Announcing the release of Ken’s Men Against the Empire Vol. I

Pre-order your copy today!

EoP Vol. 4 Ken's Men Against the Empire Vol. I cover pre-order your copy todayKen’s Men Against the Empire Volume I will be published on March 22, 2016.

Without a bomber to its name, the 43rd Bomb Group (heavy) was rushed aboard the Queen Mary in February 1942 because there was room for one more unit. Months after arriving in Australia, the under-equipped 43rd absorbed the 19th Bomb Group’s war-weary B-17s and crews, who had been fighting since December 7, 1941. In spite of this start, the men went on to fly some of the most important and dramatic missions in U.S. aviation history, including one that resulted in a double Medal of Honor and eight Distinguished Service Crosses for a single crew. Their innovative technique of using B-17s to skip-bomb enemy ships from masthead height changed the way Pacific A-20 and B-25 pilots attacked targets for the rest of the war.

From the author of Warpath Across the Pacific comes the story of the last B-17 Army combat group in the Pacific Theater that will delight modelers, aviation enthusiasts and casual readers alike. The narrative is supplemented by hundreds of photographs, five comprehensive appendices, three spectacular color paintings and 24 detailed color profiles by aviation artist Jack Fellows, one of which sheds light on a markings mystery that has stumped historians for decades.

 

 

Some of the stories you will find inside this book:

Sweet Willums II

First Lieutenant Claud C. Haisley named his P-40N SWEET WILLUMS after his wife, Margaret. A color photo of this artwork enlarged from an 8mm movie film can be found on page 194 of this book. The A-20G that he received at Port Moresby in February 1944, became SWEET WILLUMS II. Haisley flew the aircraft until his departure for the States in January 1945. By the end of his tour, he had 56 missions in this aircraft. Although there was not a specific gunner that always served on the crew with Haisley, Sgt. Albert V. Hanson often served in this capacity. Sgt. Edwin W. Peterson, was the crew chief assigned to the plane.

SWEET WILLUMS II almost met with disaster as Haisley was returning in it from Dagua Airdrome, New Guinea, on May 14, 1944. He had felt sick that morning, but he still decided to fly the mission with his Squadron. Their target was the antiaircraft guns at Dagua, a 90-minute flight. On the return flight, Haisley became quite ill, and struggled to bring the plane back to the base at Gusap. Shortly after touchdown, Haisley passed out in the cockpit, and then he spent ten days in the hospital being treated for malaria.

Nose art of A-20 Sweet Willums II

Capt. Claud C. Haisley flew 56 missions in SWEET WILLUMS II. He named the aircraft after his wife, Margaret. On January 31, 1945, 2/Lt. Donald J. Livengood, the aircraftʼs next pilot, was practicing strafing near Ellmore Airdrome on Mindoro Island in the Philippines. When engine failure forced him to ditch in the ocean, he and his gunner, Sgt. Morris B. Wilson escaped without injuries. (W. Stuart Fudge Collection)

Except for the occasional bullet hole, SWEET WILLUMS II experienced only minor combat damage during its career. In January 1945, 2/Lt. Donald J. Livengood took over SWEET WILLUMS II, and on the last day of the month one of the engines failed as he practiced strafing near Ellmore Airdrome on Mindoro Island in the Philippines. Livengood ditched in the ocean, and he and his gunner, Sgt. Morris B. Wilson, were rescued from the water uninjured.

The profile painting shows the aircraft as it appeared in January 1945. Sgt. Edwin W. Peterson, the crew chief used the butter-substitute in the field rations to wax the plane which he believed marginally increased the speed. Other crew chiefs also sometimes did this. Otherwise, the appearance of the unit markings on this A-20 were standard, including the tail letter “L,” but there was no skull and crossbones on the nose. “Mary” appeared on the port outboard engine cowling, probably a wife or girlfriend, or the name of one of the children, of someone on the ground crew. The plane carried a standard white crew ID panel under the cockpit, with lettering in a flowery style: Pilot – Lt. C.C. Haisley, followed by c/c – S/Sgt. Peterson. The mission scoreboard was somewhat unusual as the black bomb-style mission markers were painted on a white background. These consisted of two rows of 35 each, followed by two more rows of 20 each, giving a total of 110 missions displayed. No details of specific missions are known for this aircraft.

