By the end of 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group made a series of attacks on Cape Gloucester to soften it up for an upcoming invasion. Over 100 aircraft participated in these raids on December 22nd and 23rd, where a wide range of items from bombs to leaflets and even beer bottles (these were to scare Japanese on the ground, as they whistled like bombs) were dropped from the B-24s, B-25s and A-20s. There was nothing from the Japanese in return. No antiaircraft fire or intercepting fighters rushed to discourage the Allied forces from their mission.
While the missions themselves were relatively uneventful, taking off or landing was sometimes an entirely different story. In this case, a routine takeoff for Capt. Bryan A. Flatt on December 22nd nearly turned into a nightmare. Flatt was accelerating to takeoff speed and thought he had lifted off the runway. Instead, he was still on the ground when he applied the landing gear brakes, which caused the nose gear to fold. Quickly realizing his mistake, he retracted the the main gear to get his B-24 off the ground, but both collapsed and the plane hit the ground. It skidded for several hundred feet, made a sharp right, then went over several tree stumps, a six-foot embankment and finally came to a stop in a marsh.
On December 22, 1943, 1/Lt. Bryan A. Flatt of the 403rd Squadron was taking off from Dobodura when he mistakenly thought that his B-24D #42-41221 was airborne. In fact, the plane was still on the runway, and when Flatt applied the brakes in preparation for raising the landing gear, the right and left gear collapsed and the plane skidded off the runway. These photographs show the B-24D after it crashed. Amazingly, none of the 11 crewmembers sustained more than minor injuries. (George A. Putnam Collection)
After all was said and done, the entire crew climbed out of the wrecked aircraft with nothing more than minor injuries. It wasn’t long before rumors were spreading around the camp about nose gear collapsing on B-24s because the early reports did not cite Flatt’s error as the cause. To quell the fears of the crews, Flatt called a squadron meeting to explain that the accident was his fault and not a mechanical issue. His honesty in this situation, which could have damaged his career, was greatly admired by his squadron.
Between August and November 1941, the U.S. Army scheduled a series of war games for military forces to prepare for combat. The Carolina Maneuvers took place in November 1941. This interesting video from the U.S. National Archives contains footage of setting up for the maneuvers as well as some of the action in the field.
Seventy-five years ago today, Gen. Kenneth N. Walker boarded Maj. Jack W. Bleasdale’s B-17 SAN ANTONIO ROSE, thereby ignoring a direct order from Gen. George C. Kenney not to fly on combat missions. Kenney feared losing an excellent commander and what could happen if the aircraft Walker was on was shot down and its passengers, especially Walker, were captured by the Japanese. If you’ve read our previous post on the subject, you might recall that this mission was particularly dangerous because it was a raid on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul in broad daylight. Still, it caught the Japanese by surprise and several ships sitting in Simpson Harbor were either damaged or sunk. The 43rd Bomb Group lost two B-17s that day. One was SAN ANTONIO ROSE, the other was B-17F #41-24538, piloted by 1/Lt. Jean Jack. Jack and his crew ditched their B-17 off the coast of Urasi Island and all were rescued the following day. SAN ANTONIO ROSE has never been found.
Last year, Pacific Wrecks uploaded a video taken from the January 5th mission. While it’s available to watch below, we recommend you watch it on YouTube so you can read through the excellent notes about different points of the video provided by Pacific Wrecks. For even more information on the day’s events, buy a copy of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.
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 of 2017.
1. The Fight for Mindoro As a result of some great comments from a prior post (see #4 on this list), we delved into further detail about a harrowing mission on December 24, 1944.
Although the 22nd Bomb Group had been formed up in December 1939, they saw next to no activity until only a few short weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor sent everyone into a flurry of activity. “The first change of station after the attack on Pearl Harbor was stunningly sudden,” wrote Lt. Maiersperger. “At 1700 hours, Sunday, 7 December 1941, the members of the 22nd BG were engaged in individual pursuits. By 0730 Monday morning, the air echelon was taking off. For half of us, the immediate route was Memphis, Albuquerque and to Muroc Dry Lake…The other half went a more southern route by way of El Paso. The ground echelon was furiously packing all ground equipment to follow us by rail. We had overnight to load our airplanes with such spares as we could carry — hydraulic fluid, brake seals, starter solenoids and spark plugs — which we knew we would need. About 0300, those of us who lived off the base were allowed to repair our respective quarters, divide our possessions as to those that we’d take with us and the remainder to be loaded into our autos for future disposition, according to the arrangements we could make with our landlords, friends or relatives at that hour in the morning. We wrote out checks to meet our obligations to our creditors and tried to answer the excited questions of our landlords. All we could tell them was that we were leaving that day and had to be back on base by 0600. My landlord drove me back to the base and later delivered my car to my parents in New York City.”
