During their first year of combat over New Guinea the bomber crews of the 13th & 90th Squadrons of the 3rd Bomb Group included pilots and radio gunners (WAGs) from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). They were needed to fill the five to six crew positions of the newly acquired B-25 Mitchell medium bombers while the 13th & 90th Squadrons transitioned from previously operating the A-20A Havoc light bomber which needed only three crewmen. Warrant Officer John Trevor Soundy was one of seven RAAF pilots attached to the 13th Squadron in May 1942. He had joined the RAAF in 1940 and was the eldest son of Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress Soundy of Hobart, Tasmania. Because of his seniority and possibly due to his social status he typically flew as co-pilot with 13th Squadron Commanding Officer Capt. Alexander G. Evanoff. From June through October 1942 he participated in a number of bombing missions against the Japanese air bases at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea. During a transit flight from Charters Towers to Port Moresby on January 7, 1943, Soundy and pilot 1/Lt. Charles Dolan went missing in the 3rd BG B-25 NOT IN STOCK. The crew and passengers of nine simply disappeared over the ocean and remain missing to this day.
It’s been 75 years since the 43rd Bomb Group began the long journey to Australia and the Pacific Theater. Today, we’re revisiting the first part of that journey, which we originally published on Sept. 26, 2014.
For nine years, the Queen Mary was a luxury passenger liner that had been commissioned by the British Cunard Line. August 30, 1939 marked its final peacetime cruise across the Atlantic, and as per request by Winston Churchill, it would be retrofitted and used as a troop ship for the next few years. While Gen. George C. Marshall was hesitant to accept Churchill’s offer, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower knew the Pacific theater was in dire need of additional troops. Since this would be the fastest and most efficient way to send additional men, Eisenhower ordered to proceed with Churchill’s idea. The ship went from carrying approximately 2000 passengers in peacetime to around 16,000 troops, the size of an entire army division. Because of its speed and passenger capacity, Hitler supposedly put a $250,000 bounty on sinking this integral part of the Allied troop transport system.
Early on February 17, 1942, the 43rd Bomb Group boarded a troop train at their base in Bangor, Maine for a destination that was still unknown to them. After riding for nine hours, the men arrived at the Port of Embarkment at Boston Harbor, where they would board the Queen Mary. They spent a cold night on the ship, then watched the US coastline fade into the distance at noon on the 18th. There was no public send-off because the ship needed to leave in secret so it could avoid being targeted by German U-boats. Still, a small crowd had converged on the dock to wave goodbye–a comfort for the men and a concern for the ship’s captain about how long their journey would stay secret.
The Queen Mary was escorted by two destroyers at first, but sailed too quickly for the WWI-era destroyers to keep up, and soon left them behind to sail south alone. Meanwhile, then men on board hadn’t been told of their destination and began wondering where they would be going. The ship sailed by the eastern Florida cost, then reversed its course and dropped anchor near Key West, Florida. Two tankers quickly refueled the ship, which was guarded by six sub-chasers and a flying boat during the process. Originally, the vessel was going to stop for fuel in Trinidad, but a submarine was seen lurking in the waters. It was rumored that a U-boat sank the tanker that would have refueled the Queen Mary.
Life aboard the Queen Mary wasn’t too bad for the 43rd. Since the unit wasn’t full of draftees going through basic training, most of the men lived on the B deck, which was only two floors below the open-air main deck. Their rooms comfortably held nine men each, who enjoyed sleeping on deep, inner spring mattresses. The only downside was needing to keep the portholes closed at night, keeping the rooms hot and stuffy. Soon, the quality of food became an issue for the men. The ship’s British crew served the men meals consisting of kidneys or mutton stew–foods to which the Americans were not accustomed. The complaints were addressed on March 2nd during an officer’s meeting and the Americans were happy to find roast beef, macaroni, bread and jam, and coffee at lunch that day. The men were also introduced to the British custom of afternoon tea and went from being puzzled to gladly adopting the tradition.
