Housing, Hygiene, Laundry, and Food

This excerpt comes from a memoir written by 1/Lt. Robert Mosely of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group. Given the mention of the Philippines, the events below would have taken place in late 1944 or 1945.

 

As described earlier, our tent, up on a wooden floor, was a great improvement over out “housing” in New Guinea. I mentioned it earlier but when I got that air mattress in the Philippines it made a world of difference in my sleeping routine. Those Army cots, where I hung over at each end, made sleeping very tough. I must say, as stated earlier though, that I never had trouble sleeping the night before a mission, even on those Army cots; it was uncomfortable but I slept. I do not quite know how to explain it because I do not think of myself as being all that brave but that was the way it was in that war … You would think that knowing you might get killed the next day would make your heart beat a little faster.

While on the subject of housing, we had a happening one night in our area that was quite exciting. It involved centipedes; lots of them. It happened about 3 am one morning. I was awakened almost simultaneously with a sharp pain in my head and the noise of the other guys howling and lamps coming on throughout the area (we had lamps, no electric lights). It was raining and it was the first real hard rain at the start of the monsoon season and it probably flooded those big 4-inch long centipedes out of their ground nests. They then crawled the foundations of our wooden floored tents and into out bunks. They then started stinging the first thing that disturbed them. That was a real live nightmare. It was strange that it happened to all of us at almost exactly the same time. There must have been at least six of us that got stung. There was not much sleep the remainder of the night and there were all sorts of centipede stories the next day.

With regard to hygiene, in the Philippines, we showered in a makeshift thing that was made out of an old 50-gallon oil drum. It was mounted up on a scaffold like thing a little higher than our heads. A spout came out of the bottom of it. Somehow water was pumped up and into the barrel and stored there. You then would simply open the spout to take you shower. It sounds crude but I am almost ashamed to mention it when I think about those poor Army ground guys fighting those Japs in those nearby islands. I remember one period we were giving close air support to them when they were fighting on the island of Negros. They were all dug in there in their trenches which we could plainly see as we flew over. They would even wave at us. They would shoot artillery shells over into the area where the Japs were, to show us where they wanted us to attack. We would then set up sort of a traffic pattern going in at tree top level over them and then on over to the area they marked for us to attack. We would shoot and bomb anything that moved and if it did not move we bombed and strafed anyhow … after one of these missions I would go back to my tent and could have a drink of combat whiskey they would give us to steady our nerves if we thought we needed it (which I didn’t), take a shower, eat some kind of a meal, and then sleep on my air mattress with a clean sheet. Then the next day we might go back to the same target to help them out again and there would be those same guys down there in that trench waving at us again but you can only imagine what had happened to them in the meantime. You can bet that they had no whiskey, shower, food served on a plate, or a bed to sleep in. Additionally they were probably scared stiff that they might be overrun by Japs that night or that one might sneak into their area under cover of darkness and cut a few throats.

Squadron Shower

Dated February 1943, this photo shows the shower area that was built for one of the 3rd Bomb Group’s squadrons while they were in New Guinea.

 

With regard to laundry, we could get little Filipino girls, that were always around where there were troops, to do the laundry for a very small charge. (The native girls in New Guinea had done the same thing for us while we were in New Guinea). It was cute to watch the little Filipino girls doing the laundry. They would take the clothes down to a nearby stream and they would beat the bejeazers out of them over the rocks at the edge of the stream. I guess the rock was the equivalent of the old washboard. I do not think that they had any soap but the clothes always felt better when you put them back on than they did when you took them off.

