Writing Off Suicide’s Flying Drunks

The 38th Bomb Group called Horn Island, located north of Queensland, Australia, home in September 1942. Perhaps home is too strong a word. While staying at Horn Island, the men put up with high heat and humidity, hordes of mosquitoes, bad food, lots of dust and a water supply that was tainted with magnesium sulfate. It was not a pleasant area.

In the event of an air raid, all planes were to take off in order to keep damage at a minimum. The dusty conditions significantly hindered pilot visibility, making takeoff very risky. The two runways on Horn Island formed the shape of an ‘X’ and each had a small cutout where pilots of two planes could wait for their turn to taxi to the end of a runway and begin their takeoff.

Horn Island in 1942. Photo from PacificWrecks.com.

September 25, 1942 brought a Japanese raid to the island, sending crews running to their planes in order to get them airborne fast. At the time, the 49th Fighter Group was also staying at Horn Island, leading to even more chaos as both P-40 fighters and B-25 bombers began to crowd the two runways. In the midst of the hubbub was the 405th Squadron’s 1/Lt. William F. Pittman and his crew hurrying to get their B-25, SUICIDE’S FLYING DRUNKS off the ground.

Pittman taxied to the end of the runway, then turned around to take off. Because of all the dust that had been kicked up as he taxied, he couldn’t see whether or not the end of the runway was clear. At the same time, a P-40 was taxiing in the opposite direction on the same runway. When Pittman hit 90mph, he exited the dust and saw a collision between his plane and the P-40 was imminent.

Yelling for his crew to hang on, Pittman and his co-pilot, 2/Lt. Dean G. Hall, managed to get a few feet off the ground, with the left landing gear rolling over the top of the P-40. The left wing dropped as the B-25 flew through the camp area, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Even though Pittman leveled out, SUICIDE’S FLYING DRUNKS was not going fast enough to avoid a crash and the pilot quickly began turning off the engines to prevent a fire on impact.

As he turned off the engines, the plane crashed, throwing the crew around. At the time of the crash, bombardier 2/Lt. Joseph R. Petronis was wearing a steel helmet that probably saved his life; he walked away uninjured with a large dent in it after hitting a bulkhead. Luckily, no one was seriously injured in the crash. SUICIDE’S FLYING DRUNKS was a total loss.

Crash of B-25 Suicide's Flying Drunks

The 345th’s Final Show

After Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, General MacArthur set to arranging the formal surrender and occupation of Japan. A delegation was to meet with U.S. officials at Manila, and bring all their defense plans to stave off potential Japanese resistance. This would take place a week later. The delegation was ordered to fly to Ie Shima in airplanes that had been painted white with giant green crosses. They would be accompanied to Ie Shima by a bomb group chosen by MacArthur: the 345th. A total of six B-25s and twelve P-38s met the two white-painted Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers, although, with the cloud cover, it wasn’t easy to find the planes at the rendezvous point.

The Bettys were soon spotted by Maj. Jack C. McClure about 2000 feet below the B-25s, so he radioed to the other B-25s to follow him as he hurried to catch up with the Japanese planes. McClure later wrote, “Radio contact with them was not very good, and they seemed to have difficulty understanding what I told them. At one time they went off course, so when they couldn’t understand the corrections I gave them, I took over the lead and had them fly formation with me. Before the flight we had been told that a pilot would be court-martialed if he came within a thousand feet of their planes, so I kept my distance. Once in the lead, however, I glanced back and there was the Number 1 Jap plane tucked in close with his wing less than 20 feet from mine. Major Decker joined us, and we came in over the field. I gave the Jap plane landing instructions and prepared to land myself. The Jap still kept on my wing—I couldn’t shake him—and, as we went around in the traffic pattern, a P-38 cut in. The Jap called that he saw a P-38, so I told him to land after the Lightening, which he did. It was a big thrill to be in on the final show.”

Bettys coming in for a landing

A Betty bomber lands at Ie Shima with Japanese delegates aboard to discuss the surrender with Allied officials.