On December 8th, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the air echelon of the 22nd was airborne en route to the West Coast, where it was needed to protect against a possible Japanese attack on California. Most of the planes arrived at Muroc Dry Lake within a couple of days following overnight stops at bases along the way for servicing, crew rest and routine maintenance. This photo shows a flight of three 19th Squadron B-26s flying cross country in typical formation at about this time. (George H. Wilson Collection)
All the B-26 crews in the 22nd Bomb Group were ordered to fly from their former airbase at Langley, Virginia to Muroc Dry Lake, California on December 8th at 0715. The ground echelon was loaded up on a train and sent across the country, arriving on the 12th. Muroc was never intended to be a major airbase, but in the wake of Pearl Harbor the primary concern was moving the units to the west quickly, with the details to be sorted out later.
The ground echelon called Muroc “The Pits”. Living conditions were awful, it was very isolated and subject to extreme temperature changes (as it was located in the Mojave Desert). Several lucky crews from the 33rd Squadron, soon followed by the rest of the air echelon, were sent to on March Field, a much more comfortable base, at the end of December. The ground echelon remained at Muroc until the end of January, at which point the decision to mobilize the 22nd Bomb Group was finalized. Only a week later, the 22nd was leaving the States and heading off to fight the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.
On 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.
Nadzab was drenched by heavy rain the night before Fifth Air Force’s big raid on Hollandia on April 16, 1944. When the men of the 22nd Bomb Group rose on the morning of the 16th, they were greeted with overcast skies and plenty of humidity. Six B-24s from each of the four squadron were to be sent to Hollandia, but takeoff was delayed by an hour after the sun broke through the low clouds.
Lieutenant Raysor took off with the 408th Squadron around 0900 hours and everything was running smoothly. About 80 miles in, the Squadron passed Gusap and Raysor pulled away from the rest of the 408th. His airplane’s engines were having trouble and he had to get back to Gusap. The engineer, Sgt. Milford H. Cummings, was told about the engine trouble and jettisoned the bombs and closed the bomb bay doors as the B-24 descended. Cummings warned the crewmen to ready themselves for a crash landing (they were too low to safely bail out), then went back to the cockpit where Raysor told Cummings that he had shut down three of the four engines because the superchargers weren’t working properly.
Cummings knew the pilot had made the wrong decision: the superchargers were not as important to the engines at low altitudes. Unfortunately, it was too late to fix the mistake and the single working engine couldn’t keep the plane in the air. The aircraft kept losing altitude and crashed about a mile from the north end of the runway. Cummings was ejected from the plane and not seriously injured. Only two other crewmen survived the crash. The rest, including Raysor, were killed.
The 22nd Bomb Group dispatched 24 Liberators on another major Fifth Air Force strike against the Hollandia area on April 16, 1944. Although predicted weather conditions were marginal when the planes departed, the raid was deemed essential since Hollandia was targeted for a surprise invasion by ground forces on April 22nd. Raysor pulled out of the 408th formation with mechanical problems shortly after takeoff and tried to land at Gusap. The plane flew into the ground a mile short of the strip, killing all but three aboard. (Milford H. Cummings Collection)
These men would be the first casualties in what was to be a dark day in the history of Fifth Air Force, although this was the only crash in the 22nd Bomb Group not affected by the terrible weather later that day. Click on the Black Sunday tag if you want to read more stories from the 22nd or other units that were involved on the April 16th Hollandia raid.
Kayleen Reusser is back with her second book of World War II veterans stories. This one, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans, has an aptly chosen title. Many of the veterans are quoted as saying they were proud to serve their country and considered it an honor to do so.
As with her first book, Reusser collected stories from many units and fronts, giving the reader a well-rounded picture of life in different parts of the world during World War II. Thirty-four of them, to be precise. Not only does she include stories from the Pacific, North African and European theaters, she includes a tale from the Aleutian Islands and the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. Some of the more fascinating stories we read were about a black veteran’s experience aboard the USS Yorktown, one man who was present at the surrender signing on September 2, 1945, the story of a man who served in the 326th Glider Infantry (which is incredibly rare), the five women veterans’ stories (one SPAR, one WAC, two nurses, one Naval officer) and a photographer who was assigned to document the impact of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It was interesting to read the parts of their experience that each veteran chose to discuss. The stories are concise, which gives the reader insight into their service from the veteran’s point of view. Due to the horrors that were experienced by many soldiers, it can be tough to talk about the difficult memories. Reusser did a good job of making the veterans she interviewed comfortable if they chose to go into such detail.
This is another excellent compilation of stories for anyone interested in World War II. Our only complaint was the change in photo format. We enjoyed the “then and now” photos of the previous book. Still, she includes a photo of each veteran she interviewed, which is nice to see. We applaud Reusser’s mission to interview as many World War II veterans as possible. Buy your copy of They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veteranson Amazon.