With regard to food — It was always bad to awful and it got worse in the Philippines than it had been in New Guinea. But, it was likely a lot better than what that Army guy was getting in that trench down on the island of Negros. He was probably getting some of those K-rations that I saw the mountains of on the beach the day we landed on Leyte back in November. I often wondered why we never got any of those things because they would have been better than some of the stuff they were feeding us. They only time we ever got a decent meal was when our cooks would get some whiskey and go down to the docks, there by the airstrip, and exchange the whiskey and some of our bad food for some of that good Navy food. I cannot impress on you enough just how much better the Navy food was than ours. The deal on this whiskey swap thing (I was told) was that the Navy cooks could sluff off some of our bad food on their guys every so often and end up with a bunch of booze (that seemingly the Navy couldn’t get otherwise) and we would get one good meal every now and then, thanks to the cooks coming up with the booze for the swap.

One time the food not only got worse; there was hardly any of it (even bad food). Something must have gone wrong because we were basically out of food and that is not supposed to happen to us Air Corps guys. One day during this period I was down at the flight line and a Sailor walked into our area and said he would sure like to take a ride in one of our airplanes. In so many words I told him I would take him for a ride if he could get us some food. He said that was a deal and told me that if we would come down to his ship at a certain time that night we could come aboard and take all of the food, from down in the hold of his ship, that we wanted. Now, he was going to get his airplane ride but I had no guarantee that I was going to get any food. In fact it sounded like a fishy deal but we needed food so I put him up in that area where you could lay down behind the pilot in a A-20 and gave him a ride he probably never forgot and sent him happily on his way. That night Morgan, Smith and I got a Jeep and went down to the docks and found his ship and so help me there was no one around. It is hard to believe that in wartime such a thing was possible but that was the way it was. We went aboard and I went down in the hold of the ship and there were boxes and boxes of food. I started throwing boxes up out of the hold to Morgan who was on the deck and Smith was taking them off of the ship down to the jeep. I must have tossed 6 or more boxes to Morgan but suddenly Morgan was no longer there. I called for him and there was no answer.

After a bit I decided that something must have happened so I climbed out of the hold and found that I was the only person around; there was no Morgan, no Smith, and no Jeep. It was kind of like a bad dream. I was wondering what I was doing there. I knew what I went there for but suddenly being all alone I was beginning to wonder if what appeared to be happening was in fact really happening. I just stood there for awhile not knowing what to do. I had no transportation (and certainly had no business being on that boat) and wondered how I could get back to my camp, which was several miles away. So I just sat down on the barrier like thing, around the hold, and tried to think how to get out of that bad dream. I must have sat there for 5 or 10 minutes (still no one around) when I saw the lights of a vehicle approaching the dock. I could soon tell that it was a Jeep and shortly I could tell that it was Morgan and Smith. I hurried off of the ship and ran down to meet them and immediately started giving them hell for running off and leaving me.

They did have a half ass excuse, when Smith explained that on one of his trips to the Jeep, with a box of food, he saw the Shore Patrol coming. He in turn told Morgan and, without saying a word to me, they panicked and jumped in the Jeep and headed out down the road. The Shore Patrol saw them and started chasing them. They tried to turn off on a little side road and turning their lights off but the Shore Patorl was not fooled and caught them. The funny part was that the Shore Patrol somehow had the idea that they had whiskey in those boxes. When they found out it was just food they let them go without asking any further questions. So once they were free, they came back to pick up their old buddy who they had left down in the hold of that ship without so much as a word of warning. Well, I certainly got a glimpse of the true character of those two “buddies”. But I might have done the same thing (I really don’t think I would have) so I forgave them. For about a week we did not go near the mess hall. We ate off of our loot.

That completes Housing, Hygiene, and Food.

Lost at Sea

As November 1944 began, the 345th Bomb Group was flying to the staging base of Morotai, where they would then take part in missions that targeted islands in the Philippines. Morotai was three hours away from their base at Biak Island. While this hop could be considered routine, weather once again thwarted plans of landing at Morotai on November 6th. As the B-25 pilots attempted to fly through the stormy weather, Morotai went on red alert and the control tower went off the air. It became extremely difficult for the crews to find their way to Morotai without a radio signal, not to mention a way out of the storm. Several pilots turned around. One, Lt. Edward Reel, remained in the area, hoping to catch a station. Aboard his B-25 were six crewmen as well as two passengers.