Delegation to Manila

Japanese delegates climbing into a C-54 that would take them to Manila.

A large crowd was watching the planes land. One of the Japanese pilots was so unnerved that he forgot to put down the flaps as he came down, leading to his plane bouncing on the runway. The Japanese delegation got out of the Bettys and were shown to the C-54 that would take them to Manila. In order to humiliate the Japanese, they made the delegation board the plane via a painter’s ladder at the back of the plane.

Betty's Dream Escorting Betty Bomber

A Betty bomber being escorted by BETTY’S DREAM of the 499th Bomb Squadron on August 21, 1945 after the surrender delegation met with Allied officials at Manila.

On the 20th, the Japanese returned to Ie Shima, where they would be escorted back to Japan by the 345th again. As one of the Bettys was taxiing, there was a minor wheel mishap, which put the plane out of commission for the day. The delegation was split up, with five men staying in Ie Shima overnight, while the rest of them boarded the other Betty bomber and were escorted back to Japan. Oddly, that Betty ran out of fuel near Honshu and required a water landing. The men aboard got out in knee-deep water, waded to shore and caught a plane back to Tokyo. The part of the delegation stuck in Ie Shima was able to return to Japan the following morning without issue.

The Emperor’s Speech

On August 15, 1945, a speech from Emperor Hirohito announcing the surrender of Japan was broadcasted over the radio. It was the first time the Japanese heard his voice. A remastered recording of his speech was recently released, which you can listen to below:

 

Excerpt from Warpath Across the Pacific:

Fifth Air Force scheduled few missions for the 15th as a stand-down began to take effect. But the 499th and 500th Squadrons each got six aircraft off by 0530 hours for the daily sweep up Tsu Shima Strait and the Southern Sea of Japan. To the enormous relief of the aircrews, the other two squadrons had their missions cancelled during the pre-flight briefing.

About eight o’clock the dozen planes which were airborne reached their rendezvous point about 400 miles out and formed up to begin the morning’s sweep. 1/Lt. Shuler S. Gamble was one of the six veteran 499th pilots on the mission that day. He had already test fired his guns when his radio operator, T/Sgt. Joseph L. Wyatt, Jr., called him over the intercom with an urgent message from headquarters.

“Read it to me Joe,” Gamble ordered.

“Return to base immediately,” Wyatt read, “hostilities have ceased.”

Wyatt had already confirmed the message and Gamble was about to call the Group Leader when a 500th Squadron pilot announced that his radio operator had received a message that the war had ended…

About fifteen miles from base the six 499th pilots began pulling their planes together into the tightest formation that Gamble had ever seen. By the time they reached the end of the runway, his element was tucked tightly under the lead flight and the planes were flying with their wings overlapped. Still loaded with ammo and bombs, they buzzed Ie Shima in a display no one would ever forget. Gamble saw coral dust swirling up around the cockpit as they roared down the strip only a few feet above the ground. As he glanced up through the panels of the overhead escape hatch, he saw the faces of the control tower personnel leaning on the rail, staring down at them as they rushed by. At the end of the strip, one by one, the planes performed their “usual fighter plane peal off” and circled to land. The war was over.

 

Eyewitnesses in the Sky Part II

Today, we bring you reactions from 43rd Bomb Group men that were flying missions near Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. They had no idea they were about to witness a major historical event.

Diary Notes/Comments from George B. Green: (constructed from fading diary notes, logs, memory, etc.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t keep very good diary notes for this mission, and must rely alone on memory. There is one view indelibly impressed in mind, but first things first.

As we left Tanega Shima, the rendezvous point, I noticed, perhaps two or three thousand feet above, a flight of three B-29’s flying a westerly course, while we flew north-northeast expecting to continue along Kyushu Island’s east coast and we did.

Little did any of us, and I presume to speak for my crew, perhaps others as well, know that on this sunny Japanese morning, like eons of mornings before, that we would be witnesses to a slice of epochal history, a personal introduction to the nuclear age.

