National POW/MIA Recognition Day

National POW/MIA Recognition Day began in 1998 to remind us of our service members who are still missing and recognize those who were prisoners of war. This day lands on the third Friday of September each year. Currently, there are more than 82,000 missing Americans, most of whom were lost during World War II.

From DPAA: As this map shows, at present, more than 82,000 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars/other conflicts. Out of the 82,000 missing, 75% of the losses are located in the Asia-Pacific, and over 41,000 of the missing are presumed lost at sea (i.e. ship losses, known aircraft water losses, etc.). *Reflects actual number still unaccounted-for. PMKOR database count is slightly higher due to several entries pending administrative review. *As part of DPAA’s data consolidation effort we have validated the number of missing from WWII. This new figure reflects the elimination of duplicative records, erroneous entries, and information that demonstrates the individual was properly accounted for by the appropriate authorities before our Agency inherited those responsibilities. (Click on the image to visit the DPAA’s page with this graphic in a larger format.)

The U.S. Government’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is working to find and identify the remains of missing Americans all around the globe. So far, 146 missing personnel have been accounted for this year. Privately, organizations such as Pacific Wrecks and The Bent Prop Project are also working towards the same goal.

Take some time to remember those who are still missing or were POWs and reread some of their stories. They will not be forgotten.

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How to Make a Volcano Explode (or not)

In late March 1943, Rabaul was (unsurprisingly) still the top target of Allied raids. For two days, March 20th and 21st, the 65th Squadron was on alert to fly a mission to Vunakanau Airdrome, and the mission was cancelled each day because of less than optimal weather. All four of the 43rd’s squadrons were put on alert on the 22nd for another Rabaul raid, and they were able to take off from Seven Mile on the night of the 22nd, which would have them arriving over Rabaul on the 23rd.

The B-17s made their appearance known by dropping bombs on Rabaul before sunrise. Since there was no daylight, the crews could not observe their results, but searchlights were following the B-17s everywhere. While several planes were holed by antiaircraft fire, none were seriously damaged and all returned to base without issue.

Rabaul was the proverbial thorn in Fifth Air Force’s side and it’s possible that more than a few men were wishing for a quick way to shut down this Japanese stronghold. Several of them came up with a theory to test out: using Matupi Volcano to their advantage, specifically by using bombs to make it explode, thereby wiping out Rabaul. Major Carl A. Hustad took off with his bombardier on the 23rd to carry out this mission. The two 2000-pound bombs were dropped into the crater with no results. Afterwards, personnel realized how silly the idea was in the first place.

 

Rabaul Volcanos

Taken in 1941, this photo shows the topography of the Rabaul area. Matupi Volcano can be seen in the background.

This story can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire.

An Impromptu Mission

It was 0930 on April 25, 1942 when Captain Ronald D. Hubbard and his crew were attempting to start their B-25. Three starter fuses in the left engine had blown and a Japanese air raid on Port Moresby was imminent. Hubbard’s crew was supposed to be heading to Horn Island, but they had to get off the ground first. The gunners and flight engineer, S/Sgt. Fred Bumgardner, then began to hand-crank the inertia starter, hoping that would get the engine going. Still, the stubborn engine refused to start up. Bumgardner had another idea. He filled a quart can with fuel and, after disengaging the crank, flung the fuel down the air intake and ran. “I hit the switches and thought the plane had blown up,” Hubbard recalled. “Flames shot eight or ten feet out of the air intake and out of the exhaust stacks. The engine coughed a couple of times and then caught with a roar as I pushed the throttle forward. The right engine started easily.”

The crew hurried aboard and Hubbard took off from Port Moresby. Once they were safely away from the area, Hubbard said that they would be making a detour to Lae in order to not waste their bomb load. This idea was met with approval and the lone B-25 flew on towards the Japanese-held Lae. Given the approximate 30 aircraft at Lae, the crew was prepared to be intercepted by the Japanese as they flew over the base. The surprise visit by the B-25 went fairly well for Hubbard and his men. Antiaircraft fire was inaccurate and one bomb was noted to hit the runway. Others landed in the dispersal area and headquarters buildings.

Three Japanese fighters that had already taken off intercepted Hubbard’s B-25, with one on the let and two on the right. He rolled to the left, then to the right in hopes of throwing off some of the gunfire from the Zeros. It worked and, in turn, hits on one of the Zero were claimed. The remaining two fighters came in for a second pass, with the gunners hitting one of them and sending it back to Lae. Hubbard headed for the clouds as the last Zero made a third pass. As the B-25 reached the clouds, its right vertical stabilizer took a hit and the fighter was also hit, then fell away.

