IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2020

This week, we’re listing our most popular posts published this year as determined by the number of views. Did your favorite post make the list?

Thank you for your continued support by subscribing, reading and sharing our work, and buying our books. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, let us know in the comments. We’ll be back next year with more great content. And now, without further ado, our most popular posts published in 2020.

 

Tanker at Tourane 1. Adrift at Sea: A Chance Encounter A downed aircrew from the 345th Bomb Group waits for rescue.

 

Color illustration in the book Rampage of the Roarin' 20's2. Alcohol Busters Highlighting one of the paintings by aviation artist Jack Fellows that appears in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

 

Feeding a kangaroo3. A Collection of Photos Here, we shared some of the photos that don’t make it in our books.

 

4. Ditch at Sea and Live in a Boeing B-17 Learn all about the procedures taken to prepare for and ditch a B-17.

B-26 Over Lae5. Takeoff Snafu A 22nd Bomb Group mission started off on the wrong wing…

 

Fisher with Topsy6. Roland Fisher’s Brush with Death This member of the 43rd Bomb Group had two close calls with Japanese aircraft. Here is one of the stories.

 

B-17 Pluto II 7. Loss of PLUTO II No one saw this 43rd Bomb Group B-17 get shot down, a mystery that wasn’t solved until 1946.

Military Life in December 1941

When the events of the early days of the U.S. entering World War II are recounted, the most often heard story is that of thousands of Americans who volunteered to fight. What about those men who were already in the military? How did their lives change? Through the diary entries of men from the Fifth Air Force, we can give you some insight into what they experienced before and after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

From Lewis “Tad” Ford of the 33rd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group

…when December 7th came, I got my first day off in a month., why it was a real boon. Days off were assigned by crew and Disbro had his own plans, so I slept late, floated into town, and went to a show to see Sgt. York in mid-afternoon. I was surprised about halfway through the picture to see my name come up on a caption underneath the movie, saying “Lieutenant Ford, report to the box office.” A driver was waiting for me with a staff car to give me a ride back to Langley field: Pearl Harbor had happened.”
We were first told to move all of our personal goods back to the field into the VOQ. Then we were told, no, don’t. Pack everything you don’t want to take with you and send it home. Then, back in the Squadron we spent three or four hours loading the bomb bays with all sorts of maintenance gear. Then we went to our quarters to get as much sleep as we could.
I lived with four other guys. At about 3:30 I took the first telephone call telling Lancaster to report out to the squadron at 4:15. Five minutes later I got one regarding Robbie, and then another for Hitchcock, and finally my own. So, we all ended up at the squadron at 4:15. At 5:am, 12/8 we were wheels up on the way west as a group, 60 airplanes in all.
The only important thing that happened between there and Muroc Dry Lake [Edwards Air Force Base in California] was that Mark Lewis got killed at El Paso, leaving us with Millard Haskins as the group commander.

Built next to a dry lake, Muroc Air Base was initially an extension of March Field in 1941, mainly used for submarine patrols off the southwestern US coast. The 22nd Bomb Group briefly flew patrols from Muroc before the unit departed the United States. (Robin Highham Collection)

Excerpt of a letter from from Gerald C. Cook of the 2nd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group

“Practice makes perfect.” This seemed to be the goal of the 22nd. We made many practice runs in order to be ready for any eventuality which might occur because of war in Europe. Then on 12/7 Pearl Harbor took place. As soon as the news reached the US, the 22nd BG officers alerted all of its personnel to return to base as soon as possible. We started the mad rush to get every plane ready for a flight to the west coast within 24 hours. This was a tremendous feat for so much to be done in so short a time! We reached the set goal, and within 24 hours the entire 22nd BG took off en mass and headed west.
It was while we were flying over the state of Mississippi that I so vividly remember hearing President Roosevelt address the Congress (as well as the American people) and give his Declaraion of War speech). Because of the limitations of the B-26 we could not fly all the way from the “East to West Coast. We made our first top near Tucson, AZ. That night there was an unusual rainstorm. Some of our planes got stuck in the mud and we had to wait a few days until we could get all the planes airborne again.