We had just turned landside from the Inland Sea and were on course to the target. I think I had just engaged auto-pilot control for the bombardier, when I looked up and to the west. There, I would have judged about a 100 miles away, was an awesome cloud hanging there in a clear sky. At the time, I didn’t have the foggiest notion what I was looking at, or its exact location (Nagasaki).

It was just one hell of a cloud, not at all, unlike a massive thunderhead; a brilliant, white mushroom cloud soaring 20, 30, perhaps 40 thousand feet into a bright, blue sky. I clearly remember saying to all hands on the intercom, “My God, are they’re giving this place a pounding today!”

But there was a better reason for my spontaneous ad lib, clearly unaware of the dreadful significance of the mushroom cloud. Kyushu Island, perhaps to an altitude of 10,000’, at least along its east coast, was covered with a dirty yellow haze, about the color of LA smog on a bad day. I assumed, and probably rightly, it was a result of intensive strafing and bombing attacks, and apart from the significance of what had happened at Nagasaki of which we were ignorant.

Albeit, we turned back to the Inland Sea and headed east and south-east for home. Soon I had a friendly visitor flying off my left wing; a 20th Air Force, yellow nosed P-47 with a playing card tail symbol, I think the inverted heart, a spade, very likely part of our fighter cover. I guess he was saying “little brother” has been looking after “big brother.” We flew together a few minutes and exchanged waves, but he soon left leaving a lumbering B-24 fast behind.

When we arrived at Ie Shima for landing, it was bedlam. Calling “Moka” tower for landing instructions was almost impossible. Pilot-after-pilot was calling for landing clearance, most all at the time, so all one could hear was a nearly constant “feedback” squeal. Heavy bombers, which would have fuel reserves were ordered to delay landings, giving fuel starved fighters a chance to get back on the ground PDQ; that may have also applied to B-25’s, but I don’t rightly remember. In any case, some fighters (how many I have no idea) ran out of gas and ditched nearby, coolly calling, as they did, for rescue. Obviously, ETA’s for all aircraft had converged inconveniently.
(Note: This mission reconstruction was completed nearly 47 years after the fact.)

 
8/9/45 Note from Wendell Jones, member of the 64th Bomb Squadron

Robert Cooper’s crew was flying a mission to Honshu Island, Japan when the crew saw the mushroom cloud from the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. I was the upper turret gunner and I happened to be looking in the right direction and at the right time to see some distant low hanging clouds turn reddish, followed by the mushroom cloud. Our navigator, Howard Yeager, said we were about 40 miles away.
At interrogation, they thought we might have been imagining things since three days earlier the “bomb” had been dropped on Hiroshima – but it was real.

 

The Destruction of Nagasaki

Several days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Major Jack D. Johnson from the 38th Bomb Group flew a group of war correspondents over the devastation. It was unlike anything they could have possibly imagined.

 

Excerpt from Charles McClenney, member of the 64th Bomb Squadron

I can see it now as I think back that many years ago. The other squadrons were making their run over Tsuiki Airdrome and it would soon be the 64th Squadron’s “dread” moment to fly over the airdrome and see how accurate the Jap ack ack gunners were that day.

The photograph is in my hand. The photograph that I still have shows the excellent hits that the 65th and 403rd squadrons were making, and what is this! The ack ack bursts seem to be made of napalm. They were different. They exploded different. We would have something to report back to intelligence. We are there and it is time to turn and start on the bomb run. Ack ack moderate and inaccurate. We probably wouldn’t have any holes in our airplanes. Bombs away! Blam! Blam! Blam! Good hits. That airdrome will be out of commission for a long time. The new antiaircraft shell did no damage to us.