This aircraft profile comes from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

The Last Voyage of the Amatsukaze

On April 5, 1945, Allied intelligence detected a small convoy of Japanese ships sailing up the China coast, from Hong Kong to Amoy (now Xiamen). The short hop, only about 350 miles by ship, was being attempted by two cargo ships, protected by several frigates and a destroyer, the Amatsukaze. These ships were the remnants of the last convoy to attempt the 3000 mile journey from Singapore, off the southern tip of the Malay, to the Japan home islands, through waters patrolled by Allied submarines and aircraft. Already, they had lost a third of their number to bombing attacks. Now that they had set sail, the 345th Bomb Group could get their shot at sinking the convoy ships.

Twenty-four B-25 strafers were sent up to intercept the convoy, and discovered two frigates, Escorts #1 and #134, at 11:30, right where intelligence briefings had predicted. Captain George Musket led the 501st Squadron on a skip-bombing bass against one of the frigates. Musket dropped a bomb which bounced off the water and onto the ship’s deck, where it exploded. Another bomb opened a hole on the frigate’s side, causing it to sink within minutes. The 499th Squadron continued on to the second frigate. Lt. Lester Morton dropped a bomb that exploded just below the waterline, in the ships center. It blew a  large hole in the starboard side of the frigate, and it rolled over soon after.

The 498th Squadron, seeing that both ships had already been sunk, decided to circle the second frigate and strafe the Japanese survivors in the water. One of them took this picture as he circled the capsized ship. Crewmen can be seen clinging to the side or bobbing in the water.

Frigate destroyed by 345th Bomb Group

The 500th Squadron missed the action entirely. They continued along the coastline, looking for more ships, and after a 10-minute hunt, spotted another promising shape in the water. 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt led his six B-25s on a low-altitude run. The ship was the Amatsukaze, which the B-25 pilots had mistaken for a merchant vessel, perhaps because of its small stature. The Amatsukaze had lost its bow and front stack to a torpedo attack by a U.S. submarine in January 1944. After it was towed to base, the ship’s aft end was patched up and fitted with a makeshift bow. Though the destroyer was only half as long as it had once been, it was still bristling with weaponry.

Amatsukaze April 1945

The Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze, Sailing with a temporary bow after its bow was blown off by a submarine, is seen under attack by the lead flight of the 500th Bomb Squadron off the China coast on April 6th. This photo was taken by 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt, the Squadron Leader, as he raced by the ship. The large splash at top left in thisphoto may have been the crash of Schmidt’s wingman, 1/Lt. Joseph Herick, who was hit in the cockput by a 40mm shell and crashed inverted into the sea near the destroyer. 2/Lt. Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 from the second flight can be seen lining up for its attack.

The B-25 pilots saw their target begin to flash, and suddenly the sky was filled with ack-ack. The formation bore on, undeterred. Schmidt and his wingmen, F/O Van Scoyk and Lt. Joe Herick, began firing on the ship, hoping to suppress the gunners on its deck. Herick’s plane took a direct hit from a 40mm round. It pitched forward and smashed into the water, upside down. Schmidt dropped his bombs, catching two direct hits on the Amatsukaze. The other three B-25s made their run, catching this photograph of the ship afire.

Amatsukaze Explosion

1/Lt. George R. Schmidt’s camera caught 2/Lt. Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 pulling away from its attack on the destroyer Amatsukaze.

