Target: Submarine

In March 1943, crews from the 90th Squadron were sent on a mission with an unusual target. This excerpt from the 90th Squadron diary describes it in detail.

Mar 19— At noon mess rumors of a mission circulated….Captain Henebry would not say anything and we were all in the dark…a meeting at the line at 1:30….Lt Commander Menucci, USN, briefed us on submarines…….at 2:30 a list was posted of 6 ships to take off for Dobodura to await an early evening mission from there……..

The boys arrived at Dobodura and spent the afternoon swimming and having a good look at what had been a Japanese stronghold two months ago…At 5:30 the crews were briefed by Capt Henebry at Lt Commander Menucci…..The target was a large submarine that was supposed to unload supplies at Lae around sundown…this news had been deciphered by our men at Port Moresby….We took off at 6:45 just as the sun was setting behind the Owen Stanley Range…..Henebry led the first flight of Howe and MacLellan…Chat led the second element of Ingram….”Snuffy” Hughes did not get off due to engine trouble….Capt Henebry had to slow his formation down as it looked as though he might get to Lae too early…..Near Salamaua the two flights swept inland and came down on the trees….they flew this way until they were about 5 miles South of Lae when they swung out onto the water and flew up the coastline…..approaching Lae, a rocket was shot into the sky (this was the Jap’s air raid warning)…..2000 yards from Lae, on a heading of 90 degrees, the 5 ships came in abreast….airspeed 250 mph….suddenly the rising moon outlined a gigantic submarine tied up against the Lae dock…at the end of the runway…..Henebry, Howe and MacLelland who were heading over the sub let go with their guns…from the runway and from the flanking hills intense and accurate ack ack was fired by the Nips…at about 100 yards the co-pilots began to toggle the bombs loose….11 bombs hit directly while one went over…the explosion was terrific and for a moment Henemry and Howe thought their plane was out of control…..The on suing fire lit up the wreck at Malahang….[As they made their attack, the B-25s were fired upon by Japanese antiaircraft gunners and after the Americans left the target area it was discovered that Sgt. Timberlake had been killed.]

On this run Captain Chatt was unable to fly over the submarine so after Henebry’s flight had passed by, Chatt swung over and made another run….Ingram followed closely on his wing…seeing that the submarine had exploded and sunk, Chatt made a run over some dispersal area and dropped his bombs….Ingram did likewise….There were many near misses with ack ack, but miraculously none took effect…..Henebry, Chatt and MacLellon made it back over the mountains to 17 Mile Field…..Ingramand Howe landed at Dobodura…..Howe tried to get home but went into a dense cloud formation which put him into a violent spin and he was able to bring his ship out after losing 8 thousand feet and hitting an airspeed of 450 mph…his escape hatch flew off and it had Captain John White, Observer, a bit worried for a moment or two…Sgt Hume in the upper turret said he could feel water dripping on him from the rear of the plane…..

Repost: One Last Bomb

Going back through the archives, we rediscovered a post from January 2015 about an unexpected discovery one crew made when the men returned to base after a mission. Read on for the rest of the story.

 

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 his 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.

Loss of PLUTO II

In the very early hours of June 30, 1943, a mix of heavy bombers from the 43rd, 90th and 380th Bomb Groups took off for a raid on Vunakanau Airdrome. The plan was to approach the target from 18,000 feet to avoid any Japanese night fighters, then make their runs between 9000 and 17,000 feet. For the most part, the stratification also provided extra protection from the antiaircraft gunners. Only the 403rd Squadron reported damage from antiaircraft fire, which hit the B-17 nicknamed STUD DUCK.

After the 63rd Squadron planes finished their bombing runs, a highly skilled J1N1 Irving night fighter pilot, SFPO Shigetoshi Kudo targeted B-17 #41-24543 PLUTO II. The B-17 was raked with gunfire, then Kudo watched it descend and crash into the mountains southeast of Cape Lambert, located west of Rabaul. Killed in the crash were Lt. Harold S. Barnett, pilot; 2/Lt. Sidney S. Bossuk, co-pilot; 2/Lt. Warren V. Seybert, navigator; 2/Lt. James G. Burke, bombardier; Sgt. James B. Candy, engineer; T/Sgt. Anthony H. Woillard, radio operator; Sgts. Robert A. Burtis and Donald W. Carlson, waist gunners; Sgt. Philip J. Lohnes, tail gunner; and Sgt. William A. MacKay, a radar operator from the RAAF.

