After they heard the news of the surrender of Bataan, the 3rd Bomb Group was told the details of their secret mission. They would be staging out of Del Monte, Mindanao, over 3000 miles away from their current location. The men knew the lengthy flight would be risky for the medium B-25 bomber. Only the most experienced pilots were selected for this mission, with eight of the 11 crews coming from the 13th Squadron. Five of them had flown on the mission to Gasmata earlier that month. Out of the 11 crews, 16 of the pilots and co-pilots had been evacuated from the Philippines. The B-25 crews lacked trained navigators, however, which were vital for the 1000-mile flight to Darwin and 2000-mile flight over the ocean to Mindanao. To remedy the situation, they were assigned experienced B-17 navigators from the large pool of planeless flight crews from the 7th and 19th Bomb Groups. Finding an adequate supply of maps was another issue.
The overnight trip from Charters Towers to Darwin was an adventure for a few of the air crews. After Lt. Hal Maull had left Charters Towers, his navigator, 2/Lt. William K. Culp, realized that their map to Darwin was missing. They would either have to circle until dawn or figure out a route on their own. Lt. Culp decided to chart a course by using a small reference map of Asia to determine the latitude and longitude of Charters Towers that way. His method was successful and the crew made it to Darwin around dawn the next morning. Lt. Al Heyman, the navigator in Lt. David Feltham’s B-25, plotted his course by taking celestial fixes of the night sky and mapping them. Col. Davies, Capt. Lowery and Lt. Wilson arrived later that morning after getting lost over the Timor Sea. Lt. Schmidt flew with Lt. Maull’s B-25 after he couldn’t find Davies’ plane, and after they landed, was surprised to learn they flew without a map of Australia.
Upon landing, Lt. Schmidt and his co-pilot, Sgt. Nichols discovered a gash in their tire that would keep them grounded until a new one could be delivered. With all the supplies on board the planes, there was no room for extra tires and other spare parts. Schmidt would have fly to Mindanao alone. The other crews stuck around Darwin only long enough to refuel and attend another briefing. This time, they were told that if Del Monte was socked in, they would have to fly low enough to find it or to crash land. There was no alternate airfield to land at if they could not find the complex at Del Monte. Everyone then got back in their planes and settled in for the seven hour flight to Mindanao.
The flight itself did not go without a hitch for some of the pilots. On Capt. Bob Strickland’s B-25, the navigator did not know how to use the type of sextant on the plane in order to get a line of position and was using a map taken from a National Geographic magazine. Luckily, Strickland recognized an island chain north of Australia, flew parallel to them, and made it to Del Monte without further incident. Lt. Bennet Wilson’s crew had a very tense moment when they were flying through a thunderstorm and both engines cut out. Col. Davies and Lt. McAfee briefly got lost over the ocean, and Lt. Smith flew within view of Davao, a Japanese base. Eventually, all the crews made it to Mindanao, where they were able to rest and catch up with old friends.
Continue to part 3, The Royce Raid: The 3rd Bomb Group Wins Its Spurs