A typical day on the ship was spent doing calisthenics for an hour in the morning on the sun deck, weapons classes and inspections, as well as fire and boat drills. The guns were fired every day, both as practice and to get the men used to the noise. Free time was spent watching movies or live shows, exercising in one of the Queen Mary‘s two pools, playing poker, and attending religious services. The ship traveled from Boston to the tropics in less than a week. With the heat of their tropical location, sleeping in the cabins became extremely uncomfortable and difficult. On March 1st, the Queen Mary steamed southeast and rumors of a stop at Rio De Janeiro began to fly.
We have several newspapers published by bomb groups in the Pacific Theater. Instead of uploading all eight pages to this post, we have them available to read on our Flickr account. Without further ado, here’s what the 43rd Bomb Group was doing as of March 7, 1945.
This week, we wanted to share a tribute to a member of the 345th Bomb Group by Nebraska senator Deb Fischer. After World War II ended, Lt. Col. John J. Nolan stayed in the air force, looking to make a positive impact on the lives of other pilots. He had his own brush with death on August 15, 1944 when a fellow pilot’s B-25 hit his own, nearly causing it to crash. As you will read below, Nolan led a productive and interesting life after returning to the States.
Senator Fischer’s tribute:
Mr. President, I rise to honor a Nebraskan who was recently interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Lt. Col. John J. Nolan of Lincoln, NE, was a U.S. Air Force pilot who deserves our respect and gratitude. After the bombing at Pearl Harbor, he gave up a football scholarship at Temple University to enlist in the Army Air Corps in 1943.
During World War II, John was a B-25 aircraft commander with the heralded Air Apaches, 345th Bombardment Group, assigned to the Fifth Air Force operating in the Southwest Pacific.
In this capacity, he flew low-level strafing missions in specially configured B-25s with eight .50-caliber machine guns that were controlled by pilots. He flew in the Black Sunday raid on Hollandia, New Guinea, on April 16, 1944. This raid became the worst operational loss ever suffered by the Fifth Air Force in a single day. [IHRA note: read more about Black Sunday here.]
Following World War II, the Air Force realized more pilots had been lost on instruments than in actual combat. In response, the Instrument Pilot Instruction School was created. John was one of the initial cadre of pilots tasked with providing standardized instrument procedures, techniques, and training methods. These pilots were also required to test and evaluate flight instruments in adverse weather conditions. During this period, he became the B-25 high-time pilot for the entire U.S. Air Force.
John also wrote a substantial part of the instrument flying guidelines, known as Air Force Manual 51-37. Many pilots owe their lives to this manual. As a matter of fact, when his two sons went through pilot training in 1967 and 1973, respectively, his instructions were still in the manual.
John transitioned to F-86s as a part of the Air Force’s newly created All Weather Interceptors. He also served in Japan during the Korean war.
In the 1960s, when commercial aviation was converting to jet-powered aircraft and entering into military airspace at high altitudes, John was assigned to Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, known as Air Defense Command. He became the Air Force liaison to the FAA Central Region, and he was tasked with developing and coordinating procedures to ensure safe arrival and departures within this shared airspace. In this capacity, John was also responsible for maintaining military readiness and operational capabilities.
Upon his retirement in October 1963, John was chosen to serve as the Midwest recruiter for the Air Force Academy.
John dedicated his entire life to his beloved U.S. Air Force. Not only did he serve honorably, John was also an integral participant in so many of the milestones that are now a part of Air Force history.
John never lost his love of flight. He continued to fly well into his late eighties in his restored Fairchild PT 19/26, which is the same aircraft he initially learned to fly in as a cadet in the Army Air Corps.
Lt. Col. John Nolan’s entire life was for God and country. He married Marie Di Giambattista on January 6, 1944, before he was assigned overseas. Together, they raised four children. Marie sacrificed much, as so many of our military families experience today, moving 23 times in John’s 20-year career. They were married 71 years. Only 27 days after Marie passed, John died this past July 3, 2015, at the age of 94.
We owe a debt of gratitude to John Nolan and his family. He led an extraordinary life at a time when our country needed people like him the most. Through all of this, he remained humble. We will never forget his sacrifices and patriotism.