About this time “Bock’s Car” (B-29 that bombed Nagasaki) with “Fat Man” atomic bomb had failed to drop on Kokura and was headed for the secondary target- Nagasaki. Nobody aboard our aircraft knew anything about the bomb. Nobody knew why we were ordered not to get closer than 50 miles of Kokura, Sasebo, or Nagasaki. We did not believe the “Special Report” coming from Washington DC on August 6, 1945 that one bomb had wiped out an entire city of 200,000 people. I knew this was propaganda to scare the Japanese so they would surrender. Little did I realize, at the time, that my old buddy from East Central State Teachers Collage at ADA, Oklahoma, Freddie Olivi of Chicago was flying co-pilot on “Bock’s Car”. Fred Olivi, Tom Landry (coach of Dallas Cowboys), Benton Love (President of Texas Commerce Bank) and son of Klebergs (owner of the famous King Ranch) along with myself and about 300 aviation cadets had taken our CTD (College Training Detachment) when we met in the summer of 1943 in ADA, Oklahoma. It was a strange set of circumstances that caused mine and Freddie’s paths to cross. Our crew didn’t know it, but we were bombing the Tsuiki Airdrome to keep the fighters off of Bock’s Car” ~ and our paths were getting closer.

“Bock’s Car” had left Kokura and was now heading for Nagasaki. We had dropped our bombs and we were also heading towards Nagasaki and Ie Shima. What happens when the whole world suddenly becomes a fireball. What happens when you think you saw it but you know it can’t be. You can’t be prepared to see an atomic bomb go off. And go off it did- right on top of Nagasaki. Wendell W. Jones our top gunner was the first to say anything ~ “Say- did you guys see that explosion?” Of course- we all saw it but we couldn’t believe it. Now there was much discussion. What was it? Where was it? Did a Jap munitions plant blow up? How long does it take the mushroom cloud to push through the clouds? Ah ha! Something to photograph! And we did! Many pictures you see of that atomic cloud were taken from our airplane. We were lucky and had a photographer on board. We didn’t have the problem that Fred Olivi had that afternoon in “Bock’s Car”. They were about to run out of gas ~ technical problems they couldn’t get back to Tinian where they had come from. They were heading for Okinawa and hoped they could make it. We had plenty of gas and we were headed for Ie Shima.

As we were heading back to our base, I remembered our bombing mission on August 1, 1945 at Nagasaki. I remembered that we had bombed the fictitious setting of the opera “Madame Butterfly.” I remembered the terrible experience our crew had suffered there just eight days earlier. At the time we did not know where the second atomic bomb had gone off. We did not know anything about atomic bombs. We did not know that within twelve days two white Jap Bettys (bombers) would land at Ie Shima begging for peace. We did not know that the Japanese would sign peace on the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay 24 days later. We did not know that I would be back in my home in Texas discharged from the Air Force by Nov 8, 1945. We did not know that Nagasaki was the target and was wiped off the earth ~ and this horrible war was over.

Eyewitnesses in the Sky

Today, August 6, 2015, marks 70 years since the first atomic weapon was used during World War II. Whether or not an atomic bomb should have been used is still up for debate, but that’s not the purpose of this post. The stories of those that were near Hiroshima at the time aren’t very well known. Crews that were flying missions that day were limited and specifically directed to stay at least 50 miles away from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kokura, although they weren’t told why. Later on, the news about the atomic bomb broke. Reactions ranged from disbelief that such a thing was possible to hope that the war would soon be over. We have three eyewitness accounts from men of the 43rd Bomb Group, who were stationed on the island of Ie Shima and flying daily missions over Japan.

8/6-8/7/45 Account from Dick Wood, member of the 63rd Bomb Squadron

August 6th was the date of the Hiroshima bomb. Prior to hearing about it on Armed Forces Radio, none of us had ever heard of such a thing. The rumors about its devastation were awesome. Some said that an entire city of 300,000 had been wiped out (exactly the size of my hometown of Portland, OR); others said the ground had been made radioactive and that the area was uninhabitable for 40,000 years. Others said the atom bomb had hardened the Japanese resolve even more than it had been, and that when we eventually made our landings, there would be no prisoners taken by either side and that we could expect to be attacked by women, children, old people, etc.