From the diary of Lt. Roland Birnn of the 27th and later 3rd Bomb Groups
12 December, 1941 Clark Field, Philippines

Very quiet morning. Low clouds and light rain. No fun living in the open. Talley and I went to enlisted man’s barracks 1/3 mile away for a shower. Now deserted—been bombed several times. Hear air raid warning—ignored it because it was too cloudy for a raid. Heard a second warning as I finished dressing. Went outside and saw nine bombers in a “V” formation. Ran for cover—ran like we had never ran before. Finally had to drop to the ground when the bombers got too close. We hugged the ground. Bombs dropped in train, straddled us. Just lucky. Ground sure shook—so did I.
Got up and moved farther away. Then nine more bombers came over. Clark is right on the edge of a mountain range. The bombers whipped around the mountains, just under the clouds, and were on us before we could do anything. We hit the ground again.
Rather nerve racking to lie in the open and wait for bombs to hit. They get closer and closer. The ground started to shake and the explosions hurt our ears. When attack had passed, we saw nine others off to the side. Walked back to HQ through tank area. Noticed that the bombs hit this area. One bomb hit a gun emplacement—killed everyone. Saw other wounded men being carried away. Bomb hit a B-17 on the field. They seem to know when we have anything on the field. Back in HQ area found a bomb had hit 50 feet away from my bunk. I am moving out. They know this is HQ. Japs strafed when they came over. AA got a couple of ships. We had no pursuit up.
Ordinance setting off duds now. They give no warning—just the explosion. When one goes off nearby, everyone hits the dirt. Gets a little nerve wracking. Japs now have an air base in the norther part of Luzon. Our bunch is getting administrative jobs since all the planes are burned. We’re doing the jobs the pursuit outfit was doing here. They moved into the hills. Shrapnel sure is mean looking—jagged edges are sharp as a knife. Hope I get to finish this diary. [Lt. Birnn was killed on a test flight in 1942.]

Found in the Archives: December 1942 Map of Salamaua

For each of our books, we carefully go through our various collections and pick out the best images for publication. For one reason or another, some of them simply don’t fit our criteria, but we want to share them because they’re still very interesting to look at. Recently, we ran across one such image, a map of the Japanese-occupied Salamaua area dated December 1, 1942. We believe the map’s data came from prewar sources as well as scouting commando units, as it appears to have prewar housing and military posts marked. At the time, the majority of the attention was on the brutal fighting in the Buna-Gona area, located south of Salamaua.

Map of Salamaua from December 1942
Click on the image to explore the map’s details.

“So they don’t forget what we had to go through”

Veterans Day is November 11th and what better way to honor our veterans than to listen to their stories? In this powerful interview with World War II veteran Frank Devita, he talks about his experiences on D-Day and how his service impacted his life. Because his job was to operate the ramp on his boat, some of the scenes he describes are very intense and difficult to listen to. It took many years for Mr. Devita to feel comfortable talking about his war experiences and he credits reporter Tom Brokaw for helping him get there.

Mission to Rabaul

Over the years, we have dedicated quite a few blog posts to some of the strikes on Rabaul, and we have another one today. The Australian War Memorial posted an old film covering the big October 12, 1943 raid on Rabaul. Before getting into that particular mission, the film explains the logistics that the Allies had to work out weeks earlier. After tracing the Allied advance northward, it’s time for the first of several major attacks on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul.

Experiencing an Air Raid

This descriptive entry comes from the diary of T/Sgt. Adrian Bottge, a member of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group ground crew.