B-17 Pluto II

B-17F #41-24543, PLUTO II, was the last B-17 to go down from the guns of an Irving night fighter over Rabaul. The bomber saw service initially with the 403rd Squadron before being transferred to the 53rd sometime in early February 1943, where it acquired its nose art. The solid stripe of paint at left was applied to cover up the bomber’s previous name, I DOOD IT. (Charles R. Woods Collection)

Back at Seven Mile, the men were worrying over the disappearance of the crew of PLUTO II. None of the American crews saw the B-17 get shot down. Captain Charles L. Anderson flew over the Owen Stanleys on a five hour search for the missing crew, and returned without any new information. It wasn’t until 1946 when the B-17’s wreckage was discovered at Madres Plantation on New Britain. Remains were subsequently recovered and investigators determined that the entire crew died in the crash.

 

Read more about the early part of the 43rd Bomb Group’s history in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.

The Texan

Douglas Aircraft delivered this A-20 to the AAF on October 4, 1943. The 387th Squadron acquired this plane from the 673rd Squadron, 417th Bomb Group, on March 20, 1944, and it was assigned to Capt. Frank P. Smart, the Squadron Commander. His regular gunner was T/Sgt. Michael Music, and his crew chief was S/Sgt. Charles S. Bidek. The latter was assisted by Sgt. Donald M. Cooper.

Smart nicknamed the plane THE TEXAN, and had the flag of his home state emblazoned on the fuselage beneath the cockpit. The nickname was preceded by several colored stars shooting out of the sky. Stenciled in white in three lines above the nickname was: PILOT — CAPT. F.P. Smart, C.C. T/SGT C.S. Bidek and ASST.C.C. SGT D.M. Cooper. The plane letter “S,” after Smart’s last name, was carried on both sides of the rudder, and the Squadron’s diamond playing card emblem appeared on the lower rear fuselage. The plane did not have the horizontal white tail stripe that later identified the Group’s A-20s. The profile depicts the aircraft as it appeared at the end of March 1944.

The Texan

Captain Frank P. Smart, 387th Squadron C.O., can be seen here in the cockpit of his aircraft, THE TEXAN. Returning from the “Black Sunday” mission to Hollandia on April 16, 1944, Smart ran out of fuel and ditched 30 miles west of Saidor. That was the last time anyone saw Smart and his gunner, T/Sgt. Michael Music. (Edgar R. Bistika Collection)

The A-20 had been with the 387th less than a month when Capt. Smart ditched it in the ocean 30 miles west of Saidor, New Guinea, on the April 16, 1944 “Black Sunday” mission. The plane ran out of fuel on the return flight from an attack on Hollandia, New Guinea, after it encountered severe weather. Although crews from circling planes spotted Smart and Music inside a life raft, the men were never heard from again.

Today, THE TEXAN lies beneath 60 feet of water about one quarter-mile offshore from Nom Plantation, known as Yalau Plantation during the war.

 

Read more about this and the other profile aircraft in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Bataan: A 70th Anniversary Commemoration | New Mexico PBS

Nearly eight years ago, New Mexico PBS uploaded a video where three World War II veterans spoke of their experiences relating to Bataan. One of these veterans, Pete Gonzalez, was a member of the 19th Bomb Group. In this video, he talks about some of what he experienced and witnessed during the Bataan Death March and as a POW.

Senator Udall reintroduced his bill in 2019, and it has not yet moved forward.