Once it was determined that they wouldn’t be attacked by any further Japanese aircraft, the navigator plotted a course for Horn Island. The rest of the trip was uneventful and the men landed safely, spent the night, then flew on to Charters Towers the next morning. For the mission, Hubbard was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second one that month, the first for the Royce Raid) and the rest of the crewmen were given the Silver Star. All were decorated by Lt. Gen. George Brett.

Peace Bombers Arrive

The title and written content of this week’s post come to you from the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group’s history. Once again, we’re focusing on that August 19, 1945 flight that stopped over in Ie Shima on the way to Manila to discuss the Japanese surrender.

On August 19th, the men on Ie Shima witnessed history in the making, as at 12:30 p.m. two white Jap Bettys approached the island escorted by hordes of P-38s, 2 PBYs, two B-25s and other elements of our efficacious air force. After making two trips around the island, the Bettys landed gracefully on Mocha strip which was lined up with M.P.s and thousands of curious soldiers. As the ships taxied down the runway, their bespectacled engineers stood half out of their open top hatches. They were bedecked in most elaborate flying attire—leather jackets, flying helmets, and goggles. One couldn’t help but think how uncomfortably warm they must have been, because the afternoon was torrid. The contrast of these Japanese flying personnel to our airmen who usually wear nothing more than a T-shirt and sun-tan pants, was certainly sharp, but on this particular day, the little guys were perhaps salvaging the last remnants of that imperialistic pride so completely stifled by their defeat.

Upon reaching the end of the runway, the planes did an about-face and taxied to the other end of the runway as hundreds of soldiers with cameras made a mad dash in that direction. At this end of the strip were parked two C-54s, resplendent in the afternoon sun. These were to take the Japanese emissaries to Manila.

Not much time was wasted, and within 15 minutes the emissaries with their entourage boarded one of the giant cargo planes and were off to General MacArthur’s headquarters.

We also went digging around YouTube and found part of a newsreel from that day’s events.

 

Want to read more about this point in history? Check out The 345th’s Final Show.

Repost: A Fiery Landing

This post first appeared on October 2, 2015.

Nine planes took off for Utarom, a Japanese air base on the west coast of Dutch New Guinea, on the morning of September 28, 1944. The mission was soon cancelled due to bad weather over their target and the A-20 crews headed back to base. Shortly into the return journey, 2/Lt. Kenneth S. DuFour lost oil pressure in one engine of his plane. He shut it down, jettisoned his bombs and told his gunner, S/Sgt. Thomas E. Smith, to bail out if the other engine quit. For the time being, things were stable, and DuFour continued flying back to Hollandia. Above him, 2/Lt. Walter F. Hill kept a watchful eye on DuFour’s A-20.

As DuFour approached Tanahmerah Bay, he followed the common landing procedure of switching from the bomb bay tanks to the wing tanks, only to have vapor lock shut down the remaining working engine. His A-20 went into a spiral dive and DuFour worked furiously to regain control of his plane by easing off the rudder trim and switching on the booster pumps. The engine restarted and the pilot got his plane back in control. For a short time, Hill thought DuFour’s A-20 would plunge into the water and was relieved after he pulled out of the dive. During the chaos, Smith bailed out with Hill watching him float towards the cliffs on the west side of the bay.

DuFour slowly took his aircraft up to 3000 feet in order to clear the mountains that stood between him and Hollandia. When he could not contact the tower, he decided to land on a dirt strip next to the runway. As he attempted to lower his landing gear, only the nose wheel came down. DuFour aborted the landing, determining that he would be better off ditching in nearby Sentani Lake. The descent to the lake was too difficult to control, leading the A-20 to crash into nearby trees instead. During the landing, the pilot was knocked unconscious.

When he woke up, he was surrounded by fuel and fire. DuFour attempted to escape the inferno through the canopy, but it wouldn’t open. Instead, he used a pistol to break the Plexiglas and climbed out of the plane. Soon after getting out, he heard the ammunition exploding. This worried the pilot, as he was unaware that his gunner had bailed out and thought Smith was still trapped.

Meanwhile, Hill landed at Hollandia and headed for a PT boat where he and others would search for Smith. A member of the 25th Liaison Squadron, T/Sgt. James D. Nichols, would help him with the search from the air. As they began looking, they saw a native canoe with Smith sitting in it. Other than minor cuts and bruises, he was uninjured after landing at Cape Korongwabb.