Sunday, May 16, 1943

Smitty and Mata left on transport this morning. Loaded a plane and sat around waiting for the other transports. Didn’t show up. Then the two with the men on board came back. Had received orders to return at once because Jap planes were over Oro Bay. Made up loading list of photo supplies in afternoon. Went to show in evening. One of the fellows said there was a yellow alert. 50 Betty Bombers and 50 Zekes took off from Lae airfield 1/2 hr. before. They started the picture anyway. Had run a few minutes when the three shots sounded. We ran for our trenches but the Aussies were put out. Hollered to keep the show going. In a few minutes we heard the planes, shortly after we saw bomb flashes toward 14 mile. There were lots of planes and lots of ack-ack. Didn’t come over this far. Went back to the show “Ice Capades” and saw some more — then got the alert again. The Aussies were really disgusted this time. Hollered for everyone to sit down. We went to our trench, however and was glad to be in it. Lard and Mata hit a trench close to the movie area. We saw what seemed like hundreds of bomb flashes in the north. Was so noisy, one couldn’t hear himself think. Terribly warm and lots of mosquitoes in the trench. My knees felt like they would break in two — crouched down like we were. Those bombers left and it was quiet for about ten minutes. Then several more planes came over. Didn’t drop any bombs though they were right overhead. Dropped flares — possibly trying to photo the damage. One of our P70 nite fighters was there but hadn’t been able to gain enough altitude. Could see the Jap planes (in searchlights) shooting tracers at the P70. Went back tot he show and finally finished without interruption. Lars said the Aussies really scattered during the last raid. Tried to get into crowded trenches. Our boys told them, “Carry your a-s, this will teach you to move when the alert sounds.” They scurried around like rats looking for a hole. Shrapnel was falling like hail. Sounds like bumble bees in flight. 89ths A-20s made early morning raid on Lae yesterday. Strafed 6 bombers and 5 Zeros on ground. 90th lost another B-25 with six man crew. Poor 90th has taken it on chin. B-25 destroyed on ground at 14 Mile last night. B-24s and 17s took off before the raid. Ack-ack fire was terrific last night. Doubt its effectiveness though. Cootenac (Marval) got back from hospital this morning. Had measles.

Intense Mission over Rabaul

Three B-26s from the 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group took off from Seven Mile for Vunakanau, Rabaul on May 24, 1942. For one pilot, 2/Lt. Harold L. Massie, this would be his first mission as a first pilot. It was co-pilot 2/Lt. Eugene Wallace’s second combat mission. The three planes flew through overcast skies as they neared New Britain, but their flight leader, Lt. Ralph L. Michaelis, spotted a hole in the clouds near Rabaul. When they reached the target area, they discovered it was still covered by clouds. Still, there was a gap a few miles away and Michaelis decided his flight could use that to their advantage. The plan was to make one north-south run at low-level and get out of the area as fast as possible. At the time, Rabaul was a Japanese stronghold and three B-26s were no match for the heavily defended airdrome.

As they made their run, Japanese antiaircraft gunners let loose with a barrage of ack-ack, and hit two of the three B-26s. As Michaelis put it, “While over the target each member of the crew had had a close call.” Only one man in his plane, the bombardier, was injured when a tracer bullet went through his seat and cushion, stopped right next to his skin and burned him. He and 1/Lt. McCutcheon, the pilot of the third B-26, made it back to base safely. Massie’s plane was not so lucky. It was hit in the starboard engine and last seen smoking badly. The final radio transmission mentioned that they reached Wide Bay. While the plane had been doing ok on one engine, it wasn’t enough power to keep it in the air and Massie ditched about a mile offshore. Two of his crewmen, Pvt. Joseph C. Dukes and Cpl. Wolenski, were not seen after the landing. The others were helped to shore by Papuans. On July 27th, they split up. Massie and bombardier 2/Lt. Arthur C. King went one way and the other four went another way.

The photographer, S/Sgt. Jack B. Swan, broke his shoulder in the crash and died in his sleep on August 23rd. He was buried in the abandoned village of Ubili. His surviving crewmembers were eventually located and helped by an Australian plantation owner. They were finally rescued on March 25, 1943, and that incredible story is told in full in Revenge of the Red Raiders. Massie and King were captured by Papuans who subsequently turned them over to the Japanese. They were executed at Rabaul on October 12, 1942.

A War Correspondent’s Perspective

Harold Guard, a United Press war correspondent, joined the crew of Lt. Chris Herron of the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group for a mission over the Rabaul area on April 23, 1942. Below is his account of the mission.

“I went over Rabaul in a bomber piloted by Lt. Chris Herron and co-piloted by Lt. Duncan Seffern, who fitted me with a ‘Mae West’ and parachute before we left. I had to sit between the radioman and turret gunner, [Cpl.] George McMannamy, and the navigator, Lt. Charles Smith, on the flight. Bombardier Lt. George Barnhill occupied the glass-domed nose and somewhere in the tail were rear gunners [PFC.] Fred J. Mikles and [PFC.] Harry E. Philo.

“We arrived over Rabaul Harbor suddenly from a bank of clouds. I counted seven large ships and there were several smaller vessels. Someone behind U.S. will attend to them. We crossed the harbor, swooping low. I noticed the altitude meter registered 1,000 ft. Simultaneously I saw ground gun flashes and black smoke balls bursting above and around us. I hear the sound like cracking walnuts. The altitude was 700 ft.

