For Want of an Airplane

As the war progressed in October 1944, the Allies were finally able to return to the Philippines, beginning with the island of Leyte and its one airfield, Tacloban. As always, a new base had its headaches. The Allies soon discovered that the soil on Leyte turned to mud during the rainy season. This thwarted plans for building other airbases on the island. Over the course of a few weeks, there were three attempts to build bases elsewhere on the island that were soon abandoned because the ground was too wet. Eventually, they were able to build a base at Tanuan, located on the east coast of the island. For the time being, Tacloban would serve as the only airdrome on Leyte, which meant that it would become the O’Hare of the Pacific.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Pettus, C.O. of the 43rd Bomb Group, was given the job of airdrome commander. “There were constant decisions to make, i.e. where were aircraft to park, where to put the maintenance area, hospital, and air evac sites (these had to be accessible day and night), bomb shelters and fuel storage, provide aircraft refueling for transients, tower operation and dozens of other problems,” he wrote. Usually, a service squadron would handle most of the decisions, but there was no room for one at the base. With that, Pettus and his assistants had to do their best to keep Tacloban organized and operating smoothly.

It wasn’t always easy to keep track of which planes belonged to which group, or if someone took the opportunity to “borrow” an entire aircraft. This was the case for the 63rd Squadron. B-24 #42-63903 made an emergency landing at Middleburg Island, then vanished a short time later. A crew was sent to Middleburg to find the plane, only to discover that it had left the island. An assistant operations officer was told to find the B-24 and given a per diem to do so. After about ten days of “searching” Sydney bars and nightclubs, his money ran out, beginning the real hunt for the plane.

The B-24 was finally discovered to be in the hands of the 22nd Bomb Group. They had stripped the gun turrets and turned the plane into a “fat cat,” which brought fresh food and alcohol from Australia. Needless to say, the officer commandeered the plane and the 63rd Squadron enjoyed a nice party that evening. The aircraft’s changing of hands didn’t end there. It was soon taken by Group Headquarters, then out of the 43rd all together when V Bomber Command heard about the new fat cat.

Shot Down over Yulin Bay: Part 2

About an hour and a half after 1/Lt. James McGuire crashed in Yulin Bay on March 30, 1945, a Japanese patrol boat inspected the crash site. Men hauled McGuire and the other survivor, 2/Lt. Eugene L. Harviell, aboard, then offered them some tea. The men gratefully drank it and let the sun warm them as they rode back to shore. The Japanese tied their hands behind their backs and led them off the boat, through a bad-tempered crowd (someone threw a rock at McGuire) and onto a truck. From there, they were taken to Samah, where they would spend the rest of the war as POWs. That night, McGuire and Harviell were given bottles containing tea, but no food. They spent a long, uncomfortable night wondering if they would be shot the next day.

1/Lt. James McGuire

The next morning, they were untied and each given a tennis ball-sized portion of rice, followed by some tea. Afterwards, they were interrogated separately about MacArthur’s plans and the base’s dispersal area. A few weeks before their capture, the 345th had been told by a Navy intelligence officer to tell the Japanese whatever they wanted to know in order to avoid being tortured. At this point of the war, it wouldn’t matter if they had this information. The interrogations stopped after a couple of days.

A couple of weeks into their imprisonment, Harviell, who had suffered burns on his entire right side before the crash, was given treatment. Though the POWs were not beaten or tortured, as happened at other Japanese POW camps, they didn’t receive nearly enough food and water. Their diet consisted of white rice, tea, “fish soup” (warm water that tasted fishy) and on rare occasion some seaweed. McGuire befriended one of the guards who brought the men a little extra food or vitamin powder a few times and did other small favors for them. But without proper nutrition or real medical care, the men continued to deteriorate. By the end of July 1945, they suffered from malaria and beriberi, a vitamin deficiency that swelled the lower limbs and caused pain when walking. Harviell was left unable to stand, and the Japanese guards punished him by shrinking his already small rations. On death’s door, Harviell simply stopped trying to live.

Six days later, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 16th. The three remaining prisoners on Samah were taken to a nearby hospital and treated for their illnesses. From then on, they were also given nourishing meals as well as alcohol. McGuire and the other prisoners finally left the island at the end of the month, and eventually returned to the U.S. after further recuperation in Allied hospitals.

Shot Down over Yulin Bay: Part 1

For the 500th Squadron, planes were hard to come by in late March 1945. A quarter of their B-25s and crews had been lost over the last month, with additional planes being grounded due to combat damage. The remaining crews felt stretched thin as they continued to fly missions over the South China Sea. On this particular day, March 30th, 1/Lt. James McGuire was hoping he wouldn’t have to fly, as he felt sick and fatigued. He was slated as a spare pilot for the mission to Yulin Bay (located on the southeast tip of Hainan Island), meaning he would only have to complete the mission if one of the scheduled planes turned back. Unfortunately for him, one of the planes did turn back and McGuire took his place in the flight.