It was rumored that Tokyo Rose had threatened immediate retaliation. This concerned us, because we had air raids almost every night, mainly from small planes flying very slowly or from others because they tended to drop on the airstrips, about ½ to 2 miles away. So nobody took the threats lightly, it being demonstrated each night that our small, heavily populated island could be hit. Rumors about attacks using poison gas circulated, and strangely enough, we were issued gas masks the day after Hiroshima. It was a type of gas mask none of us had ever seen before, and the means of putting it on was not at all obvious. Nevertheless, we all kept it close at hand as we went to sleep August 7th.

True to form, in the middle of the night we were awakened by the inevitable barrage from the 90s across the street. When we went outside to take a look, a large red flow in the sky was over Birch and Mocha strips. The next day I go a ride down to the air strip and saw several partially burned P-51s. A guy nearby said that 9 revetmented P-51s had been destroyed with a single bomb! His take was that the Japanese were working on something big too. (Later, I heard they had extensive research programs on thorium, which also could give fissionable material, but I’ve never heard that they got far enough along to consider its use.)

 

8/9/45 Excerpt of letter from M.L. Crabb, member of the 403rd Bomb Squadron

We were flying that day on a mission to Japan or the China coast (not sure). On our return Willis Bond called on the interphone that a volcano was erupting to our right. I remember it was a beautiful sight and on an angle leaning the same direction we were going (back to Ie Shima). It had a very large shaft and beautiful mushroom- all colors.
The reason Bond and the rest of us thought as much about it- we had seen many volcanoes in Central America and the Galapagos Islands. No one took a picture- not even the photographer on board.
We never knew what we had seen until we reached the state of Washington. We (part of our crew) were in the barber shop and I saw a drawing on the corner of Life Magazine of the bomb. That’s when we realized what we had seen.
I can’t remember what bomb drop we saw, but it must have been the first one or we would have thought more about what we had seen.

 

8/7/45 Narrative from Bud Lawson, member of the 65th Bomb Squadron

History records the day of Hiroshima as August 6, 1945. My flight record bears the date, August 7, 1945. There is no error. We were on the other side of the International Dateline. One fact is clear about this date. It was the beginning of the Atomic Age, a new era in world affairs, both militarily and politically speaking!

Our mission of this date started out to be a rather routine one. The target of our 65th Squadron B-24’s that day was Tsuiki Airdrome. Tsuiki is located on the northern part of the island of Kyushu on the Inland Sea. It is across the sea from Hiroshima and further West from it. The bomb bays were loaded with clusters of 12 pound fragmentation bombs. These were the armament we used to destroy the planes, trucks and other assorted vehicles at the base.
Lt. Bob Gaffney from Deputy, Indiana was the pilot: Ted De Federicis of Buffalo, New York, co-pilot; W.E. “Tom” Thomas, Chireno, Texas, Navigator. I am Eldon E. “Bud” Lawson, bombardier, then from Ravenwood, Missouri. Sgt. Norbert S. Michalowicz, Hamtrack, Mich. was the flight engineer; Vincent Mennella, Chicago, Ill. Waist Gun; Sylvester J. Bartell, Detriot, Mich. Ball Turret; James F. Wright, Minneapolis, Minn., Radioman; James H. Findley, Atlanta, Ga., Nose Turret; and Daniel B. McFarland, Longview, Texas, Tail Gunner.

Our flight route was up the East Coast of Kyushu, Southern Island of the Japanese Group. Flying north on this route we were headed almost directly toward Hiroshima on the Southern Coast of Honshu.

During the briefing for the flight we had been carefully warned not to fly directly over or near Hiroshima. We were told that a large number of Allied Prisoners were held there and every time an American plane was spotted some prisoners were executed in retaliation!

As we rounded the south tip of Kyushu we began to observe a strange looking white cloud over the horizon, but rising higher and higher. At first it resembled a large cumulus cloud, but soon it was apparent that it was not of natural origin. It began to appear in the shape of a huge mushroom, flattening out at the top. We had seen enough natural clouds and smoke from various explosions to know that we were looking at something far more stupendous than we had ever seen before. As we flew North toward the cloud we eventually could observe the cloud from it’s origin at the earth to the full height several thousand feet above our flight altitude.

