A reflection on the process of going home after World War II ended, written by Richard Golze of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group.
The war had ended. Rotation points were totaled. The Blanchard/Golze crew had enough points to fly a B-24 home rather than go by boat. Ten man crews were assembled based on points. For some unknown reason, crews were set at 10 men. A B-24 without bomb load and armament could easily transport 20-25 men.
We were flown to Clark Field from Ie Shima. When we landed, we noted the field was covered with brand new B- 24, B-25, A-26 and fighter aircraft. These were the reserves for the planned invasion. We were assigned a new B-24M. It is interesting to note that most of the 65th aircraft were “J” models I many of which had in excess of 100 missions. It is also a matter of interest to note that these line combat aircraft had fewer deviations than the stateside training command B-24’s thanks to the competant dedicated ground crews. The aircraft we drew smelled new. We were cautioned that the aircraft had to be complete when it took off for home. It seems that military personnel were stealing the Plexiglas waist windows, cutting them into strips and fashioning transparent grips for the Colt M1911 service pistol. Many had pictures of nude women under the transparent grip panel. To avoid this potential problem, we had one crew man stay with the aircraft at all times, including sleeping in the waist overnight.
The first leg of OPERATION SUNSET was a flight from Clark Field to Guam. Guam was stateside civilization. They had flush toilets and cold drinks in the officers club. While we were flying to Guam I reasoned that we could gain air speed and also eliminate the hazard of the pilots being trapped in their seats by the top turrets in the event of a ditching. The center of gravity of the top Martin turret was well below the top skin of the aircraft. The weight was centered in the armor plated seat and caliber 50 ammunition containers. When a B-24 was ditched, the bomb bay doors were torn off by the water which exposed the vertical bulkhead at the rear of the bomb bay. This bulkhead acted as a very effective water brake. The catwalk or keel of the aircraft usually broke and the tail section rotated upward. This rapid deceleration provided enough “G” forces acting through the top turret center of gravity (at a long moment arm) to tear it from its mounts. When the turret was free, it flew forward to wedge itself against the two vertical structural members behind the pilots seats and the control pedestal thus trapping the pilots. Many B-24’s had small metal framed windows on the side of the cockpit. The one window that slid open was not large enough for a man to slide through. Wise pilots carried hand fire axes so this metal framing could be chopped out if there were time before a ditching. An escape route would then be available for the pilots.
When we landed at Guam I located the base Engineering Officer. I told him I wanted to remove the turret and crate it for return to the USA. He said there was no interest in the return of the turret. He also said NO to removal since it would change the basic load index for weight and balance. I convinced him I could make the mathematical correction. He then said OK but with two conditions. One was that we could not delay our scheduled departure. The second was that he would ground our aircraft if we damaged the skin in the process of removal. After a discussion with the crew we started. We were able to remove the light weight Plexiglas top, guns and part of the seat. We then unbolted the remaining assembly from the bronze trunion ring. This ring had internal gear teeth. It was about 48″ in diameter. The whole assembly, including the electro/hydraulic drive and armor plated seat had to be removed out of the top of the fuselage. All hands set to the job and we worked it to the top of the left wing where we set it on the cloth engine covers to prevent damage to the skin by sharp edge. The turret assembly was carefully moved to a position between the number one and two engines. Four lines were attached to the turret assembly and it was moved foreward to clear the leading edge of the wing. Holding this assembly in suspension was the most difficult part of the removal process. When it was clear, it was lowered to the ground — with no damage to the plane! The Engineering Officer came along at this time. He was satisfied we had done a good job. He told us to dispose of the turret by placing it in the lush tropical vegetation at the edge of the ramp.
Now we had a 4 foot hole in the top of the aircraft and evening was approaching. A trip to the repair hanger netted a 4’x4′ piece of aluminum skin. We needed some means of cutting the aluminum into a circular plug. There were no tin snips available but Sam Dante, our engineer located a single hack saw blade. We circumscribed a circle of proper size by placing a nail hole in the center of the panel. A string with a scriber was attached at the proper radius and the line was scribed. We then took turns hand holding the hack saw’ blade to cut the circle – some 12′ of lineal length. The plug fit perfectly. Sam tried to borrow a speed drill and bit with no success. I went to the hanger and left my watch and sun glasses as hostage but did borrow the band speed drill and a bit . Screws, lock washers and nuts were also obtained. It seems as if Second Lieutenants of the 5th Air Force were not trusted by Sargents of the 20th Air Force. We used the turret mounting holes as locators, drilled the holes) inserted and secured the fasteners and then reclaimed my watch and sun glasses.