Hours passed. Reel had descended to find the bottom of the clouds, but he was unsuccessful. A little while later, the radio operator found a station for them to follow, however, no one responded to the distress calls. The plane’s fuel supply was running low and everyone on board decided Reel should ditch in the turbulent water below. After turning on the landing lights, the B-25 descended to wave-top height and hit a wave well at more than 100 miles per hour. The tail cracked upon impact, and the rough waters snapped it off shortly thereafter. Five men made it out of the aircraft alive and spent an uncomfortable night in a raft on the stormy seas.

When the sun rose on November 7th, the sea was calm and the sky was clear. The survivors saw that they were surrounded by nothing but water. For three days, they floated in the ocean. They managed to signal a C-47, which circled the raft, then dropped a five gallon can of water and a life raft with a note that said, “Help on way. Land 120 miles south.” The can of fresh water, unfortunately, exploded on impact, but the raft was in good shape and three of the men climbed into it. Help had not arrived by nightfall. An argument broke out about whether or not to hoist small sails on one of the rafts and head for land or stay put. In the end, they split up. Staff Sergeant Alton F. Joyner, T/Sgt. Henry A. Jepeson and Cpl. Robert J. Schoonmaker set sail for land.

On November 12th, planes spotted the two men, S/Sgt. Douglas C. Osborne and 2/Lt. George W. Harding, in their raft. They were rescued by a Catalina a little later. It wasn’t until the following day when the trio in the other raft was spotted and finally rescued. After recovering from exposure and injuries at the 17th Station Hospital at Owi, the men spent a month in Australia to rest and recuperate.


For more stories about the 345th Bomb Group, check out our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

History Camp Followup

Madison returns with a report on his day at History Camp Colorado. Pictures from the event can be found on The History List’s Instagram page. Enjoy!

You may remember, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a guest post about History Camp, an upcoming event at which I was invited to present. Well, what was once the future is now past–the conference was held last Saturday and it was a resounding success! Now that it’s over, I figured you might like a candid look into what the presenters have to deal with behind the scenes.

Going back to the day before, I spent most of the day writing a script for the event. Truth be told, I probably put too much time into it-it was ten pages long by the end and although I had read it out loud to get a sense of the timing, I wasn’t really able to make it sound extemporaneous. There were also a whole bunch of supplies I had to gather: books, tablet, credit card reader, sharpies, money bag, laptop & usb stick (with my slideshow on it), change, flyers, order forms, probably something I’m forgetting too. It was four boxes in the end, although half of that was just merchandise.

The event was held in the Tivoli Student Union, and I had to get there early to set up my author’s table. This entailed moving the four boxes (probably 70 pounds total?) up to the presentation area on the fourth floor. Fortunately, they had a parking lot right up against the entrance (not free, but worth every penny) and a service elevator to go up, but it was still a big haul. The actual presentation space was unusual. You had the main room, which was kind of this two-story open balcony room a little like a makeshift theater. Then there were three other presentation rooms, but they were in different hallways, and they were all on slightly different elevations so if you wanted to switch rooms you had to make a few turns and climb a few stairs. I couldn’t switch rooms because I had to stay with the author’s table all day.

Speaking of which, getting that set up was easy once I had all the materials inside. It helps that our books really speak for themselves as far as quality goes. I was set up next to an author who had written a book about baseball in Colorado Springs. He had actually worn a vintage Cubs uniform to the event, which was pretty amazing to see. There were probably about 100, 120 people once everyone had filed in, which is pretty impressive for a first-time conference.

