew were shot down, the prisoners were gathered and transported to Prisoner of War Camp #6. Upon arrival, they were told the war was over and on September 7th, they began their journey home.

Ehlers, Hart, Gatewood released from POW camp

Three emaciated 501st Squadron officers relax aboard the escort carrier U.S.S. Santee shortly after being released from the Japanese military jail at Taihoku, Formosa. They are from left: 2/Lt. Karl L. Ehlers, navigator, 2/Lt. Ted U. Hart, pilot, and 2/Lt. Henry Gatewood, co-pilot. Each of the officers lost about a third of his weight while a prisoner of war. (Ted Hart Collection)

Breakfast Interrupted

We came across an interesting diary entry from Lieutenant Clifford Taylor, a member of the 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group.

Jan. 15th, 1944

Well, tonight I’m writing in the cool of the evening, pleasantly tired & puffing on my “Bessimer Converter.” Today was quite warm in more ways than one. As we have been doing, we got up at 5:30 & went to chow. Sitting under a canvas roof that doesn’t restrict our view too much we could look out into the valley. As we talked over our coffee, about six fighters at 10,000 started in toward the field. Each of us figuring it was an early patrol. Just about that time they started down toward the strip with tracers blazing from their noses. Our ack-ack opened up on them. As this was going on a transport (C-47) came skimming toward us, just above the trees & heading for the mountain. About that time a “Mike” (Me-109)* peeled down & really started after him. We later heard the C-47 was shot down but all the crew got out. The Japs then high tailed it for home & a “tail-end Charlie” limped across the valley with all the ack-ack trying to get him. They seemed to hit him but not seriously & he got over the mountains. however a P-38 from Lae caught him & shot him down. A few planes were shot up on the transport strip & one boy was hit.

*In actuality, this was a Mitsubishi Ki-61 “Tony,” which looked very similar to the Bf-109. While the Germans and Japanese were allies, there were no German planes in the Southwest Pacific.

Attacking Clark Field

As 1945 opened in the Pacific Theater, the Allies were advancing through the Philippines. Their next major target would be a three-unit attack on the Japanese stronghold of Clark Field on January 7th. At the time, the Japanese had put more than 400 antiaircraft guns in the area, which would make the planned 120+ A-20 and B-25 raid more challenging. Three bomb groups, the 345th, 312th and 417th, would split into formations and fly an “X” pattern over Clark Field. Above them, two P-38 squadrons would keep an eye out for enemy planes.

Upon arriving at the mountain pass that stood between the crews and Clark Field, heavy clouds blocked their path. The formation split up in the thick clouds as pilots navigated through the pass, temporarily invisible to each other. Emerging on the other side of the clouds, the 312th’s flight leader, Lt. Joseph Rutter, and his wingman, Lt. Jones, arrived at Clark Field without the rest of their formation. Rutter feared that he might have arrived late and began his run on Clark Field—alone. Jones had chosen to circle back and rejoin the formation, which was about a mile behind him and Rutter.

As Rutter made his pass over the target area, he heard machine gun fire hit the tail of his A-20 and his gunner, M/Sgt. Wilfred Boyd, alerted him of the B-25s coming in from the left. One of the B-25 pilots, Capt. Floyd Fox, watched with growing alarm as Rutter, dropping parafrags, was about to cross his path. Just in time, the parafrags ran out and Fox was able to continue his run without incident. Rutter finished his run and joined several A-20s for the flight back to Tanauan. Reflecting on the events, Rutter said, “Strangely, no question was ever raised about the A-20 which got in front of the parade and the pilot responsible. Considerable wonder was expressed, however, about the interesting pictures recorded by Boyd’s camera when the series of 24 exposures were posted on the wall of the 389th Squadron’s intelligence office.”

Evasive Maneuvers

Lt. Rutter’s A-20 took this photograph of the B-25 flown by Floyd N. Fox of the 499th Bomb Squadron maneuvering to avoid the parafrags released from Rutter’s aircraft.

