Betting Against the Weather

This week, we have an entry from Col. Donald P. Hall’s diary. The C.O. of the 89th Bomb Squadron wrote about a particularly exciting mission on July 28, 1943.

Henebry led the 90th [Bomb Squadron] this AM and hit barges beyond Cape Gloucester in New Britain. Got 11 barges. The P-38 escort tangled with enemy fighters and shot down six. All our planes returned. Took 15 B-25s, T.O. 1300 composed of planes from 8th, 13th and 90th to go to north coast of New Britain and hunt more barges. Weather bad on route out and I received call from ground station saying something about a destroyer and transport somewhere en route. P-38s called and said they were going back because of weather. I decided to take a chance and go on without cover and use the bad weather alone. You don’t get a chance at a destroyer and a transport every day.

Buck Good decided to go as co-pilot for me as he hadn’t flown in a B-25 in a long time. He’d just came back from leave that A.M. We hit Cape Bushing on the south coast of New Britain in light rain. No barges. As we rounded the point at Cape Gloucester saw everything at once. 2 destroyers lying off shore (I thought one was transport it was so large). As we headed for them, 20 Zeros passed directly over-head but didn’t attack right then. “Oh Boy!” I thought this is going to be rough.

A Jap air transport or bomber was circling over the boats and four of the boys headed for it. They fired a long burst into it, but it didn’t go down. So all planes except mine headed for 1st destroyer which was by now throwing up lots of ack-ack. Took my flight toward enemy air transport as it landed at Cape Gloucester. 16 Japs passed out of it but we cut all of them down. “Pappy” Gunn flying No. 2 position on my wing laid a 75mm shell under it. The wing caught fire from our bullets by the time it had stopped rolling. Buck Good let go a couple or three bombs as we went over it and that finished it.

Buck Good an I then headed for large destroyer which had not been touched. Looked over my shoulder and saw enemy planes coming from about 10,000 feet, but there was too juicy a target to stop now. I could see that the boys in Henebry’s, Wilkins’, and Hawkins’ flight had the other destroyer burning and were still bombing and strafing it. We dropped down on our run for the large destroyer and it lit up like a Christmas tree as its ack-ack tried to knock us down before we bombed them. While Buck opened the bomb doors for me, I started to tap rudders and rake the deck with my 50’s [nose guns].

You could see Japs all over the decks trying to get cover someplace. We released our bombs as we pulled up to clear the mast, then dropped to the water to get out of their heavy gun fire. As we turned sharply to the left I could see we scored two direct hits as the destroyer rolled back and forth, then began to burn. Oh Boy! Buck and I shook hands on that job!

As we could see the Zeros coming in among us, I wiggled my wings to collect the formation but it was hard to do as they were still in a circle around the first destroyer. I could see that it was finished too. We finally got together and left the target with a few Zeros on our tail. The rest of my flight had been unable to release their bombs, so it was lucky that Buck and I had thrown ours into the sides of the large destroyer.

I knew some of the boys had been hit as the planes couldn’t close their bomb doors. Lt. Nuchols’ plane (13th SQ) I found out later was badly shot up by enemy fighters and rudder about gone. Radioed our report home and came straight home. After the bombing, Nuchols was still flying around and someone saw parachutes descending. Later it was found out that everyone got out except Lt. Nuchols who had lost too much altitude to make it. He crashed and burned about 15 miles from drone. Took his co-pilot two days to get back here.

Received wire from Gen. Ramey and phone calls from others [saying] congratulations in our job. The boys were really happy. We stayed up late to see the photos. Buck said he’s never seen me so happy and excited over the target, but he didn’t exactly take out his knitting either! Only two planes had 300 lb. bombs and rest had only 100 lb. Lucky for us 300 lb. were along and I was glad I had one of the planes with this load.

Battle of Manila: Return to Corregidor

After the 22nd’s group mission on January 28, 1945, 33rd Squadron crews continued to fly smaller strikes the last three days of the month to Mangaldan, Bayambang and Baguio. After takeoff on the 29th, an engine on the B-24 REDHOT RIDENHOOD II developed a fire and turned back. The plane landed safely, though it needed extensive repairs before it could be of use again. Overall, with the destruction of various targets on the three islands, each day’s mission was considered a success.