The crews were hoping to find the rest of a convoy that had escaped under the cover of stormy weather the previous day. They flew a few miles beyond the bay before heading back towards it to fool the Japanese guarding Yulin Bay. As the B-25s came over the ridge, they discovered they had not mislead the Japanese who greeted them with heavy antiaircraft fire.

McGuire and another B-25, piloted by Lt. Vernon Sawyer, paired off and began their run over the ships in the bay. He briefly thought of his previous wingmen who had been shot down during recent missions and had a feeling his turn had come. As he neared the ships, there was an explosion 20 feet off his left wing. Shortly after that, there was a second explosion a few feet away from his right wing, and then a fire erupted on top of the wing. Burning fuel was sucked into the plane, setting the turret gunner, S/Sgt. Harvey Baron, on fire. Navigator 2/Lt. Eugene L. Harviell’s skin also began to burn from the fire in the fuselage.

McGuire Shot Down

A photo of B-25J-22 #44-29350, piloted by 1/Lt. James McGuire, taken moments before it crashed into Yulin Bay.

 

As the plane lost altitude, it continued to burn. McGuire salvoed his bomb load, looking for a spot to ditch. He watched the swells carefully, then splashed down. Transfixed by what just happened, Sawyer nearly followed the B-25 into the water until his co-pilot, 2/Lt. Roger W. Lovett, jerked the plane upwards. Over the intercom, there were reports of McGuire’s B-25 breaking up as it hit the water. Sawyer wanted to go back and search for survivors, but was deterred by heavy antiaircraft fire. It was just too dangerous. The rest of the Squadron headed home, leaving McGuire and his crew behind—if anyone had survived.

Twenty feet below the surface of the water, McGuire still sat in his seat and watched the cockpit fill with water. He tried to stay calm as he struggled to get out of his seat, then realized his seat belt was still fastened. After he undid it, he swam out of the cockpit, inflated his Mae West and used it to help get him to the surface faster. He watched the B-25s disappear from sight, feeling utterly alone, exhausted and in pain from two dislocated shoulders. McGuire saw a badly burned Harviell surface a few feet away. He noticed a wheel floating nearby and grabbed hold of it. The two men floated alone in the middle of the enemy harbor as time seemed to stretch out beyond measure.

Stay tuned! The exciting conclusion to this tale will be posted next week.

The Joker

312th Bomb Group A-20s over Clark Field on Jan 14, 1945On the Philippine island of Luzon, elements of the 312th Bombardment Group, nicknamed the Roarin’ 20’s, sweep across Japanese-occupied Clark Field near Manila on January 14, 1945. The attack was executed in a line abreast formation at 100 feet or less above the airfield complex. First lieutenant Wilbur L. Cleveland of the 387th Bomb Squadron, flying an A-20G sporting a winning poker hand with the face of Batman’s nemesis, “the Joker,” narrowly avoids colliding with the squadron commanding officer, Capt. John C. Alsup, in his fatally damaged A-20. A burst of flak had just exploded in the bomb bay of Alsup’s A-20, causing it to nose up and burst into flames. It then crashed into the target, killing him and his gunner, Cpl. Oscar C. Rush. The third plane was flown by 1/Lt. Ormonde J. Frison of the 386th Squadron. Clark Field was the most important and heavily defended Japanese airfield on Luzon, and the low-level attacks were key to neutralizing Japanese airpower on the island during the critical week of the American amphibious landing at nearby Lingayen Gulf. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s. You can also purchase this piece through our website.

 

Also, don’t forget to check out our new ebook, Stories from Fifth Air Force, on Amazon!

Tragedy Above the Bismarck Sea

Int'l Historical Research Associates:

It has been 72 years since this fateful day for one B-17 crew participating in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Originally posted on IHRA:

On February 26, 1943, a Japanese convoy was spotted by Allied forces at Rabaul. At this point in the war, the Japanese were trying to build up their strength in New Guinea after losing control of the Solomon Islands. Fifth Air Force would try to keep a close eye on this convoy, but due to the weather, could not watch it for two days. On March 1st, the weather finally cleared up enough for a 90th Bomb Group crew to see the convoy on its way from Rabaul to Lae. The crew immediately reported the situation as well as the size of the convoy. With six troop transports, two vessels carrying aviation fuel, a boat full of Japanese marines, eight destroyer escorts, and 100 fighter planes, this was not a target to be missed. B-17s from the 63rd Squadron were soon sent to bomb the convoy, but were thwarted by…

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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…

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