Finally, the first formation of the 312th began a run over Clark Field. “At the turn-in point the B-25s wound up between us,” 386th Squadron 2/Lt. Bill A. Montgomery wrote, “The result was that I came in behind several, and as I traversed the target area, I overran them en route. It was a mess.” The slower B-25s were being overshot by the A-20s and ended up on the receiving end of the parafrags being dropped from above. “…after getting ahead it was my turn to receive [the B-25’s] bouncing tracers, not to mention the parafrags and various assortment of other bombs being delivered.” In short, it was pure chaos.

Strafer Attack on Clark Field

Aircraft from the first wave are seen attacking Clark Field on January 7th. The tail of a wrecked G4M Betty bomber from 261 Kokutai is at center left. The gray wreck at lower center is a Ki-46 Dinah reconnaissance aircraft.

Not only were the bombers being shot at by the Japanese from below, Zeros were dropping phosphorus bombs on them from above. Fortunately for the bombers, the phosphorus bombs did not explode until after the planes had already flown out of harm’s way. Soon enough, it was time to leave Clark Field and turn for home. Congested air space and chaos aside, the attack was determined to be a success. A total of 19 Japanese fighters and 12 bombers were destroyed. Clark Field was no longer a major obstacle for the Allies. Between all three groups, 11 planes were lost. Two days later with little opposition, the American invasion force landed at Lingayen Gulf.

Repost: Riding Out the Storm

We are revisiting the archives this week for a post about a powerful typhoon that blew through Okinawa in October 1945. Read on to find out how the men stationed there made it through 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…

Keep reading this exciting story.

Also find it in our ebook Stories from Fifth Air Force.

New Guinea Weather Downs “Hell from Heaven Men”

Not long after the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Allied forces began focusing on Wewak, a Japanese-held base where the 4th Air Army was located. Six B-17s from the 64th Squadron took off on the evening of March 14, 1943 to attack a convoy that had been located the previous night some miles north of Wewak. The crews, which had battled some of the worst weather they had seen yet, soon split up: three returned to Seven Mile, three continued on towards the convoy. Of the three in search of the convoy, only two reached its location and bombed it without results. Before reaching the target, pilot 2/Lt. Arthur L. McMullan in the last B-17 called “HELL FROM HEAVEN MEN” decided that it was time to turn back before running out of fuel.

Surrounded by billowing cumulonimbus clouds, McMullan struggled with turbulence and icing wings for four hours. The bombs were salvoed and instead of heading for Seven Mile, McMullan began flying towards Dobodura. A little while later, they men knew they were near Buna, but visibility was nearly zero. They dropped flares to find out if they were over land or water and saw the flares hit the water below them. Not having the time to ditch the plane on land, the men prepared for a water landing.

A message received at 0230 at Port Moresby said, “Out of gas going down for water landing.”  Seven minutes later, another one stating, “Am okay near Buna.” was received. By this point, the plane was 15 miles northwest of Buna. Out of fuel, one engine quit. That was soon followed by one last message: “Going down.”

The B-17 nose-dived into the ocean at more than 100mph. It is unknown whether that dive was due to poor visibility and not being able to see the water’s surface or the wind flipping the plane at the last moment. Fortunately, four or five of the men were able to escape the plane before it sank a few seconds after hitting the water.

Staff Sergeant Robert L. Freeman, 2/Lt. Howard G. Eberly, and 2/Lt. John M. Dawson were able to find each other and began the six or seven mile swim to shore. The tide was with them, but it was an exhausting trip. Four hours into their swim, Freeman became too tired to continue. He decided to float to shore and told Eberly and Dawson to continue without him. Reluctantly, they did so, but not before telling Freeman that they would send someone back to help him when they got to shore. It would be the last time they ever saw him.