Activity ramped up in February as the Group continued to support the ground troops in Manila by working over the coastal defense installations in Manila Bay. Corregidor was becoming a very familiar target for the Red Raiders, with a different objective on the island each day. They broke out of the monotony on the 4th with a mission to Caballo Island, two miles south of Corregidor, where they took out two coastal defense guns. By the 6th, crews began to hope for a new target that wasn’t Corregidor, though they were happy to see American ships scattered around Manila and Subic Bays.

Corregidor Strike

Corregidor Island is left smoking after it was hit by the 22nd Bomb Group on February 6, 1945.

 

February 7th brought with it a new target, Cebu. After V Bomber Command found out that approximately 700 Japanese troops were occupying the town of Bobo, 23 B-24s from the 22nd were sent to clear out the Japanese. This was enjoyable mission with a late takeoff time (Bobo was only 135 miles away from base) and good weather. They left the area in smoke and flames.

Around this time, there was also new addition to the Air/Sea Rescue operations. It came in the form of modified B-17s known as the Flying Dutchmen and equipped with a Higgins motorboat that could be dropped to downed crews. The boats were stocked with supplies and communications equipment. Between the supplies and being in a solid boat with a motor instead of a rubber raft, men had a much better chance of returning to friendly territory.

B-17 Flying Dutchman

A rescue B-17 drops a Higgins boat to a downed crew. These B-17 conversions began in February 1945.

 

The Red Raiders enjoyed a couple of days off before they returned to Corregidor on the 11th and 12th to destroy any remaining targets, such as antiaircraft guns and ammunition dumps. With daily bombings by four heavy bomb groups, not to mention strikes from fighter, medium bomber, strafer and attack groups, Corregidor started to look like the surface of the moon. A continuous smoky haze hung over the island, making it difficult to see targets from the air. Still, crews had enough hits to keep up morale.

An unsuccessful search for some Japanese shipping on the 13th was disappointing, but the crews looked ahead to the 14th, when they flew a mission to Cabcaben Airdrome to take out some antiaircraft and machine guns annoying the Sixth Army as it advanced down the Bataan Peninsula. On the 15th, the 22nd flew its last mission to Corregidor, as the island invasion was to occur the next day. As it had done before, the Group targeted machine and coastal gun establishments. Their efforts were rewarded with explosions, fires and a twisted defense gun.

That day, General Krueger and his armies landed on Bataan Peninsula at Marivales. They were in position to head north, join with armies that had made the journey south from Lingayen Gulf, and advance on Manila. In the south, parachute regiments landed at Nasugbu, cutting off an escape avenue for the Japanese. The invasion of Corregidor began the next day with Allied forces attacking by air and on foot. After a tough battle that cost 222 of the 2065 men their lives, the surface of Corregidor was no longer part of Japanese territory. All that was left to do on the island was clear out the thousands of Japanese still hiding in its caves.

Battle of Manila: Softening Corregidor

In the weeks before the Battle of Manila began on February 3, 1945, ground troop commanders requested the help of heavy bombers to knock out some of the Japanese defenses built on Corregidor and Grande Islands. The two islands would be of strategic import in the coming battle, particularly Corregidor, which sits at the mouth of Manila Bay. General MacArthur approved of this on January 22nd, causing the 22nd Bomb Group to spare the Japanese airfields and give some attention to Luzon.

Liberators from the Group took off on the 24th, each loaded with five 1000-pound bombs. Many targets were marked out, including two large coastal defense guns and ammo installations scattered about Grande Island. Results were excellent, with several bombs hitting a powder magazine and and ammunition storage area. They flew back to base without incident.

On the 26th, the 22nd was scheduled to hit Corregidor Island. Approximately 6000 Japanese men were estimated to be occupying the island at the time. This was a more difficult target from 10,000 feet, as the men, along with two coastal defense guns, were hidden in buried concrete bunkers and underground tunnels. The crews did what they could to hit the guns, but to no avail. Taking out the guns would have to wait until another time.

Corregidor Island

The 22nd Bomb Group repeatedly bombed Corregidor Island in Manila Bay to soften it up for a combined airborne and sea invasion on February 16, 1945.

 

The next day, the Group went back to Grande Island to focus down two coastal defense guns on the southeast corner of the island. Planes from the 2nd Squadron successfully destroyed the guns by dropping their bombs between the gun emplacements.