As the 500th Squadron B-25s headed back to base, the 498th Squadron plans came upon the burning destroyer. It was still moving at full speed, even as dark smoke billowed up from its hull. The B-25s broke into two flights of three, with one, led by Lt. James Manners, planning to use the smoke cloud as cover, and the other, led by Capt. Albin V. Johnson, arcing around the cloud. The Amatsukaze directed all of its fire on the latter flight. Johnson landed a direct hit on the stern, but was heavily damaged by flak, causing him to ditch as he pulled away. A search for survivors the next day turned up empty-handed.

Manners’ flight, coming from behind the destroyer, swept over the ship, strafing it from stern to bow. They bracketed the ship with their bombs, leaving it burning, dead in the water. The American pilots immediately headed out of the area. After dodging a brief fighter interception, they returned to Laoag, Luzon, out of fuel. The Amatsukaze was towed to Amoy, run aground, and designated as target practice.

Find this story and much more in Warpath Across the Pacific.

The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six WWII Bases Then and Now

This week, we wanted to take a look at how much several World War II bases from the Pacific Theater (as well as one from the U.S.) have changed since the war ended.

 

Hunter Army Airfield
Located in Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Field was originally a municipal airport built in 1929. It was named Hunter Municipal Airfield in May 1940 after a World War I flying ace from Savannah, Lt. Col. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter. Soon afterwards, an Army Air Corps base was built and several units, the 3rd and 27th Bomb Groups as well as the 35th Air Base Group, would call it home for a short time. The 312th Bomb Group was another unit that did their aircraft training at Hunter Air Base (so renamed on February 19, 1941). Today, there are about 5000 soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield, including the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah.

Hunter Army Airfield Then and Now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left,  taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the base where bomb groups such as the 312th were activated. At right is Hunter Army Airfield today, taken from Google Maps.

 

RAAF Base Amberley
What is now the Royal Australian Air Force’s largest base was under construction during most of World War II. Amberley, located southwest of Brisbane, was named by an immigrant farmer in the 1850s after his hometown in England. Airport construction began in 1939 and continued through 1944. During the war, the base briefly housed many Australian and U.S. units, including the 22nd and 38th Bomb Groups.

RAAF Base Amberley: Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left is airfield at Amberley during the early part of WWII, taken from Revenge of the Red Raiders. The image on the right is a current view of RAAF Base Amberley, taken from Google Maps.

 

Corregidor Island
Originally Spanish territory, the island of Corregidor was incorporated into U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War. It stayed that way until Japanese forces invaded the island in 1942, leading to the unconditional surrender of the Allies in the Philippines on May 6, 1942. Finally, in early 1945, the Allies took back the island. These days, Corregidor is part of the Philippines National Park, with several historic landmarks scattered about the island.

Corregidor Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. (Left) A 43rd Bomb Group strike photo of Corregidor after it was bombed by the Group, taken from the IHRA archives. (Right) This satellite image of the island shows how it has changed since World War II. Image taken from Google Maps.

 

Manila, Philippines
Manila was also a Spanish territory that was given to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War. From 1935-1941, it was Gen. MacArthur’s base during his time as a military advisor. The city was attacked by Japanese on December 8, 1941, and, after repeated bombings, it fell into Japanese hands in January 1942. Three years later, the U.S. returned to Manila and fought a bloody month-long battle to recapture it, destroying much of the city in the process. This picture was taken at the tail end of the conflict. The city has since recovered and is now a major urban center in the Pacific, the capital of the Philippines, and has a population of over 1.5 million people.

Manila Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left, taken from the IHRA archives, shows the destruction after Manila was bombed. At right is a satellite image of a rebuilt Manila taken from Google Earth.

 

Wakde Island
Before the Japanese set foot on Wakde Island in April 1942, it may have been inhabited by a small native population. Over the next year, much of the foliage on the island was cut down to make space for a runway that was 5400 feet long and 390 feet wide. The Japanese leveled more of the island to build 100 pillboxes, bunkers and other defenses. On May 15, 1944, the fight over Wakde began. All but four Japanese soldiers stationed there fought to the death. Wakde was further expanded by the Allies, almost completely clearing the island of vegetation in the process.  Today, the island is uninhabited.