Anyway, once the introductions were done the presentations started up. Like I said, I was stuck in the room with the author’s tables so I essentially got a “random sampling” of what the conference had to offer. And I must say, it was really impressive! There was a college professor giving a run-down of her dissertation topic: ads civil war soldiers would place in the paper imploring girls to write them letters. There was an overview of the construction of the sewers of Denver, told by the governmental historian who had to put together a report about them for the Colorado Department of Transportation. There was a discussion of the human impact on the wildlife of Colorado, from the hunting and habitat reduction of the 1800s to the reversal and reintroduction of species in recent years. And then on a more micro scale, I heard the story of a resort hotel–how it was founded, built up, expanded, why it was popular, why it faded away, how it was sold, and what has since replaced it. There was also my presentation, slotted into the mid-afternoon. You can read about the topic here. It went well, except my script ended up being too expansive for the 45-minute time slot and I had to cut a few sections. Fortunately, I realized that was going to happen before I ran out of time so I was able to recover smoothly. Sadly, one of my favorite stories did not get to see the light of day. Maybe next time…

Overall, the event went very smoothly. Everyone was very friendly, too, especially the people putting on the event, which impressed the heck out of me. I would have enjoyed it even if I hadn’t been doing a presentation on behalf of the company. I would highly recommend if someone puts a conference like this together in your area—-go!

Honoring a Japanese American WWII Veteran on Veterans Day

Little is known about the Japanese Americans who served during World War II and we realized we hadn’t shared any videos of these veterans talking about their experiences. This YouTube video, posted by Heather Wokusch, is a 2012 interview with Kazuo “Fred” Yamaguchi, who served in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service.

We also want to take a moment to recognize everyone who has served in the armed forces over the years. To those veterans, thank you for your service.

 

 

Repost: Friendship After Bombing Davao

This story is one of our favorites and we thought it was time to reblog it. Without further ado, here is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two veteran World War II pilots.

 

Two 63rd Squadron B-24 Snoopers took off from Owi Island on the night of September 4, 1944 to bomb Matina Airdome at Davao, Mindinao. One of the B-24s soon turned back due to radar failure. Captain Roland T. Fisher, pilot of the other B-24, “MISS LIBERTY,” continued on alone. Fisher had flown night missions with the Royal Air Force in 1941 and would soon be needing every ounce of skill he had acquired over the last few years.

Twenty-one years after this mission, Fisher recounted his experience: “I could see again the bright moon in the clear night sky and the green shadow of Cape San Agustin below. I had entered Davao Gulf by crossing from the Pacific over the peninsula into the head of the gulf and made nearly a straight-on approach over Samal Isle to Matina air strip. I remember thinking perhaps this would allow me to enter the gulf undetected. On previous occasions I had entered the gulf at the mouth and flew north, and it seemed like [Japanese] defenses always spotted me.

Miss Liberty's Nose Art

“But this evening my plan didn’t work…I recall vividly being in the searchlights and how, just after I had made the bomb run over the air base, I made a sharp turn to the left with the intent of flying south out of the bay.” Back on the Japanese-held base, a man who had been ordered to reconnoiter the area in his Irving night fighter spotted the interloper. That man was Yoshimasa Nakagawa. “Some minutes after my plane took off,” wrote Nakagawa, “I found that the bomb which had fallen off [the B-24] seemed to have been exploded somewhere in the air-base. My plane had caught sight of [the B-24] which was flying about 1500 meters high above mine…my plane had been kept waiting for [him] to start on [his] way home. My plane was drawing nearer and nearer to [his] B-24 which was circling over the little island in Davao Bay.”

While Fisher was still in the middle of his turn out of the bay, Nakagawa flew straight at “MISS LIBERTY” with guns blazing. A collision between the two planes was imminent and Fisher pulled up a wing, narrowly avoiding the Japanese fighter. Nakagawa turned again to make another attack on Fisher’s B-24, this time for the death. “My plane could not help colliding with [the B-24] owing to the disorder of the machine gun. I hope you can understand we Japanese pilots of those days felt as if their heart were broken when we were forced by the General Headquarters to do such a thing as collision,” he later wrote. As Nakagawa rammed his plane into the B-24, his fighter’s propellers severely damaged the belly of the B-24.