January 28th brought another mission to Grande Island. The 22nd were hoping to repeat their success on the two coastal defense guns on the southwest corner of the island. Due to all the secondary explosions and fires, the Group couldn’t quite tell if they had knocked the guns out of commission. This was the final mission for the 22nd during January 1945.

On the ground, Gen. Krueger’s 37th Division reached the east side of Clark Field. They seized it from the Japanese and moved into Fort Stotsenburg. To Krueger’s north, the Eighth Army (there to reinforce the Sixth Army) landed at Lingayen on the 27th. With the extra men available to him, Krueger began the march towards Manila.

New Ebook — Stories from Fifth Air Force

With the growing popularity of our blog, we decided to round up a batch of stories and make them available as a short Kindle ebook called Stories from Fifth Air Force. This ebook comes loaded with 9 exciting stories, including a triple-length story about the Royce Raid, a color profile from our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, and some extra photos that haven’t previously been published with these blog posts.

Tales include:

  • The 3-part Royce Raid
  • The Ordeal of the Herry Crew
  • Riding out the Storm
  • Dangerous Haystacks
  • Aussies Join the 43rd
  • The End of GREMLIN’S HOLIDAY
  • The Jinx of the 389th
  • Tragedy Above the Bismarck Sea
  • Buzzing the Rivals

Operation Reckless

Int'l Historical Research Associates:

We are pulling another one from the archives this week, this time giving some background on Hollandia, the next target for the 312th. Don’t forget to read finish the story in part 2!

Originally posted on IHRA:

Hollandia, located on the northern coast of Netherlands, New Guinea, was an isolated town captured by the Japanese in April 1942. From there, they built the Hollandia, Cyclops and Sentani airdromes and a satellite strip at the nearby village of Tami. Although Hollandia had its strategic value, it was not a major target until 1944. Fifth Air Force finished pounding Wewak, the main base for the Japanese Army Air Force, in mid-March of 1944. The Japanese turned Hollandia into their major base and started a tremendous build up to try and take New Guinea back from the Allies. The Japanese Army High Command figured that Hollandia was out of the Allies’ reach and that they were safe from any attacks.

Operation Reckless was in the works when the Americans broke the Japanese military code and discovered that the enemy felt secure. The Japanese had no idea that the newest P-38…

View original 257 more words

One Last Bomb

The last mission for YE OLD NANCE, a 38th Bomb Group B-25, was supposed to be a milk run. The bomber, flown by Capt. Bud Thompson and crew, attacked Malahang Drome, Lae on January 21, 1943. As bombardier 1/Lt. Walter G. Beck dropped his bombs, he and the rest of the crew heard the B-25 rattle violently. They thought they had been hit by antiaircraft fire, but none of the instruments showed that anything was amiss. With that, the crew headed home.

Sgt. Robert Pickard picks up the rest of the story in his diary:

“Day before yesterday we had quite a bit of excitement most of which happened while I was asleep…736 [YE OLD NANCE] carrying one 300 lb. demo bomb in the bomb bay, arming wires loose and all ready to go off. It taxied into the revetment about 75 feet from our tent. Then a gas truck pulled up and started filling it up with gas. About that time Lt. Beck, Bombardier, saw the live bomb and told everyone to clear out, that it would go off in 45 seconds. So everybody left, but fast. The guy who was putting gas in the plane just dropped the hose and left. The gas ran all over the plane and down on the ground and over to a fire where they were boiling clothes. Poof – and the whole plane was in flames.

Remains of B-25 Ye Old Nance

Men look at the burning wreckage of YE OLD NANCE.

 

About that time – Kudelka woke up and took off in such a hurry that he hit the tent pole and darn near broke his skull, but didn’t bother to take time enough to holler at me. Pretty soon the ammunition in the plane started going off, and singing around…and that is what woke me. I lay for a full minute trying to figure out what it was, and then rolled over and saw the plane a mass of flames. Still did not quite realize what the score was. Looked around and didn’t see another soul around a usually busy place so figured I had better move out. I dressed and ambled over toward a slit trench. Heard a particularly close bullet whiz by so jumped in the trench. No sooner did I get in it than the bomb exploded along with a 2000 gal tank truck full of 100 octane gas, which was sitting in front of the plane. Parts of the plane were found 200 yards away. Our tent had several holes punched in it and other tents in the area were completely burned up. The concussion from the explosion was terrific. I was closer to it than any one else. The pay off is this – Kudelka came back yelling his head off to Jim Eshleman for not waking him up – that he might have been killed and etc. [He] kept carrying on something fierce. I asked him why he didn’t wake me up and he didn’t say any more.”