Back in the jungle, DuFour was certain that he landed near Hollandia and walked back in the direction of the base, which happened to be five miles away. After a six hour walk that included several stream crossings, the pilot heard an engine and began walking towards the sound for about 25 yards before he emerged from the jungle surrounding the base. DuFour walked into the closest tent, waking the occupant from a sound slumber.

The soldier drove the pilot to the hospital where he was treated for first, second and third degree burns over 30% of his body. All of his hair and part of his ears were burned off, as well as half the skin on his forehead. His hands and arms were also badly burned. At the hospital, skin grafts failed and he was transferred to the plastic surgery center at Northington Hospital in Alabama, where he stayed for six months. Once he recovered, he returned to flying status near the end of the war.

This story can be found in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Napalm Experimentation

As the war progressed, the military had been hard at work on new technology for its soldiers. Among the inventions was a substance that would gain notoriety about 20 years later during the Vietnam War: napalm. This sticky gel was highly flammable and typically used for burning away jungle foliage. In June 1945, however, the 22nd and 43rd Bomb Groups were chosen to conduct tests regarding how well a drum of napalm would burn if it was dropped next to wooden surfaces in the water (i.e. boats) and whether a phosphorus or sodium igniter would work better.

This was not the type of mission crews looked forward to. They hated dealing with the napalm-filled drums which were difficult to load, leaked (thereby raising the risk of a catastrophic explosion on board), hung up in the bomb bay and sometimes detonated right after being dropped instead of a few seconds afterward.

On the 12th of June, 34 22nd Bomb Group B-24s joined up with 28 from the 43rd to conduct their tests in the Hong Kong area. Prior to the arrival of these planes, the chosen target had caused some controversy, as Causeway Bay was known to be home to many civilian families. A fair number of them lived aboard boats that the military had been eyeing as napalm targets. In the end, it was decided to still target the area, but make sure families had been evacuated before the strike happened.

As the 22nd’s B-24s flew to the target on the day of the the test, two napalm barrels were jettisoned from one of the planes because they were leaking badly. Another jettisoned all of its barrels because engine trouble forced the pilots to return to base. A third aircraft had one napalm barrel leak, but that was fixed with chewing gum and caramel candy. The run over the target area was somewhat of a letdown. Although most of the barrels exploded on the water as they hoped, cloud cover made it hard to see the targets and crews missed the two high-speed motorized Japanese boats that crews were hoping to destroy.

22nd crews were sent out again on the 13th to target boats in Takao’s harbor. Once again, on the way to the target, a couple of napalm drums were jettisoned because of bad leaking. As the pilots began their runs, the crew of B-24 #241 experienced a close call when the igniter on one of the barrels exploded as it was being dropped. Both the engineer and radio operator were burned as smoke and flames filled the fuselage. Quickly, the engineer sprayed the radio operator with the fire extinguisher and probably saved his life. Fifty feet below the B-24, the troublesome barrel detonated, launching the plane about 75 feet. Two other aircrews were affected by one premature detonation each, although neither aircraft was damaged by the explosion.

Fortunately for the men, no antiaircraft fire was unleashed over Takao, partially thanks to equipment that jammed Japanese guns that relied on radar-aiming technology. Mission results were undetermined, as Formosa was socked in and the experiment was successful, insofar as napalm burned on the water as expected. Aiming, on the other hand, was impossible.

 

 


Read more about these missions in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

The Fight for Mindoro

Expanding a little more on last week’s post…

As 1944 was wrapping up in the Pacific Theater, units continued their march northward with the invasion and seizure of the island of Mindoro and continuing attacks on Clark Field, Luzon. Mindoro was considered a strategic asset for continued attacks and the eventual push towards reclaiming Luzon from the Japanese. The Japanese knew this, and even though they were driven off Mindoro on December 15th, they weren’t going to give up easily.

Two airfields were constructed on Mindoro within 13 days of the Allied takeover in preparation for the invasion of Luzon. Admiral Masatomi Kumura did not want to see these airfields become usable by the Americans and he assembled eight ships to sail from Vietnam on December 24th to Mindoro in hopes of disrupting the building efforts. It wasn’t until the 26th that their presence was detected some hours south of San Jose and U.S. ship crews hurried to vacate the harbor before the arrival of the Japanese. Men at Mindoro’s airfield sent a message to Tacloban asking for any help they could get to defend their new airbase.