When the planes broke apart, Nakagawa watched Fisher’s plane plunge towards the sea and flew to base thinking about the skill of the American pilot, who probably wouldn’t make it home. Fortunately, Fisher was able to limp back to Owi after a long, tense 7 hour flight. Years later, Nakagawa contributed to a book called The Divine Wind, which is about experiences of kamikaze pilots. In that book was the story of his encounter with that B-24. Fisher received a copy of the book from a former tentmate, telling him to look on page 29, where he found the mission described above. He then composed the following letter:

Letter to Yoshimasa Nakagawa

Even though Nakagawa had tried to kill Fisher and his crew years ago, the two men put the past behind them and struck up a friendship 20 years after their first encounter. The men met in 1972, both of them thankful that the other was still alive, and appeared on the Dick Cavett television show together. “Imagining how bravely you could survive the World War 2 that had made the horrible marks in the history of the slaughter of human race,” Nakagawa wrote to Fisher. “I am inclined to heartily express my joy that you are still living all right. I am very grateful to you, who hope I am in good health and fortune, for the fact that you have no antipathy against me, who had once been an enemy of you. I am also very much delighted to be able to exchange correspondence with you. I hope you are in good health and happy for ever.”

In his response to Nakagawa, Fisher wrote, “Then you and I were young and conducted ourselves as young men should for our countries. Now we are older an wiser and our countries are wiser and I feel that we have attained a lasting friendship between our countries that is not only honorable but sensible and good for their futures. Still those dark moments we spent as young men in the night tropic skies of twenty years ago, I am sure, always will be glistening memories no matter how old we grow.”

Book Review: World War II Legacies Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans

book cover of World War II Legacies Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans  by Kayleen Reusser

World War II Legacies Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans by Kayleen Reusser

Recently, we were contacted by author and fellow WordPress blogger Kayleen Reusser, who asked if we could exchange book reviews with her book World War II Legacies Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans and our book Warpath Across the Pacific. Look for her review of our book soon.

After Reusser began interviewing World War II veterans for a weekly newspaper column, she became very interested in hearing these accounts and decided to compile the stories of 28 veterans of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Corps, WAAC, and WASP into a book.

Each veteran interviewed by Reusser has two pages: one page consists of the veteran’s memories from World War II and the other page has photos of the veteran, typically a World War II service photo and another one of the same person taken during these interviews. Reusser took care to make sure that various theaters and military branches were represented in her book, which gives the reader a taste of the experiences these veterans had while serving in Europe, the Pacific, Africa, and Stateside.

This book can serve as a good starting point for readers looking to dive into the subject of World War II history. We were glad to see additional information about the lesser known women’s roles in the military, particularly the context given for the WASP. There are plenty of exciting stories, including one about a B-29 mission going awry and the crew needing to bail out mere seconds before the plane exploded. On the other side of the world, veterans recalled their experiences fighting in the bitter cold during the Battle of the Bulge.

While the anecdotes are engaging and well written, they are not transcripts from the interviews. Each one has been fleshed out with additional background information to give the reader a clearer picture of what was happening in each veteran’s life. Accessible and easy to understand, this book is great for anyone with very little background on the events of the war as well as those who are already familiar with the subject. We enjoyed getting to read about some of the World War II veterans from Indiana.

Purchase your copy of World War II Legacies Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans on her site or on Amazon.

Debunking the Myths of Old 666

The Medal of Honor. It is the highest honor that can be given to a member of the U.S. military, often coming at a high price to the recipient. To date, more than 3000 men and one woman have received the Medal of Honor for going above and beyond the call of duty. There is one story in particular that continues to fascinate everyone for a couple of reasons: two men from the same mission received the Medal of Honor and the story itself has evolved into a legend. With that being the case, there are several myths of this harrowing story that we would like to set straight. First, a short recap of a B-17 mission that took place on June 16, 1943.