To reach our target at Tsuiki, we turned West but still over the Inland Sea. Soon after we made this turn a Japanese Fighter plane overtook the formation, but flew two or three thousand feet above us. It was rather obvious that he was staying out of range of our guns. But, making his great move to defend his homeland, he dropped a couple of parachute incendiary bombs. As they drifted slowly down to our altitude they were miles behind us. He had not correctly calculated windage with his bombardment!!

Our mission was a total success. There were large numbers of planes on the ground and none of them moved. The frag bombs ripped them to shreds! Air and Naval blockades had virtually shut down Japan’s oil imports. Refineries and petroleum storage had been wiped out. What little gasoline they had left, they were saving for the final assault. This assault, of course never came thanks to the total impact of this day and the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. As we returned to our base at Ie Shima, Ryukus, we were in a joyous mood. Not knowing any more than what we had seen, we could still sense that this tremendous explosion was of a magnitude to bring about the war’s end. We were right about that!!

No More Spam

Throughout World War II, the subject of food was regularly brought up, usually because it was so terrible and the occasional good meal was worth writing home about. While the 43rd Bomb Group was staying in Port Moresby, they put up with field rations that included canned mutton, powdered eggs and “corn willy,” which was Aussie slang for canned corn beef.

Obviously, visits to the mess hall left much to be desired. There was one chef in the 403rd Bomb Squadron who decided to have a little fun with the menus each day and began writing up items such as “Spam ala King,” “Spam Peking,” “Sweet and Sour Spam,” etc. One day, he ran out of ideas and wrote “Just Plain Ole Hairy Spam.” We do not know if scenes similar to Monty Python’s Spam skit played out in the mess hall.

The men grew tired of the bad-tasting, nutritionally-deficient food they had to eat every day and it also lowered their morale. Before long, unit mess officers started up programs to ferry fresh food from northern Australia. Men would contribute money to a fund that would go towards purchasing fruit and vegetables as well as fresh meat, dairy and eggs. Planes typically used for these trips had been designated as war-weary and removed from combat service. They were often known as “fat cats,” possibly adopted from an early 3rd Bomb Group B-25 called Fat Cat that was repurposed as a ferrying aircraft in late June 1943.

Unlike most trips, the plane returning from Australia this time was a brand new radar-equipped B-24 carrying supplies and fresh food such as a side of beef, watermelons and cases of eggs. As the plane touched down at Seven Mile Airdrome, the left tire blew out, causing the B-24 to swerve to the left. Pilot F/O Clarence Molder did his best to straighten out the landing by applying the right break and increasing the power to the left outboard engine, but to no avail. It finally came to a stop in a ditch, with the nose twisting and the outboard props being torn away. Luckily, the aircraft did not catch fire.

B-24 crack up

The B-24 after it stopped in the ditch.

Before the landing went awry, radio operator T/Sgt. Charles G. Meinke had been sitting on the floor with one foot on a case of eggs. After the crash, he feared he was injured and bleeding when his foot was forced through the case and he felt liquid in his shoe. It turned out that he was not seriously injured, but the eggs had broken and the yolks had seeped into his shoe.

Second Lieutenant John P. Harmon scrambled out of the plane and noticed fuel leaking from a ruptured wing tank and another stream that was running onto a hot turbocharger. The turbocharger was so hot that it vaporized the gas as it poured down. Harmon ran for the fire extinguisher to cool down the turbocharger, then took the emergency axe to rescue his crew members still trapped inside.

Several of the other men finally got out through the plane’s windshield and helped Harmon until crash trucks and ambulance crews arrived. To the joy of the onlookers that had gathered, they soon freed the rest of the crew. As happy as the men were to see the crew make it out alive, a 501st Squadron Adjutant was upset to see his large purchase of fresh food littering the runway.