Incredibly, no one was injured by the explosion. The B-25, on the other hand, was a total loss.

Aussies Join the 43rd

Among the new airmen flying with the 43rd were five crews of Australians. The Aussies were attached to the 65th Squadron, and the Squadron History had this to say about them: “These men have joined vigorously and whole-heartedly into squadron activities, taking their place promptly and efficiently in our coordinated, close formation-bombing attacks. Some of these men are veterans of the Philippines, Singapore, and Java Campaigns still showing great stamina and spirit. It is eventually planned for a complete group of Australian heavy bomber crews to be formed from this nucleus of men.”

The arrival of the Aussies was a tonic to some of the crews who felt that they had been called on to do too much, especially those near the end of their 300 combat hours. On the other hand, White wrote, “I guess they have really forgotten us down here. We get no replacements, so now we get five Aussie crews in to fly B-24’s.”

For his part, Australian Wing Commander J.B. Hampshire was happy to see the Aussie crews in the air at all. In a letter from 1990 he explained how difficult it had been to get the project going: “In November 1943, I was called to see the Air Member for Personnel, Air Force H.Q., Victoria Barracks, Melbourne. He told me I had been appointed O.C. of 5 crews who had been selected to train with the Americans. I was to proceed north and make the necessary arrangements. To cut the story short, I went to see the R.A.A.F. Commanders at Brisbane, Townsville and Port Moresby, none of whom knew what I was talking about when I mentioned Liberators. I met Air Commodore Shergen (RAAF) in Port Moresby (N.G.) and told him my troubles. He said, ‘How many bottles of scotch have you got?’ I said, ‘Two.’ He said, ‘Bring them along and I will introduce you to General Davies, Commanding General 5th Bomber Command USAAF.’ I met General Davies, we consumed the scotch and he issued orders to a Colonel Browthan at Charters Towers, Queensland that he was to train us. After training there, we proceeded to 43rd (H.B.) Group, 65th Squadron at Dobodura (N.G.) where we commenced our operational flying.”

In September 1944, the Aussie crews were incorporated under an RAAF administrative unit, although all training and operations remained under American control. One of the Australians flying with the 65th, F/L Mick Jacques, wrote an article about the experience in Wings, the official magazine of the RAAF: “The RAAF is an outfit full of surprises. To say that a bunch of instructors on up-to-date Australian reconnaissance bombers at a southern OTU were enchanted to find they had been posted to American B24 units in New Guinea is putting it extremely mildly. Emerging from a bout of Gargantuan Bacchanalian orgies engaged at in various spots on the eastern shores of our sunny land, the boys landed in a small town in North Queensland to begin training on what were to be our dream ships.”

“My instructor was a brand new shave tail straight from the States, with Zero combat experience and about 300 hours in his log book. I forget who was the more surprised when we discovered he was to teach me how to fly heavies. We certainly had loads of fun learning: after one night circuit this southern Alabama boy, who had mercifully sent me off solo in day time, decided he would quit with a whole skin. So, one night circuit dual, then off on our pat! Some fun, with a brand new co-pilot, as scared as you are! Our crews all graduated with no casualties, apart from severe losses by several members in a series of craps games. Now we are all due to go south after doing about 15 missions. We have had a grand spin from our Allies. Our squadron [the 65th] is one of the crack heavy units in the area … The American boys of the squadron to which we were attached were really good Joes. We had a fine deal from the CO [Maj. Hawthorne], a Texan rebel who frequently bitched us for various misdemeanors, such as not reading the bulletin board and making too much so-and-so noise, but who was a damn good guy nevertheless; to the quartermaster sergeant, a rotund gentleman named “Pappy” who gave us our generous cigarette ration once a month and anything else we could collect officially or otherwise.”