The Most Decorated American Air Crew, cover art for Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I. Painting by Jack Fellows

This painting depicts B-17E #41-2666, nicknamed LUCY, piloted by Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on June 16, 1943 flying a crucial photomapping mission for the invasion of Bougainville Island in the Solomons later that year. LUCY, alone, without fighter cover, was surrounded and attacked over the objective by eight Japanese Zero fighters from 251 Kokutai. The pilot refused to abort and held the plane on the required straight and level course until his assignment was finished.

During the air battle that followed, half of his crew was seriously wounded. The bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, fought back heroically throughout the engagement until he died of his injuries, earning him the Medal of Honor. Zeamer, although grievously injured himself, was also awarded the Medal of Honor for piloting the B-17 until the mission was complete, then assisting other crewmen on the long flight back to base in the severely damaged bomber, ensuring the safe return of the precious photos. The rest of the crew received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor, making them the most highly decorated American aircrew in history. Zeamer eventually recovered from his near-fatal injures.

Unfortunately, as the years have passed, this amazing story has been embellished and those embellishments have been accepted as fact in print and on the screen. We’ve compiled a list of the three worst offenders.

  1.  Capt. Zeamer and his crew were attacked by 15-21 Japanese fighters.
    False. Their plane was attacked by eight fighters. Due to the ensuing chaos, it was easy for fighters to be double counted by members of the crew in different areas on the B-17. Some would fall away, smoking as they dove, and those were also potentially double counted.
  2. The crew and pilots were a bunch of “screw-ups and misfits.”
    False. While Capt. Zeamer had a hard time getting the hang of the B-26 (it was a tricky plane to fly), he was well-liked by everyone. He was in his element after he transferred from the 22nd to 43rd Bomb Group and started flying the B-17. Zeamer handpicked his crew, looking for men who were disciplined, could keep a cool head during combat, got along well with everyone, and were willing to go the extra mile when needed.
  3. LUCY was rescued from the scrap heap.
    False. Even though this B-17 was known as a “Hard Luck Hattie” because it was so problematic during missions, it was never sent to the boneyard. Still, it wasn’t the best shape when Zeamer acquired it and he and his crew spent a considerable amount of time updating it to their specifications for mapping missions.

This is but a brief overview of an epic mission from World War II. If you want a more detailed account of the mission and LUCY (profiled in Appendix V), buy a copy of our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I. You can also head to Clint Hayes’ site for a deep dive into the mission as well as a biography of Capt. Zeamer.

Pulling the Thread of History: We’re Heading to History Camp!

As we prepare for History Camp Colorado next month, we wanted to give you some insight into how we chose our topic, the disappearance of General Walker’s aircraft on January 5, 1943. For that, we want to introduce you to our Managing Editor, Madison Jonas, who will be giving the presentation. Take it away, Madison!

You know what I like about studying history? You get to follow the consequences. Living in the present, it’s hard to ascribe a chain of causality through the actions you take and the events around you. But when we study historical events in detail and with focus, the chain can be linked together. And sometimes, you get an event that has outsize influence—small in isolation, but hugely significant to the events that follow.

Such an event occurred on January 5, 1943. There was an air raid conducted by heavy bombers—B-17s from the 43rd Bomb Group and B-24s from the 90th—based in New Guinea against Simpson Harbor, a major Japanese port in the Southwest Pacific. Going purely by the numbers, it was a small affair: 14 planes attacking, three shot down, two crews rescued, one cargo vessel sunk and three more ships damaged. But the consequences would ultimately shift the nature of the war in New Guinea over the next six months.

Unlike prior air raids against Rabaul and Simpson Harbor, the attack on January 5th was a daylight mission. Rabaul was a heavily defended base complex, and beyond the reach of fighter cover, so conventional wisdom had long-range bombers flying small missions at night and doing negligible damage in a token effort to harass the base. General Kenneth Walker, head of V Bomber Command, thought that a massed formation of bombers would be able to defend itself from enemy interception and inflict severe damage on enemy operations. Walker had even flown on the lead plane to assess the battle damage as a proof-of-concept. Tragically, he was lost that day, along with the entire crew of the SAN ANTONIO ROSE. The loss nixed further daylight bombing of Rabaul for the time being. It remained the center of Japanese operations, able to send out reinforcements to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands largely undeterred. Air operations against it saw no major impact until fighter coverage could be brought into range.