Wakde Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left,  from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, shows Wakde Island after its development as an Allied base. The image on the right is from Google Earth.

 

Nadzab
This base, located north of Lae, started out as a tiny native village that was eventually populated by German Lutherans of the Gabmatzung Mission in 1910. A small airfield was later established. The Japanese captured Nadzab in 1942 and occupied it until early September 1943 when Gen. MacArthur ordered Operation Postern to be carried out. Once Nadzab was in Allied hands, it was expanded into a huge airbase with five airstrips. As the war wound down, Nadzab was redesigned as an aircraft boneyard. Today, it serves as a small regional airport.

Nadzab Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left, four of Nadzab’s five airstrips can be seen in this photo from IHRA. Today, the only sign of this former base is the single runway seen slightly left of center. The satellite image is from Google Earth.

 

 

Sources and additional information about these WWII sites:

The Sword and the Pen

The Sword and the Pen by Jack Fellows B-25 attacking Japanese ship

Image Size: 22.25″ x 16.75″

Paper Size: 28″ x 24″

Regardless of which is the mightier, both the sword and the pen were in the air over the busy Japanese-occupied harbor at Rabaul on the day that history records as “Bloody Tuesday,” November 2, 1943. Former child actor and now Hearst International News Service (INS) correspondent, Lee Van Atta had become known in Fifth Air Force as a daring reporter who, like Ernie Pyle and others, liked to be in the thick of the action to get a better feel for what he would report via INS. Sitting in the navigator’s seat directly behind pilot Capt. Richard “Dick” Ellis, with Lt. John Dean, co-pilot to Ellis’ right, young Lee Van Atta rode out the storm of fire and destruction over Simpson Harbor in a B-25D strafer nicknamed “SEABISCUIT” to write his stirring account of the battle on the return trip from Rabaul.

This was not the first trip to Rabaul for Van Atta; on October 12th he rode behind command pilot Major John “Jock” Henebry and co-pilot Lt. Edward Murphy in Henebry’s B-25D strafer nicknamed NOTRE DAME DE VICTOIRE. The October 12th mission pitted Henebry’s aircraft against the persistent Japanese antiaircraft gun crews defending the airfields at the Rabaul area airfields at Rapopo and Vunakanau, whereupon he had written an equally-stirring account of the battle. NOTRE DAME DE VICTOIRE was lost on the November 2nd mission but all of Henebry’s crew was rescued by a PT boat off Kiriwina Island in the Trobriands.

In the picture, 90th Bomb Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group pilot Ellis, with Van Atta seated just behind him, has loosed a 1000-pound bomb on a Japanese merchant ship. In the background, 90th Bomb Squadron pilot Chuck Howe’s B-25, nicknamed HERE’S HOWE, can be seen running the gauntlet of antiaircraft fire as well. On the return trip, Howe escorted Henebry’s crippled aircraft to a safe ditching off Kiriwina Island. On November 2, 1943, Fifth Air Force lost eight B-25s (11% of the attacking Mitchells) and nine P-38s in exchange for claims of 15 enemy ships sunk and 22 others damaged. In addition, the P-38s claimed a combined 67 Japanese fighters shot down and another 23 probably destroyed. In the background, the town of Rabaul has been set ablaze by phosphorous bombs dropped to screen the attack on the harbor from the heavy antiaircraft defenses.

The Sword and the Pen is available for purchase on our website and sent directly from the artist.

Repost: New Year’s Eve with the 3rd Bomb Group

Members of the 3rd Bomb Group rang in 1944 a little differently in New Guinea than they would have back in the States. Despite not having friends and family to celebrate with, they still managed to have a good time.

Adrian Bottge of the 89th Squadron noted the evening’s celebration: “New Years night. A lot of the fellows in the 13th – 89th – 8th & Hdqtrs. shot their Garands, tommy guns, 45 pistols, etc. at midnight. Sounded like war and kept me awake for a time.”