The next leg of OPERATION SUNSET was from Guam to Kwajalein. Take off was at 3-5 minute intervals. We were in the middle of the flight. The reduced drag from the removal of the turret gave us a 7-10 MPH increase in speed at cruise power. We were first in at Kwajalein! The tower was contacted about 10 miles out. We were cleared for landing on a brilliant clear tropical day. Wind was from the west so we entered the down wind leg of the pattern. The tower was contacted on final. As we came over the shore, a Navy SBD cut in front of us at a distance of about 20 feet. The pilot and passenger was clearly visible. We went around but spoke harsh words to the tower operator. There was no response– we were on a Navy island.
A high noise was generated from a standing vibration wave on our 4′ plug. However, no one complained because of the speed increase, the removal of the ditching hazard and the wide open space on the flight deck. The vibration wave was eliminated at Kwajalein by screwing a l” x l” x 48″ wood strip across the panel. This stiffner eliminated the vibration/noise problem.
Kawajalein to Oahu was the longest flight we made in the B-24. Our increased air s peed along with the extra flight deck space made the long flight pleasant. We lead the flight from Oahu to Camp Stoneman, California. A scare marked our take off. The runway was just above high tide sea level. We planned a typical flight take off which used the full runway and then retract the gear as we passed over the sea. This avoided a climb at max load. While we were rolling down the runway some GI’s in a 6×6 stopped their truck on the end of the runway and proceeded to get out and sit on the hood and the top of the cab in order to watch the take offs. We were approaching the critical three engine speed of 136 MPH when this event happened so Blanchard opted to lift the aircraft over them rather than try to abort. We made it but the subsequent conversation with the tower was quite directed.
When we were about 2/3 of the way to California, Mel Shroeder our radio operator made contact. We were told the Bay area was in heavy fog and we were to change direction and land at Edwards Air Force Base. The course change was relayed to the aircraft behind us. When we approached Edwards we were unable to contact the tower for landing instructions. We called on all four VHF channels with no answer. The field was circled and then the tower was buzzed. Still no contact. By then other B-24s had entered the pattern so we picked a runway and landed. We taxied to a ramp and parked with the other B-24s following. After a while a staff car appeared. A WAC captain came out demanding to know what we were doing on her field and also why we were out of uniform since we were in kahki. We explained but she said we were lying about out trip from Hawaii. A trip to operations resolved the matter. We got a meal of sorts and fuel for a flight to our original destination since the fog had lifted.
We cleared customs at Camp Stonemam and got a barracks assignment. It was about 2200 hours. We then went to the mess hall where we got our return home meal of a steak dinner with a tossed salad.
The next day saw more processing. During a physical examination we were treated for the “crud”. Crud was a fungus growth in your arm pits and crotch. It manifested itself as a raw red rash. We were sprayed with an engine oil like liquid and told to wait for 30 minutes before a shower. After 15 minutes the spray took effect. The raw rash areas felt as if they were on fire. We took cold showers to try to put out the hot torment. Crud came about as a result of the lack of sanitary conditions on IE Shima. There was no natural water on the solid coral is land. The natives built large 10′ x 10′ catch basins to trap rain water. This water flowed into 6′ x 6′ x 8′ deep holding basins. This was the natives only source of fresh water. Army health officers found malaria mosquito larva in some of the basins so they either pumped them dry or poured oil in the basin. These basins were used by some as air raid shelters during the nightly Jap raids. All of the water we had came from Okinawa by Navy boat. If the sea was up, the Navy did not come. The wearing of unwashed clothes and unwashed bodies resulted in the crud. Our flight surgeon tried Silver Nitrate, Iodine and Methiolate with no results. Bathing in the sea felt good while you were in the water but the sticky feeling after you dried off made this action less than desirable. The cure was daily bathing and clean clothing. It cleared itself once we got home.