The Long Way Home

In the early stages of the Pacific Theater of World War II, Rabaul, an airbase complex and anchorage on the northeastern coast of New Britain, was a regular target for the bomb groups of Fifth Air Force. The base was a stronghold and primary staging point for the Japanese that wouldn’t fall for years. The 22nd Bomb Group was sent to bomb Rabaul a number of times, though this story focuses on the events of a mission on April 11, 1942,  only a few months after the area had been captured by the Japanese. That day, nine B-26s from the 33rd and 19th Bomb Squadrons were sent to bomb Rabaul’s two airdromes at the time, Vunakanau and Lakunai.

Lieutenant Louis W. “Tad” Ford was flying as wingman for Lt. Richard W. Robinson, the leader of the mission, and both flew over Lakunai Airdrome, releasing their bombs on targets below. The Japanese on the ground fired their antiaircraft guns at the B-26s, with three bursts exploding around Ford’s plane. Shrapnel cut hydraulic lines, holed the auxiliary gas tank as well as the main left gas tank and the right engine. Ford’s crew leapt into action to help keep their plane aloft for as long as possible.

As Ford set a course for home, he eased up the power on the damaged and overheating engine, then tried to release the burning auxiliary gas tank. When the tank wouldn’t budge, two of his crewmembers went onto the bomb bay’s catwalk where they kicked and shoved the gas tank until it finally dislodged. Afterwards, they spent an hour trying to manually close the bomb bay doors before giving up. Closing the doors would lessen the chance of the B-26 breaking apart in case of a water landing, which would increase the crew’s chance of surviving the landing. Ford was shadowed by Robinson, who soon had to leave Ford and his crew behind after his own fuel levels started running low.

Awhile later, Ford began his ascent over the Owen Stanley Mountains so he could head directly back to Port Moresby. This was soon abandoned when he noticed that the right engine was nearly out of fuel, and instead, he began looking for a place to make an emergency landing. He found a spot on the west side of the Tufi Peninsula and told his crew to brace for impact. Fortunately, no one was injured in the landing. The men piled out of their plane and looked at their surroundings, which were intimidating: they were stuck in a plain of razor-sharp kunai grass taller than they were.

The radio operator was able to transmit their coordinates and received a response from Port Moresby. For the rest of the afternoon, the crew made themselves as comfortable as they could and dined on the plane’s emergency rations. They  spent a long, uncomfortable night trying to fend off mosquitoes. When morning arrived, three of the men set off to find help. Eventually, they came across some natives who were willing to aid the Americans and spent the next six weeks working their way back to Port Moresby.

Gusap and the Arrival of the Havoc

Int'l Historical Research Associates:

Digging into the IHRA blog archives, we rediscovered a post about the 312th settling into New Guinea.

Originally posted on IHRA:

On December 28, 1943, the 312th ground echelon made its way to Gusap to rejoin the rest of the Group. They arrived at the beginning of the rainy season when razor-sharp kunai grass grew up to ten feet tall, insects, rats and snakes roamed freely, and the soil turned into thick mud with all the rain. The men spent countless hours digging ditches to drain the water from the camp. The 386th Squadron started calling themselves “The 386th Engineers” to try and lighten the mood while doing the hard labor. The Group had trouble getting sanitary water, which meant drinking chlorinated water from Lister bags and washing clothes in the muddy Ramu River. On top of that, skin fungus and malaria were two of the many illnesses the 312th had to contend with.They did manage to have fun by playing sports like basketball and volleyball; they also gambled.

With the…

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The Durable A-20

This week, we’re bringing you another entry from the diary of Donald P. Hall, a member of the 3rd Bomb Group’s 89th Squadron.

11/10/42

Orders came through to attack 8 gun position of ack-ack at Soputa. Ed Larner and Klatt were on my wing. This would be a tough nut to crack as that close concentration of guns could be pretty mean. The B-26s were to come in after we dropped our parachute bombs and also bomb the position. The B-26s messed up as usual and bombed at 9:30, which was the exact time we were to bomb, so I had to delay a half minute until their string was out of the way. Some of them were still going up as we reached the target at about 50 ft altitude. All ack-ack started to shoot at us. I had turned on the movie camera that I had mounted in the ship, so I should get some beautiful shots.