“We were all surprised to find that American officers below the rank of Major lined up at chow time with their utensils just like a bunch of rookies, served themselves and washed up afterwards. Our American friends were astounded when we asked: ‘Where are the mess stewards?’ ‘Well, Aussie, where do you think you are, the Waldorf?’ they asked. So that was that. And brother, believe me, while we’re on this food question, US food is NOT, repeat, NOT, what it’s cracked up to be. On the days we were on missions, we were hauled from our bunks at some ungodly hour, fed, briefed and usually took off soon after dawn. A big bunch of heavies is a sight for sore eyes, at least for us who were in Malaya and Darwin, when we were on the receiving end of the strikes.”

The End of The Wolf Pack

A two-plane ferry flight for Nadzab took off from Biak on September 11, 1944. Pilot 1/Lt. John L. Fabale flew the second plane, B-25D THE WOLF PACK, which carried three other crew members and six passengers. Approximately an hour into the flight, the crew discovered that a problem with the flaps was keeping THE WOLF PACK from catching up to the lead plane. Attempts to contact the plane were futile, as the radio wasn’t working correctly either.

The flight continued, but soon afterwards a series of unnerving whines, roars and groans began to emit from both engines. They soon subsided, but started up again a short time later. Suddenly, the left engine stopped altogether with grey smoke coming out of the exhaust while the right engine sputtered. Fabale feathered the left engine and prepared the B-25 for a single-engine flight. Instead, the plane tilted earthward. Fabale told everyone on board to prepare for a crash landing, and then set the plane down in a clearing.

Fortunately, everyone was okay. Thinking a fire might start, the crew and passengers quickly piled out, but the wreckage seemed to be stable, so the men went back for supplies. They grabbed all the survival gear from THE WOLF PACK, laid out parachutes and other bright gear in hopes of being spotted by Allied aircraft, and spent an uncomfortable, mosquito-filled night next to the plane. The next day, they made some unsuccessful attempts to get the attention of pilots flying nearby, but the only outcome was another miserable night’s rest.

When daylight arrived, the men agreed to walk towards the Ramu River, some 50 miles away. First, though, three of the men went to look for water. They found a creek and, while they were washing up, a group of natives appeared. The Americans first had to convince the natives they weren’t Japanese, but after some shouting and arm-waving, they were able to lead the natives back to the other crash survivors.

In spite of the language barrier between the Americans and natives, an agreement was made to guide the crew back to other white men in exchange for a reward that included THE WOLF PACK itself. Final preparations to leave the crash site were made. These included arranging two parachutes: one pointing in the direction they were heading, the other as a backdrop for spelling out “ALL O.K.” with ammunition belts as a message for any aircraft flying overhead. The canoes were loaded up with supplies and everyone went back to the natives’ village.

That evening, the men dined with the villagers, then turned in. They spent the night on palm fronds, under a parachute being used as a tent that provided no protection from the mosquitoes. Between the mosquitoes, rain, and the danger of crocodiles nearby, the crew didn’t sleep much  that night. The following morning, the crew began their four-day journey to the Australian outpost of Annenberg. Among other things, clothes and razor blades were used to barter for food and guidance as the Americans were passed from village to village.

After being ferried across the Ramu River, the group was a stone’s throw away from Annenberg, where Australians, who had been on the lookout for them since the 13th, were waiting. An L-5 had been searching for another downed crew when it saw the message on THE WOLF PACK’s wing. The Americans recounted their tale and spent the night with the Australians before being taken to Dumpu the next day, then on to Nadzab before rejoining their squadron.

New Year’s Eve with the 3rd Bomb Group

Members of the 3rd Bomb Group rang in 1944 a little differently in New Guinea than they would have back in the States. Despite not having friends and family to celebrate with, they still managed to have a good time.

Adrian Bottge of the 89th Squadron noted the evening’s celebration: “New Years night. A lot of the fellows in the 13th – 89th – 8th & Hdqtrs. shot their Garands, tommy guns, 45 pistols, etc. at midnight. Sounded like war and kept me awake for a time.”

Meanwhile, Clifford Taylor of the 13th Squadron wrote: “Tonight we celebrated a New Guinea New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t too bad as somehow the boys ‘racked’ off some steaks & Bill & I had a couple of bottles of port & a fruit cake. We got pretty jolly on the wine & had a good old-fashioned song-fest. After raising hell until pretty late we were ordered on a mission for 5:30 New Year’s morning.”

The next day, Andrew Weigel commented on the results of the previous night’s festivities: “The [8th] squadron was released today. And that was just as well. Most of the men were pretty much the worse for wear after last night…”