Within the hour of sunrise, the tide turned and the men, who were now gaining the attention of passing sharks, began swimming parallel to the shoreline. More than 12 hours after landing in the water, they finally reached land at the mouth of the Kumusi River, about 24 miles northwest of Buna Mission. For half an hour, Eberly and Dawson lay in the sand, regaining their strength. Once they were able to stand, they began walking and came upon a native who was fishing on the beach. A few minutes later, a U.S. infantry patrol arrived. This patrol had been sent out to look for the downed crew. Natives were sent to look for Freeman, but he was not found.

Dawson and Eberly were sent to a local hospital, then transferred to a hospital at Port Moresby a few days later. Both men made a full recovery. In all, Freeman, McMullan, 2/Lt. MacJilton Sargent, Sgt. Wayne G. Sprecher, Cpl. Milburn J. Glanville, PFC. Hermann Bender and Pvt. James M. Grahl were lost on that fateful mission to Wewak.

Marauder at Midway

Marauder at Midway by Jack Fellows

Early on the morning of June 4, 1942, the Japanese Combined Fleet, with four aircraft carriers, was approaching Midway Island in the Central Pacific with the intention of seizing the island. They expected to surprise the Allied base, but due to a broken Japanese code the Allies had advance warning, and sent every available bomber in Hawaii to Midway’s defense. Among this eclectic mix were four B-26 Martin Marauder fast medium bombers, now equipped to carry aerial torpedoes: two from the 22nd Bomb Group and two from the 38th Bomb Group. Navy ships, including two carriers, were also now approaching the scene. But even without the element of surprise, the Japanese had more ships, more carriers, and more aircraft armed to take down opposing ships.

While Midway Island was subjected to a terrific pounding by an initial Japanese air attack, the B-26s participated with Midway-based Navy attack aircraft in a desperate but spirited counterattack on the carriers. The strike ended badly for this American strike force and two of the B-26s were shot down during their target runs. The other two were so badly shot up that they barely made it back to Midway, where they crash-landed and never flew again. While attempting to evade the Akagi’s Zero fighters after releasing his torpedo at the ship, Lt. James Muri of the 408th Bomb Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group, in B-26 #40-1391 SUZIE Q, ended up flying just feet above the Akagi’s flight deck. Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, leader of the Midway assault, witnessed the American counterattack, saw the Marauder fly a few feet above the ship’s deck, and incorrectly surmised that the planes stationed on the island’s airbase were the biggest threat to his precious carriers. Accordingly, he re-armed his force of attack aircraft with ordnance intended to destroy land targets. What Nagumo didn’t realize was that at the moment that Lt. Muri was hurtling down the flight deck of Akagi, mere feet away, two yet undetected U.S. carriers had arrived to engage the Japanese fleet.

The shocking discovery a short time later of U.S. carriers preparing to strike the Japanese fleet forced Nagumo to once again download the ordnance on his waiting planes and reload them for attacking ships. Aside from the breaking of the Japanese code that allowed the U.S. Navy to respond to the Japanese invasion fleet, this fateful decision was responsible, more than anything else, for the U.S. Navy’s stunning victory over the Japanese Naval forces in the Battle of Midway. While the Japanese planes were sitting on the flight decks, busy reloading, the Americans had already launched their attack aircraft. Had the Midway-based attack not been so aggressive, or if Lt. Muri had not so audaciously buzzed the Admiral’s flagship, the Japanese attack aircraft may well have kept their anti-ship ordnance and been in the air when the American carrier attack planes were launched. By the end of the day, all four of the Japanese carriers had been sunk; the USS Yorktown was the only carrier loss suffered by the United States Navy in this battle, which was the turning point in the Pacific war.

 

If you want to learn more about the Battle of Midway, read this post. Head to our website to buy the painting.

Remembering those who did not make it home

Over the last few years, we’ve shared a number of World War II stories with you. With Memorial Day coming up this Monday, we wanted to take a moment to remember everyone who lost their lives during the war and invite you to read some of their stories once more.
 
The Aguirres HONI KUU OKOLE was shot down on May 21, 1943. The crew did not survive.