On releasing our parachute bombs we dove for the trees but not before a large caliber gun hit me. The cockpit filled up with smoke and I thought surely I was on fire, but the controls felt OK.

An ack-ack shell exploded under Larner’s plane kicking the tail in the air which caused him to hit the trees. He ploughed along through the top of the trees for 150 feet and then got back into the air. He called me and said he was heading back to Port Moresby. I hoped he could make it. Klatt and I headed back on tops of trees for the Jap guns again. I could see that lots of them had been silenced. About four started shooting at us, so Klatt and I rode down the barrels of their guns and eliminated their crews. A photograph of the place indicated a dump at the end of the clearing so we decided to get it. I could see it was camouflaged, but a long burst caused the whole pile to explode. Huh! I thought, that wasn’t supplies. That was ammunition. So much the better.

Inspecting Margie's Damaged Wing

A man inspects the A-20’s wing damage after all the tree chunks were cleaned out.

Klatt and I made one more run to get the last gun firing which we did. Also shot up about 20 Japs in dive trenches. We were well on our way back home when Klatt, who was flying right beside me, called and said I had a large hole or two in my engine nacelle. He said it probably had hit my retraced landing gear. I hoped not, but waited to get to the field and then lowered it. Lt. Klatt then flew under me and looked at it. “It’s OK DP” he called.

After we landed we looked at the holes in my right nacelle, two of them about 8” across. I suppose being right over the gun muzzle hadn’t given the shell a chance to explode. Also, I was very lucky as the shell hadn’t hit any vital spot. My luck is still holding out as that was the 8th hole put through my ship.

Ed Larner landed shortly after we did and his ship was a mess. Nose section caved in, both leading edges of wings smashed, and engine cowling folded up. Big hunks of trees sticking in it. Also the bottom of the ship ripped out. He was a very lucky boy and nothing but an A-20 could take such treatment and fly. My gunner said, “Major only two people will know how scared I was—Me and the laundry man.”

Deadly Happenstance

A day after the loss of a crew aboard the B-17 THE RECKLESS MOUNTAIN BOYS on May 7, 1943, several crews from the 63rd Bomb Squadron were sent out on reconnaissance missions. All but one crew returned to base.

Captain Robert N. Keatts was flying FIGHTIN SWEDE along the northeast coast of New Guinea when his crew spotted two Japanese “sea trucks” heading for Madang at 0900 hours. After the war, it was discovered that the ships were on the last leg of their journey from Japan and carried reinforcements, food and the 11th Airfield Construction Unit. Because of the valuable cargo aboard the convoy, it was covered from the air by 11 Sentai, a Japanese fighter unit. At the time of Keatts’ report about the ships, the Oscar fighters were hidden by dense clouds. It wasn’t long before FIGHTIN SWEDE was jumped by three Oscars as it flew out of the cloud cover. A fight was on.

After being hit in both engines by the fighters, Keatts made evasive maneuvers in order to escape from the Oscars. For a short time, it looked like FIGHTIN SWEDE would steer clear of disaster. In a split second, that changed when the B-17 was rammed by Sgt. Tadao Oda. Both aircraft exploded and plunged into the sea. It wasn’t until sometime after World War II ended that anyone knew the fate of FIGHTIN SWEDE’s crew.

During the war, Oda had talked with other pilots regularly about how difficult it was to bring down the B-17. Ramming the plane seemed to be an ideal solution, although, in this case, it didn’t work out as he would have preferred since Keatts had already radioed a message about the convoy sighting. Not long after the Oscar and B-17 went down, nine B-25s from the 3rd Bomb Group arrived with eight RAAF Beaufighters and a P-38 escort. The Allied planes went to work, sinking the “sea trucks” and, in the process of doing so, they took out the 11th Airfield Construction Unit.

Oda was posthumously awarded a double promotion to Second Lieutenant as well as given a commendation. The 63rd Bomb Squadron was left reeling after the sudden loss of two crews in two days.