Trouble in Formosa

Near the end of May 1945, the Japanese had been pushed back to the island of Formosa and the 345th Bomb Group was flying regular raids over Japanese territory. Their targets typically included alcohol and sugar refineries as well as rail yards. A mission on May 27, 1945 was no different and 24 B-25s took off from Clark Field to destroy these targets once more. The 499th and 500th Squadron focused on the plants at Kobi, leaving raging fires behind them. Two planes had one engine each shot out, causing the pilots to break off any further attacks as they flew to the emergency airfield at Lingayen. Lester W. Morton safely landed there, while 1/Lt. Charles J. Cunningham had to make a water landing 50 miles away from the north coast of Luzon. He and his crew were rescued half an hour later by a Catalina.

Flying in the 501st Squadron was 2/Lt. Ted U. Hart, a pilot who typically approached targets by skimming treetops and telephone wires. He and the rest of the 501st had been tasked with destroying rail yards at Ensui, which, due to a navigational error, didn’t happen that day. Instead, the Squadron focused on attacking Mizukami’s sugar refinery. It was on this run that the left engine of the B-25 Hart was flying, APACHE PRINCESS, was hit by fire from an antiaircraft gun.

After releasing his bombs, Hart feathered the burning engine, only to have his right engine run away and a fire start in the bomb bay. Clearly, APACHE PRINCESS would not be in the air much longer. Shortly afterwards, it landed roughly in a rice paddy, knocking the pilot unconscious. When he woke up a minute or two later, he hurried out of the plane and joined three crewmen standing nearby. The turret gunner, Sgt. Bever, was the only one still in the plane. Hart went back to look for Bever, finding him slumped over and resisting any help to move. Soon, the heat of the fire spreading from the bomb bay to the rest of the plane drove Hart outside.

 

Paul Haller and B-25 Apache Princess

T/Sgt. Paul E. Haller was the crew chief of the 501st Squadron’s B-25 APACHE PRINCESS, which was shot down near Mizukami, Formosa on May 27, 1945. Second Lieutenant Ted U. Hart and three crewmen were captured and spent the rest of the war as prisoners at Taihoku. Haller is shown in front of the plane’s colorful insignia at Tacloban in January 1945. (Frank Hansen Collection)

 

Ted Hart

Second Lieutenant Ted U. Hart was photographed at Clark Field just a few days before he and four of his crewmen were shot down and captured on May 27th. He was brutally tortured and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp at Taihoku, Formosa. (Ted Hart Collection)

 

As hard as it was to leave their crewmember behind, they knew they had to withdraw from the area before they were captured by the Japanese. They jumped into a dry ditch and walked for about an hour, then stopped to look around. As they poked their heads out of the ditch, they realized they were surrounded by soldiers and civilians with weapons. Disarmed, the men were paraded through the nearby village before paper bags were put on their heads and they were loaded onto a train bound for Taihoku. On the two day trip to Taihoku, the men ate little or nothing and drank cups of tea.

Hart and his crew arrived at the Military Intelligence Headquarters in Taihoku, Formosa on May 29th. They were stripped of their personal effects and questioned, then taken to individual prison cells. The next day, Hart was taken to another room where he was interrogated by Capt. Yoshio Nakano. At first, Hart refused to give any information other than his name, rank, and serial number. As Nakano grew angry with Hart’s lack of cooperation, Hart figured they already knew about his final mission and subsequent shoot down, so he gave Nakano the details of it, then remained silent as the questioning continued.

Three men who were also in the room with Hart and Nakano were told to tie Hart’s hands, then put him on the floor and restrain him. Nakano then waterboarded Hart until he lost consciousness from a lack of air, before reviving him and waterboarding him again. Hart passed out six times while he was tortured, then Nakano’s superior officer arrived and ordered the torture to stop. His swollen hands were unbound, and sobbing, he told the officer everything he knew. During the crew’s imprisonment, that was the only time anyone was tortured. The rest of their stay was spent in their cells. Sometimes, a friendly guard would let Hart walk around the courtyard for 15 minutes or give him a little extra rice to eat.

Corporal Beck, the radio operator from Hart’s crew, discovered that another 345th member was also a prisoner there. This was Cpl. John Shott, who was the only survivor after his B-25 crashed on May 17, 1945. He and Beck would communicate using Morse code when the prison guards were out of earshot. Weeks passed and any hope of being rescued waned. On August 21, 1945, almost three months after Hart and his crew were shot down, the prisoners were gathered and transported to Prisoner of War Camp #6. Upon arrival, they were told the war was over and on September 7th, they began their journey home.

Ehlers, Hart, Gatewood released from POW camp

Three emaciated 501st Squadron officers relax aboard the escort carrier U.S.S. Santee shortly after being released from the Japanese military jail at Taihoku, Formosa. They are from left: 2/Lt. Karl L. Ehlers, navigator, 2/Lt. Ted U. Hart, pilot, and 2/Lt. Henry Gatewood, co-pilot. Each of the officers lost about a third of his weight while a prisoner of war. (Ted Hart Collection)

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5 thoughts on “Trouble in Formosa

    • At the end of the war, Nakano visited the prisoners, bringing them pineapple and wanted them to know that they were not to be mistreated further and he would punish anyone who did. Nakano was put on trial in 1946 and sentenced to life in prison. Hart flew to Shanghai (where the trial was held) to testify against Nakano.

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