“Herron croaks through the throat microphone. I can see the target—long parallel, drab colored buildings. The bomb bay doors open. Barnhill lets go—and fascinated, I see the incendiary sticks spread and actually reach the target. They got what they were supposed to get.

“We start to climb and the turret gunner reports a Zero on the starboard side. I saw him racing ahead of us. The gunner reports two more. I spot a fourth on the port side. The Zeros climb higher. They’re a pretty picture, with the light putty-colored wings against the golden sunshine.

Recon photo of the Rabaul area

Reconnaissance photo of the Rabaul area taken in 1941.

“Then one swoops down towards us. I think he’s sure that he got us, but we dive steeply towards the sea and our after-guns clatter. Barnhill doesn’t waste time during the dive. He pours tracers into the barges now only 75 ft. below us. They are carrying uniformed figures and Barney’s tracers find their target. We straighten out and I see, as I look backwards, billowing clouds of black smoke and sheets of vivid red flame.

“Meanwhile, three more Zeros are pressing us. We remain low over the sea and they can’t dive below us. The tail gunner reports two Zeros hovering on our tail. Suddenly another one hurtles down out of the clouds. Guns chatter again and once more I hear a sound like cracking walnuts and there are bursting puffballs all around us. The gunner’s language over the intercommunication radiophone becomes unprintable as his gun momentarily jams, but he soon gets it into action again and fires a burst which sends the Zeros on our tail zooming away.

“Only one Zero is coming our way now. Herron anticipates perfectly. With a skillful turn of the wrist we are suddenly up and under the Zero. Our turret guns blaze, and McMannnamy’s interphone croaks ‘We got that so-and-so!’

“Barney’s singing over the interphone like a fool—’I don’t want to set the world on fire!’…Suddenly I realize it’s all over. I start grinning and everybody laughed at me. I realize I must have been scared all the time. We turn for home and race in for a perfect landing. Down at Allied HQs, a brief communique says: ‘Our air force attacked shipping, barracks and warehouses, and machine-gunned enemy personnel.’”

Read more about this mission in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Alcohol Busters

Color illustration in the book Rampage of the Roarin' 20's

On April 2, 1945, Maj. Joseph B. Bilitzke, C.O. of the 388th Squadron, depicted here at upper left in his plane, BABY BLITZ II, led the 388th and 389th Squadrons, 312th Bomb Group from Mangaldan, Philippines, in an attack on the railroad yards and the fuel alcohol plant at Shinei, Formosa. This was a prime target for two reasons: the alcohol plant produced butanol, used in making aviation fuel and acetone for explosives, and Shinei was a major railroad hub for that part of Formosa. Bilitzke’s wingmen were 2/Lt. Dale C. Fritzel, flying the A-20H SWEET LEILANI at lower right, and 2/Lt. Robert J. Dicker, at top middle in tail letter “D.” When the strafers were finished, the alcohol plant was covered in thick black smoke. Coming off the target, the planes continued to strafe traffic on a bridge over the adjacent river. The mission lasted six hours, close to the maximum range for the A-20. Attacks such as this by the Fifth Air Force strafer units significantly degraded Japanese war-making capabilities on the island.

This dramatic illustration by Jack Fellows is available for purchase on our website.

Adrift at Sea: A Chance Encounter

On March 11, 1945, B-25 crews from the 501st Squadron, 345th Bomb Group took off from San Marcelino in search of shipping around Tourane Bay, located on the coast of French Indochina (now Vietnam). The previous day, the 500th Squadron was in that area and attacked a couple of Japanese ships that they spotted, sinking the 5239-ton tanker Seishin Maru. This time, there was an oil tanker strategically anchored near the shoreline, and guarded by antiaircraft batteries.

The crews lined up to attack the ship, flying overhead one by one. Gunners at the batteries, as well as on the nearby airbase, fired at the B-25s. Second Lieutenant Arthur J. McGrane was last over the ship in B-25 #190. Below him, the antiaircraft gunners were still firing away, one of whom managed to hit McGrane’s B-25 in the left wing root. The flak severed the fuel line and holed the wing tank, causing fuel to pour into the fuselage. Up in the cockpit, the pilot watched as the fuel gauge dropped rapidly. He let the flight leader know about the damage and began the 700-mile journey home.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crews made another run over the tanker and also strafed three luggers in the area. Then, they set out for home, with the flight leader hot on the trail of McGrane’s damaged B-25. He did not think McGrane would make it all the way back to San Marcelino, so he radioed the nearby Catalina that was waiting to rescue any downed airmen.