Meanwhile, Clifford Taylor of the 13th Squadron wrote: “Tonight we celebrated a New Guinea New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t too bad as somehow the boys ‘racked’ off some steaks & Bill & I had a couple of bottles of port & a fruit cake. We got pretty jolly on the wine & had a good old-fashioned song-fest. After raising hell until pretty late we were ordered on a mission for 5:30 New Year’s morning.”

The next day, Andrew Weigel commented on the results of the previous night’s festivities: “The [8th] squadron was released today. And that was just as well. Most of the men were pretty much the worse for wear after last night…”

Christmas in the Pacific Theater

This post will probably look familiar to longtime readers.

ww2 men eating Christmas dinner in 1944 at Dulag

Men from the 500th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group enjoy a turkey dinner on December 25, 1944 at Dulag.

For the men of Fifth Air Force, Christmas was not necessarily a time to take the day off to celebrate the holiday. There were still missions to be flown as the Allies tried to take back the Pacific from the Japanese. Some of these missions, like those of the 386th Squadron (312th Bomb Group) in 1943 were patrol missions. While the 386th was on patrol that year, the 345th, 43rd and 38th Bomb Groups were participating in a major raid on Cape Gloucester.

Three days before bombing Cape Gloucester on the 25th, a 345th B-25, THUMPER, was shot down on a mission over Wewak. The plane crash landed 12 miles from Dumpu, with the crew coming out of the crash uninjured. For five days, the crew trekked along the Ramu River, with a batch of P-40s spotting the men on Christmas Eve. The next day, the crew was seen by a Stinson L-5. The crew aboard the plane dropped supplies for the THUMPER crew. Later that afternoon, the crew received more supplies including ten pounds of turkey and a few other treats for Christmas. They were rescued the following day.

Whether or not any particular group was on a mission varied by year. No matter what, there were always a few hours set aside to enjoy a turkey or ham dinner, attend mass, and enjoy some music. Even though the men were so far away from home during the holidays, they always made the best of the situation.

Top Posts of 2015

Last year, we rounded up the most popular posts that we wrote in 2014. If you were hoping for a look back, you’re in luck! We’re going to do the same for this year’s posts as well. If you missed any stories, here’s your chance to go back and read the highlights. Enjoy!

The Reckless Mountain Boys in Flight 1. Fatal Attack on THE RECKLESS MOUNTAIN BOYS Six Japanese Zeros shot down a 43rd Bomb Group B-17 crew near Kavieng.

Heichel and his crew in stretchers 2. Survival of THE RECKLESS MOUNTAIN BOYS Crew Eight members of Heichel’s crew survived the B-17’s landing, only to be captured by the Japanese.

Corregidor Island 3. Battle of Manila: Softening Corregidor The 22nd Bomb Group is sent to bomb Corregidor before Allied ground troops begin their advance on Manila.

Betty's Dream Escorting Betty Bomber 4. The 345th’s Final Show After Japan surrendered and before the official surrender took place, the 345th Bomb Group participated in a little-known historic flight, escorting Japanese planes  to and from Ie Shima with a special delegation aboard.

The Aguirres 5. Memorial Day 2015 Remembering the crew of B-17 HONI KUU OKOLE, which was shot down by an Irving night fighter on May 21, 1943.

 
Crash of B-25 Suicide's Flying Drunks 6. Writing Off SUICIDE’S FLYING DRUNKS A 38th Bomb Group B-25 crew attempts to escape an air raid on Horn Island. It doesn’t go as planned.

McGuire Shot Down 7. (tie) Shot Down over Yulin Bay: Part 1 The Japanese brought down a 345th Bomb Group B-25 crew on March 30, 1945.

Letter to Yoshimasa Nakagawa  Friendship After Bombing Davao A lone 43rd Bomb Group B-24 crew flies out to bomb Davao and is intercepted by a kamikaze fighter. 20 years later, friendship develops between the two pilots.
 
 


Thanks for a great year, everyone! We’re looking forward to even more WWII stories in 2015.
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Friendship After Bombing Davao

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.”