Milk Run to Kyushu

43rd Bomb Group B-24 over Kyushu

The B-24s in the painting were part of one of the Far East Air Force’s last bombing missions against the Empire of Japan. Seen here leaving the target, the city of Oita on the Japanese home island of Kyushu, elements of the 64th Bomb Squadron, 43 Bomb Group, were part of a 20+ B-24 raid by the 43rd Bomb Group on a mission dubbed a “milk run” due to the light-to-nil defensive opposition generated by the Japanese. In the foreground, #973 bears the flamboyant artwork covering the complete port side of the aircraft which would immortalize it and its creator S/Sgt. Sarkis E. Bartigian, who was assigned to the Squadron’s ground echelon. Bartigian’s exuberant creations decorated the sides of a number of 43rd Bomb Group B-24s late in the war, but this one, THE DRAGON AND HIS TAIL was the most well-known and photographed. After meeting an ignominious end in the smelters at Kingman, Arizona following the war’s end, #973 was reincarnated in all its glory on the port side of the Collings Foundation’s B-24, flaunting Sgt. Bartigian’s provocative artwork at air shows around the U.S. This artwork is published on the cover of our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume II and is available for purchase on our website.

Roland Fisher’s Brush with Death

Less than a month after the 43rd Bomb Group began setting up camp at their new home of Tacloban, the Japanese were trying to figure out a proper welcome to the area. Lieutenant Colonel James T. Pettus received a phone call on December 6, 1944 alerting him of a parachute attack on Tacloban and Dulag planned for that night. Japanese paratroopers had already landed at Buri and San Pablo airbases in hopes of capturing V Bomber Command and Fifth Air Force headquarters. Units from every military branch on Tacloban quickly organized to defend the airbase. Antiaircraft guns and searchlights were manned, and aircraft with functioning turrets were towed over to be used as additional firepower. Once the preparations were made, all that was left to do was wait for night to fall.

F6F night fighters patrolled over the airbase for awhile, but they did not encounter any enemy aircraft. A Navy B-24 privateer landed, then the nose gear collapsed and the plane had to be towed off the runway by Captain Roland T. Fisher, who hooked it up to a cletrac (Cleveland tractor) and towed it to the beach. Fisher was in charge of keeping the runway clear. Shortly thereafter, he turned on the runway lights for the F6Fs that were landing soon. The lights turned off right after the first one landed, which was not an unusual occurrence. Wires from the lights were bunched up next to the strip and were easily crushed when landing aircraft ran over the cords. Fisher jumped out of his jeep, which was doubling as his command post, and twisted the wires back together.

Coming in next was another aircraft with its landing lights on, although this one, an antiaircraft gunner noticed, had exhaust flames coming out of the top of its engine nacelles instead of the bottom. It was a Ki-57-II “Topsy” transport. The pilot was certainly sneaky to slide right into the F6F landing pattern, but his cover was very quickly spoiled. That antiaircraft gunner had his sights set on the Topsy and began shooting at it as the pilot made a final approach. By this point, Fisher had taken cover behind the cletrac. The Topsy burst into flames, flew over the gun battery and plowed down the beach where Fisher had taken cover. He jumped in the ocean.

Fisher with Topsy

The 63rd Squadron’s Capt. Roland T. Fisher stands for a photograph with the wreckage of the Ki-57-II “Topsy” transport that nearly killed him. (James T. Pettus, Jr. Collection)

The Topsy crashed among a dozen Marine Corsairs, bounced, hit more planes, a grader and finally the cletrac Fisher used earlier. A trail of fire followed the burning aircraft, with Japanese and American ammunition cooking off as the fire intensified. Fisher began running up the beach to the crash site then, “Right in front of me a man, his clothes on fire, ran toward me howling and pulling a gun from his holster. I knocked him down or pushed him and grabbed the gun from him…He thrashed around. I think I hit or pushed him again. Then I backed away again to the water because my own clothes were hot from the fire. He never got up again…I lucked out. My burns were minor…I think what saved me from serious burns was my jumping in the surf just before he hit and being all wet when I struggled with him. I think he was the pilot and didn’t have the murderous equipment the troopers had. Whatever, whoever, I was lucky and he wasn’t.”

Almost three months to the day prior to this incident, Capt. Fisher had brought his B-24 back to base after it was rammed by a Japanese fighter. Both times, he managed to escape serious injury or death.

Around the same time the men on Tacloban were dealing with the Topsy, a second Japanese transport plane had crashed, this one in San Pedro Bay after it was shot down by the Navy. Just as before, there was only one survivor. This one was in much better shape and he was apprehended by the Allies. The officer gave his enemies plenty of information about the mission, none of which was passed along until a more appropriate time.

 

This story can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume II.