Tanker at Tourane

The 501st Squadron of the 345th Bomb Group sank this unidentified tanker in the harbor at Tourane, French Indochina, on March 11, 1945. The photo was taken from B-25 #199. Second Lieutenant Arthur J. McGrane and his crew were shot down on this mission. After four days at sea in a life raft, they were rescued by a U.S. submarine. (Maurice J. Eppstein Collection)

Ahead of the rest of his squadron, McGrane’s crew was busy lightening the aircraft by discarding everything they possibly could while McGrane was closely monitoring the state of his B-25. Judging by the fuel gauges and the overpowering smell of fuel wafting throughout the plane, it wouldn’t be long before it would head for the ocean, so the pilot ordered his crew to prepare for a ditching. To make the situation more precarious, there was approximately an inch of fuel in the fuselage and any spark would blow the aircraft to bits. As they settled into their ditching positions, all T/Sgt. William F. Burhans, the turret gunner, could think about was what he heard back at San Marcelino: no one survived a ditching in the South China Sea.

For several minutes, they waited. Then the engines began to cut out and quit altogether shortly thereafter. Gliding down from 125 feet, the B-25 bounced off the sea once, then splashed to a stop into the water. Upon impact, McGrane’s left hand was crushed between the control column and the instrument panel. His co-pilot, F/O Alfred R. Palace and navigator, 2/Lt. Joe A. Groves quickly got out through the overhead escape hatch, followed by McGrane.

While the life raft had been properly ejected and inflated, it was floating near patches of burning fuel and no one wanted to retrieve it. Near the back of the plane, Burhans was panicking after he had been knocked unconscious in the crash and revived underwater. He thought that their plane had blown up, throwing him and Sgt. Arthur T. Neer into the water. After he inflated his life vest and rose to the surface, he found himself in the middle of a patch of burning fuel and promptly dove down to try and swim away from it. This process was repeated two more times before he got out of the fire. Fortunately, a one-man life raft package was floating next to him, so he opened it and inflated the raft. McGrane, Groves and Neer swam over to him. Palace had disappeared and S/Sgt. Marshall L. Dougherty, Jr., their radio operator, never made it out.

About five minutes after landing, the B-25 sank. Above them, their flight leader watched the downed airmen bobbing in the rough seas. The Catalina arrived on the scene within 10 minutes and tried to land in the water close to the men. A loud boom emanated from the Catalina and the pilot quickly took off. Later, it was discovered that the source of the sound was the hull cracking. Instead of a rescue, a six-man raft and a “Gibson Girl” radio were dropped, then both planes flew off. In the raft, burns, cuts and a broken hand were treated as best as they could be and the four men settled in to wait for a rescue.

Over the course of two days, they drifted more than 100 miles from the crash location, the result of a strong southerly current along the coast of the Indochina Peninsula. Their new location was far away from the B-25 search area, and, while they had been using the radio to signal anyone in the area, they never used it long enough for anyone to get a firm reading on their position. Five days after the crash, someone smelled diesel in the air. He woke the rest of the crew and they all listened for a humming that stood out from the ocean’s typical sounds.

Willing to risk getting captured by the Japanese instead of dying in the open water, they quickly grabbed the radio, switched on the light and cranked out an S.O.S. in hopes of getting the attention of whatever happened to be nearby. As the silhouette of a submarine materialized about a quarter of a mile in front of them, someone onboard saw their signal and the sub began heading right for them. About 50 yards away, a member of the crew yelled over a megaphone, “Put that god damn light out!” The aircrew was saved.

It turned out that the U.S.S. Bergall was on the surface to recharge the batteries and was going to go back underwater only a few minutes later. While the skipper knew about the downed “zoomies” in the area, he wasn’t counting on finding them. They were now 250 miles south of the crash site. Everyone was given food, water and fruit juice, wounds were treated. None of the men flew combat missions for the rest of the war.

 

Read more about the 345th Bomb Group in Warpath Across the Pacific.