Today’s post comes from the diary of Capt. Albert L. Behrens, a pilot in the 822nd Bomb Squadron.
November 15, 1943
Strike! Wewak. About 85 B-25’s were to participate in this raid. We left at 8 AM to pick up fighter escort over Gusap and then to Wewak. I was flying #3 position in the last element. We arrived at Gusap and started circling at 9000 feet. I heard a terrific explosion in the navigation compartment and smelled odors of cordite and gasoline. I turned around and thru the smoke Pete came up holding his hands in front of him – he had been hit bad. Both wrists were cut to the bone and blood was gushing out. Norb called Brownie to come forward and then he got out of the co-pilot’s seat to give first aid to Pete. I now had fallen out of formation and with the gas fumes in the plane, it was an extreme fire hazard and with 21 HE shells and four 500 pounders aboard, we would be dead ducks.
I told the crew to prepare to bail out and stand by. Pete was being well taken care of by now. I found that my throttles were gone and the manifold pressure was at 35 inches. The props ran away. I knew I had to land so I started to let down to Gusap and to my horror I saw it being bombed by the Nips. Fires were burning fiercely and one C47 was hit. I decided to try to get first aid anyway and prepared to land. I dropped my wheels but they only came out of the nacelles and hung there limply. We tried the auxiliary hand pump, but that was shot away too. We used the emergency system and that too was gone.
I noticed a huge hole in my right wing thru the main gas tank. We were losing gas by the 10’s of gallons. I knew we couldn’t land at Gusap. Nadzab was only 50 miles away so we started out hoping the engines and gas would hold out and that we wouldn’t get jumped. I hopped from cloud to cloud for as much protection as possible. We came to Nadzab (we salvoed our bombs in the river) and flew over the field winking our red light to notify those that we had wounded on board.
I swung around and out to make a straight approach about 10 miles long. Brownie was in back and he, at my word, cranked down all the flaps and came forward for the crash. We had put Pete in the co-pilot’s seat and strapped him in and put cushions in front of him. I couldn’t decrease my throttles so when I was sure I could make the field I feathered both engines, cut the switches and slowly let down – we had opened our escape hatch over our heads on our approach so that we wouldn’t be jammed in. The crash and noise that followed was beyond description.
The plane slid sideways down the field and came to a stop in a cloud of dust and a terrific odor of gasoline. Norb went out first – Brownie next, Shorty after him and then I helped lift Pete out and then got out myself and started to run as fast as I could away from that fire trap. It took 5 of us between 3 and 5 seconds to get out and away. Pete was taken to the hospital right away. I stood by the operations shack. A Red Alert had just sounded. I was shaking all over now. The plane didn’t catch fire but just sat there pouring out gas and oil.
It was a sorry looking airplane. Both engines were torn off and lay about 300 yards down the runway. One main gear came off and was between the engines and plane. The nose had broken open and both nacelles ripped wide open. Hardly anything to salvage. We went to see Pete and he had quite a bit of shrapnel in both arms and his left leg. They had given him some morphine and he was getting groggy.
They moved him to another hospital so I went out to the plane and got out our personal stuff. I dispatched a message to my Base telling them our situation. We ate and then were fortunate enough to catch a ride back to Moresby in a C47 (which had a single engine failure on the way). No one was hurt in the landing – except for a few bruises and bumps.
What a relief to get back to our own outfit. I washed and went to church and then to bed. I forgot to mention that we were hit from forward and below by machine gun slugs and two 20 mm explosive shells. No one but my gunner saw the plane and he identified it as a P-40 or P-39. I don’t know what it was. I never saw it.
Note from IHRA: The official combat narrative refers to the plane as ‘a SSF [single seat fighter], thought to be a Tony [Allied nickname for the Ki-61 Hein].’ There is no way of knowing for certain which fighter hit Capt. Behren’s B-25. However, eight P-40s from the 8th Fighter Group are known to have engaged Japanese aircraft near Gusap, and one of the P-40 pilots briefly fired on Allied B-25s (mistaking them for Ki-49s, or ‘Helens’) during the engagement.