 
 
McGuire Shot Down The members of 1/Lt. James McGuire’s crew who did not survive their crash landing.

 
 
The Moore crew The crew aboard the B-17 nicknamed KA-PUHIO-WELA, shot down during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

 
 
Strafing a Ship Maj. Raymond A. Wilkins and his crew crashed in Simpson Harbor on Nov. 2, 1943. This brutal day became known as “Bloody Tuesday.”

 
 
Ralph Cheli's B-25 going down over New GuineaMaj. Ralph Cheli and his crew, who were executed by the Japanese after being captured on August 18, 1943.

Middlebrook’s Crew Has a Close Call

Sleep was eluding the men of the 38th Bomb Group on the night of May 14/15, 1943. They were rudely awakened by a Japanese raid on Port Moresby, which destroyed a tent of Norden bombsights and slightly damaged two B-25s. At 2AM, the all-clear was sounded and the men headed back to bed, only to be woken up a short time later for a mission at 3AM to Gasmata. To top things off, weather between Port Moresby and Gasmata was very stormy. It was not a good morning.

After being assigned to fly EL DIABLO II, 2/Lt. Garrett Middlebrook was especially not looking forward to this mission. This plane was an unmodified B-25C hand-me-down that had been designated as non-combat only. Unlike the other B-25s flying this morning, this one was not equipped with wing tanks that could hold 300 gallons of extra fuel for the long flight. Middlebrook’s protests about flying this plane were dismissed, so he and his crew got in their plane and began the bumpy 300-mile trip to Gasmata.

Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943

This map shows some of the airdromes and landing grounds around New Guinea as of February 1943. The route between Gasmata and Port Moresby is highlighted in yellow.

Climbing to 13,000 feet, the crew began crossing over the Owen Stanley Mountains. The B-25, as well as all of its crew other than the pilot and co-pilot, were tossed about in the turbulent weather. At one point, the aircraft was caught in a downdraft that sent it into a 2000-foot dive. Navigator Lt. Vincent A. Raney wrapped his arms around the steel plating behind Middlebrook’s seat and stood on the ceiling to brace himself until the pilot and co-pilot were able to pull the aircraft out of its dive. The skies were filled with lightning, which created halos around the propeller edges. One bolt lit up the scene in front of them: a mountain. Middlebrook pulled up sharply and the crew was spared an untimely death.

That was to be the last bit of severe turbulence for the trip, though the plane was still tossed around a bit afterwards. The B-25 ascended to 14,000 feet and continued to Gasmata. There was one problem: all the turbulence left the crew disoriented and no one was able to determine exactly where they were. After crossing the mountains, they descended to 800 feet, then to 300 feet in search of the water somewhere below them. Still, even if they could find the target, there would not be enough fuel to get them back home. They decided that the best thing to do was to head home, even if it meant going back through the storm.

The flight was once again very bumpy, but they did not have any further close calls with mountains. Eventually, the stormy weather was left behind as the crew flew along the south coast of New Guinea, 250 miles west of Port Moresby. By this time, fuel was low and Middlebrook didn’t want to risk flying over the Gulf of Papua, which was the shortest route back to base. Instead, he flew 175 miles to a shoreline covered with sand dunes and made a wheels-down landing, keeping the nose up as long as possible to minimize the chance of getting caught on one of the dunes.

Once the B-25 landed and the crew got out, they saw several natives walking towards them. One, a boy, could understand a little English and told the men that some Australians were stationed about half a day’s walk from the crash site and that he was willing to guide them to the Australians. Three of the crew set out with the boy while the rest stayed to secure the plane and destroy the I.F.F. (Identification Friend or Foe) transponder in case the plane fell into enemy hands.

Soon enough, the three men returned with good news: they were to be picked up by the Australians that night at the mouth of the Kapuri River. They spent the night resting at the Australian camp and were picked up by a C-47 at noon the next day. EL DIABLO II was also picked up and repaired, then transferred out of the 38th.