Unknowingly, the Japanese had picked the perfect moment to strike. The two airfields were almost out of resources, with only a couple dozen bombs and anemic fuel stocks. The air units present on Mindoro (the 8th and 58th Fighter Groups, and the 110th and 17th Reconnaissance Squadrons), were flying fighter aircraft, except for the 17th, which had B-25s. None of these aircraft were capable of tangling with a cruiser safely, and even if they were, none of the crews were trained for night-flying operations. And the U.S. Navy, which had previously been in charge of protecting this advance base, were a day’s voyage away.

The worst-case scenario was invasion. If the Japanese force successfully landed infantry, San Jose would certainly have been overrun. Therefore, every available plane was mobilized, despite the lack of ordnance, the mismatched combat capabilities and the darkness. (There were no landing troops aboard these ships, but the Allies didn’t know that.) Since the fields on Mindoro had to stay under blackout conditions, the aircrews were told to land at Tacloban, almost 300 miles to the east. At 2100 hours, the Japanese ships were in range, and over 100 American aircraft scrambled.

Among them were two aircraft that had responded to the distress call: B-24 snoopers of the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. The 63rd was a night operations group, and two of their aircrews, headed by 1/Lts. Dickinson and Samuel L. Flinner, happened to be in Tacloban when the distress call was received. They had been ordered to make multiple passes from 6000 feet and drop one bomb at a time in order to make it sound like multiple B-24s were overhead.

Instead, Flinner dove down to 1000 feet while strafing the light cruiser Oyodo to drop his bomb more accurately. It looked like his bomb knocked out a couple of the heavy guns aboard, and Flinner went to pull away for another run. Except he couldn’t. PUG’s rudder cables were completely severed by antiaircraft shells and Flinner’s tail gunner was wounded. The B-24 began to descend, nearly hitting the water before Flinner regained control of the plane. He salvoed his remaining bombs and turned for Tacloban. Dickinson, meanwhile, made his runs and damaged the destroyer Kiyoshimo with two direct hits.

Once the crew was away from the fighting, they set about administering first aid to the tail gunner and the engineer, T/Sgt. Bill Schlereth, tackled the rudder cables. He found the two ends of the severed cables in the large mass of wires overhead, then enlisted Sgt. Don Tuley to help him isolate them. Schlereth spent the remainder of the flight clamping and reweaving spare wire to the rudder cables to the point that Flinner was finally able to control the rudders for landing. They waited out an additional five hours by circling Tacloban in order to burn off fuel and make a daylight landing for safety’s sake.

In the end, PUG landed safely with more than 200 new holes than she took off with. The groups at Mindoro had suffered severely: three B-25s, 10 P-47s, six P-40s, and seven P-38s had been lost during the battle. The Japanese withdrew from the area around midnight after doing little damage to the airstrip and harbor with one less ship, the Kiyoshimo, which had been severely damaged by Dickinson’s crew.

 

If you want to read about the battle from the ground perspective, check out Rocky Boyer’s War.

Night Action off Mindoro

A 63rd Squadron B-24 attacks a Japanese ship near Mindoro during WWII

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 16″x21″

Paper Size: 24″x26.5″

On the night of December 26, 1944, this radar-equipped B-24M night intruder, piloted by Lt. Samuel L. Flinner of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group attacked and immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy Yugumo-class destroyer, Kiyoshimo, off the Philippine island of Mindoro, where it was left behind and sunk by a PT boat. Leaving Tacloban, they had been informed that a Japanese task force might try to retake the area so orders were given to try to locate it. After departure, they skirted a squall line only to find that Mindoro’s night sky was being lit up by shelling and flares. Scouts for ships with radar produced several targets. While being showered with heavy tracers and antiaircraft fire, a low altitude bomb run at 1000 feet was made on a vessel that was three miles off shore. All three of their bombs produced large explosions. After the run on the ship, the B-24 became the center of attention for the Japanese as it dove to the deck in a hard turn. Two shells hit the plane, one in the tail turret, injuring the tail gunner, and another exploded in the midsection behind the waist gunner, cutting the rudder cables. Splicing the cables together, they flew back through the squall line to Tacloban and circled until daylight to land. A ground inspection revealed over 200 holes. Lieutenant Flinner accumulated 24 missions and 412 combat hours. He and his crew were given credit for the kill. This artwork will be published in our next book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume II.

Buy your copy of this dramatic artwork by aviation artist Jack Fellows on our website.