An Expensive Mission by Jack Fellows

On January 5, 1943, Brig. Gen. Kenneth N. Walker planned a large daylight raid on Rabaul to disrupt an assembling convoy. Walker was flying as an observer in the lead plane, B-17F-10 SAN ANTONIO ROSE. Over Rabaul, the bomber was hit by flak and then pursued south along the coast of New Britain by a flight of Oscar fighters from 11 Sentai. The location where the B-17 went down is unknown; however, it may have gone down deep in the remote Kol Mountains of New Britain. Two crewmembers, Maj. Jack W. Bleasdale and Capt. Benton H. Daniel, bailed out and survived the shootdown, only to be taken prisoner and executed by the Japanese. General Walker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Painting by Jack Fellows.

The target of the attack on January 5th had been a convoy carrying over 4000 soldiers for a new ground offensive in the mountains of New Guinea. The convoy was scheduled to depart on the 6th, but by a stroke of luck it had been moved to nearby Jacquinot Bay the night before, dodging the strike. The near-miss, however, was shocking to Japanese higher-ups, who ordered additional fighter coverage on the convoy for the duration of its mission, which led to a fierce air battle over the convoy as it unloaded at New Guinea. Those troops were then sent to capture an outlying Allied mountain airbase called Wau, which led to the next ground engagement of the war in the Southwest Pacific. The U.S. also learned from the attempted convoy interception, developing specialized anti-shipping tactics that would lead to the overwhelming victory of Allied air power in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

The January 5th raid had significant reverberations, and I think this was partly reflected in the decision for General Walker to receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery in organizing and flying on the lead ship of the mission. The full breadth of the story, however, can only be seen in hindsight, with detailed research to piece together all the elements of the story. This is just a general summary—I’ll be delving into far more detail in my seminar at History Camp Colorado on November 12th. The story in full reaches back several days into December and forward into the present day, where the search for General Walker’s B-17 continues.

 

Making History: Flying B-25s from California to Australia

Within the first year of the United States entering World War II, the country faced the task of moving airplanes and their crews to their destination of the far-off Pacific Theater. While most of the men spent about three weeks aboard a ship, some arrived in Australia by plane in August 1942. A few months earlier, the air force had decided it wasn’t practical to ship B-25s and B-26s to the Pacific Theater, and flight crews from the 71st and 405th Squadrons had to ferry their own newly built B-25s on an island-hopping route from California to Australia. This had never been done with any other unit that arrived in Australia prior to the 38th Bomb Group. It would be a nail biting experience, as the crews had little room for navigational error or mechanical trouble.

Before making the first and longest flight from Hamilton Field, California to Hickam Field, Hawaii, the B-25s had to be outfitted with two large fuel tanks installed in the top and bottom of the bomb bay, a third tank in the bombardier’s spot, and, in case those weren’t enough, a 25 gallon fuel tank was also installed on the wings of some of the B-25s. To increase fuel efficiency, each plane was also stripped of guns and armor. Bombardiers and gunners, whose spots were occupied by fuel tanks, were sent to Hawaii by a transport plane along with the guns and armor from the B-25s. After plenty of tinkering and testing, engineering crews were ready to send the B-25 crews on their way to Hawaii.

Sharp and Thompson

Pilots 1/Lt. Richard T. Sharp and Capt. Alden G. Thompson were part of the flight which departed New Caledonia for Australia during the afternoon of August 14, 1942. Strong headwinds delayed the flight’s arrival in Australia until after dark, and Sharp and Thompson had to crash land their airplanes. (Alden G. Thompson Collection)

Flights began on August 2nd, with four 71st Squadron crews taking off before 0600. Fourteen hours later, they successfully touched down at Hickam Field with little fuel to spare. The rest of the 71st was cleared to join the four crews in Hawaii the next morning. Among them was Capt. Alden G. “Bud” Thompson, flying his B-25 nicknamed BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS. His plane had been modified differently from some of the other B-25s. The fuel tanks in the bomb bay were half the size, with the rest of the fuel to come from tanks on the wings. Unfortunately, the crew had not been told how to transfer fuel from the wing tanks, instead relying on a “tech order” that turned out to be indecipherable. Thompson and his crew turned back for California and landed safely. The small fuel tank was exchanged for a larger one and the crew took off the next morning. They saw a B-17 formation heading in the same direction and joined up with them. Hickam Field was not expecting a B-25 with the B-17s and set off a red alert until the situation was resolved and Thompson and his crew were allowed to land.

The next leg of the trip would be to Christmas Island, followed by Canton Island, then Fiji and New Caledonia, the last stop before Australia. For Thompson, unlike some of the other pilots, the flights between each of these islands had remained relatively uneventful. Still, after two weeks of island hopping, he was eager to get to Australia and refused to spend the night in New Caledonia. Thompson would take the lead position in a flight of five B-25s from New Caledonia to Amberley Field. Crews estimated a five hour flight time, which ended up being far too optimistic. Instead of arriving over Australia before sunset, pilots spent more time battling with strong headwinds over the Coral Sea. WE’REWOLF, flown by 1/Lt. William G. Woods, disappeared. Fortunately, the lost B-25 made it to the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) strip at Evans Head with the help of a Fairey Battle escort.

Finally, they saw the Australian coastline illuminated by the moon and the navigator aboard Thompson’s plane tuned into Brisbane’s radio station, which would help them stay on course. Ideally, they would hit the eastern edge of Brisbane, then turn inland for Ipswich and land at Amberley. The problem was, they had arrived south of Brisbane and the coastline they were looking at was not at all what they had expected. Australia had also not expected to see the B-25s until the next day and was completely blacked out. And unbeknownst to the aircrews, the radio signal they were following was not coming from Brisbane, but Grafton, a small town well to the south of their destination.

Bud and His Pogmasters

Pictured here is Capt. Bud Thompson’s B-25, BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS, after a forced landing near Grafton, Australia. Leading a four-plane ferry flight from New Caledonia to Amberley Field, Brisbane, Thompson became lost and approached a blacked-out Australian coast from an uncertain location. After hours of searching for Amberley, Thompson and his wingmen were running dangerously low on fuel, and he decided to take his chances with a blind landing at Grafton. The plane came down on an auxiliary training field, then tipped forward after the nose wheel collapsed into the soft ground of an adjacent cow pasture. (Alden G. Thompson Collection)

Low on fuel, the flight of B-25s needed to land quickly. A corporal at the Australian Signal Station at Grafton’s airport identified the B-25s and tried to contact them in Morse code using the lights surrounding the base’s tennis courts. Private James T. Berry, the radio operator, was given a signal lamp to send a message that the planes needed to land immediately. With the help of the local radio station, the corporal gathered Grafton’s residents to light the airstrip with their cars. BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS made a hard landing and tore through a fence as the plane ran out of room on the short runway. After the B-25 stopped, the nose wheel collapsed in the mud. First Lieutenant Richard T. Sharp, who was very anxious to land, brought his plane down next. Dangerously low on fuel, his plane followed the same path into the mud, with the nose gear snapping off and the plane spinning to a stop.

Circling above them, the two remaining B-25s were sent 50 miles away to Evans Head. As they flew north, the pilots of both planes realized they were also very low on fuel and would not make it. Instead, they decided to bail out. One man was killed and the rest made it safely to the ground. By August 22nd, all of the 38th’s air crews were reunited and the men turned their attention to the war.