An Impromptu Mission

It was 0930 on April 25, 1942 when Captain Ronald D. Hubbard and his crew were attempting to start their B-25. Three starter fuses in the left engine had blown and a Japanese air raid on Port Moresby was imminent. Hubbard’s crew was supposed to be heading to Horn Island, but they had to get off the ground first. The gunners and flight engineer, S/Sgt. Fred Bumgardner, then began to hand-crank the inertia starter, hoping that would get the engine going. Still, the stubborn engine refused to start up. Bumgardner had another idea. He filled a quart can with fuel and, after disengaging the crank, flung the fuel down the air intake and ran. “I hit the switches and thought the plane had blown up,” Hubbard recalled. “Flames shot eight or ten feet out of the air intake and out of the exhaust stacks. The engine coughed a couple of times and then caught with a roar as I pushed the throttle forward. The right engine started easily.”

The crew hurried aboard and Hubbard took off from Port Moresby. Once they were safely away from the area, Hubbard said that they would be making a detour to Lae in order to not waste their bomb load. This idea was met with approval and the lone B-25 flew on towards the Japanese-held Lae. Given the approximate 30 aircraft at Lae, the crew was prepared to be intercepted by the Japanese as they flew over the base. The surprise visit by the B-25 went fairly well for Hubbard and his men. Antiaircraft fire was inaccurate and one bomb was noted to hit the runway. Others landed in the dispersal area and headquarters buildings.

Three Japanese fighters that had already taken off intercepted Hubbard’s B-25, with one on the let and two on the right. He rolled to the left, then to the right in hopes of throwing off some of the gunfire from the Zeros. It worked and, in turn, hits on one of the Zero were claimed. The remaining two fighters came in for a second pass, with the gunners hitting one of them and sending it back to Lae. Hubbard headed for the clouds as the last Zero made a third pass. As the B-25 reached the clouds, its right vertical stabilizer took a hit and the fighter was also hit, then fell away.

Once it was determined that they wouldn’t be attacked by any further Japanese aircraft, the navigator plotted a course for Horn Island. The rest of the trip was uneventful and the men landed safely, spent the night, then flew on to Charters Towers the next morning. For the mission, Hubbard was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second one that month, the first for the Royce Raid) and the rest of the crewmen were given the Silver Star. All were decorated by Lt. Gen. George Brett.

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Peace Bombers Arrive

The title and written content of this week’s post come to you from the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group’s history. Once again, we’re focusing on that August 19, 1945 flight that stopped over in Ie Shima on the way to Manila to discuss the Japanese surrender.

On August 19th, the men on Ie Shima witnessed history in the making, as at 12:30 p.m. two white Jap Bettys approached the island escorted by hordes of P-38s, 2 PBYs, two B-25s and other elements of our efficacious air force. After making two trips around the island, the Bettys landed gracefully on Mocha strip which was lined up with M.P.s and thousands of curious soldiers. As the ships taxied down the runway, their bespectacled engineers stood half out of their open top hatches. They were bedecked in most elaborate flying attire—leather jackets, flying helmets, and goggles. One couldn’t help but think how uncomfortably warm they must have been, because the afternoon was torrid. The contrast of these Japanese flying personnel to our airmen who usually wear nothing more than a T-shirt and sun-tan pants, was certainly sharp, but on this particular day, the little guys were perhaps salvaging the last remnants of that imperialistic pride so completely stifled by their defeat.

Upon reaching the end of the runway, the planes did an about-face and taxied to the other end of the runway as hundreds of soldiers with cameras made a mad dash in that direction. At this end of the strip were parked two C-54s, resplendent in the afternoon sun. These were to take the Japanese emissaries to Manila.

Not much time was wasted, and within 15 minutes the emissaries with their entourage boarded one of the giant cargo planes and were off to General MacArthur’s headquarters.

We also went digging around YouTube and found part of a newsreel from that day’s events.

 

Want to read more about this point in history? Check out The 345th’s Final Show.

Repost: A Fiery Landing

This post first appeared on October 2, 2015.

Nine planes took off for Utarom, a Japanese air base on the west coast of Dutch New Guinea, on the morning of September 28, 1944. The mission was soon cancelled due to bad weather over their target and the A-20 crews headed back to base. Shortly into the return journey, 2/Lt. Kenneth S. DuFour lost oil pressure in one engine of his plane. He shut it down, jettisoned his bombs and told his gunner, S/Sgt. Thomas E. Smith, to bail out if the other engine quit. For the time being, things were stable, and DuFour continued flying back to Hollandia. Above him, 2/Lt. Walter F. Hill kept a watchful eye on DuFour’s A-20.

As DuFour approached Tanahmerah Bay, he followed the common landing procedure of switching from the bomb bay tanks to the wing tanks, only to have vapor lock shut down the remaining working engine. His A-20 went into a spiral dive and DuFour worked furiously to regain control of his plane by easing off the rudder trim and switching on the booster pumps. The engine restarted and the pilot got his plane back in control. For a short time, Hill thought DuFour’s A-20 would plunge into the water and was relieved after he pulled out of the dive. During the chaos, Smith bailed out with Hill watching him float towards the cliffs on the west side of the bay.

DuFour slowly took his aircraft up to 3000 feet in order to clear the mountains that stood between him and Hollandia. When he could not contact the tower, he decided to land on a dirt strip next to the runway. As he attempted to lower his landing gear, only the nose wheel came down. DuFour aborted the landing, determining that he would be better off ditching in nearby Sentani Lake. The descent to the lake was too difficult to control, leading the A-20 to crash into nearby trees instead. During the landing, the pilot was knocked unconscious.

When he woke up, he was surrounded by fuel and fire. DuFour attempted to escape the inferno through the canopy, but it wouldn’t open. Instead, he used a pistol to break the Plexiglas and climbed out of the plane. Soon after getting out, he heard the ammunition exploding. This worried the pilot, as he was unaware that his gunner had bailed out and thought Smith was still trapped.

Meanwhile, Hill landed at Hollandia and headed for a PT boat where he and others would search for Smith. A member of the 25th Liaison Squadron, T/Sgt. James D. Nichols, would help him with the search from the air. As they began looking, they saw a native canoe with Smith sitting in it. Other than minor cuts and bruises, he was uninjured after landing at Cape Korongwabb.

Back in the jungle, DuFour was certain that he landed near Hollandia and walked back in the direction of the base, which happened to be five miles away. After a six hour walk that included several stream crossings, the pilot heard an engine and began walking towards the sound for about 25 yards before he emerged from the jungle surrounding the base. DuFour walked into the closest tent, waking the occupant from a sound slumber.

The soldier drove the pilot to the hospital where he was treated for first, second and third degree burns over 30% of his body. All of his hair and part of his ears were burned off, as well as half the skin on his forehead. His hands and arms were also badly burned. At the hospital, skin grafts failed and he was transferred to the plastic surgery center at Northington Hospital in Alabama, where he stayed for six months. Once he recovered, he returned to flying status near the end of the war.

This story can be found in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Napalm Experimentation

As the war progressed, the military had been hard at work on new technology for its soldiers. Among the inventions was a substance that would gain notoriety about 20 years later during the Vietnam War: napalm. This sticky gel was highly flammable and typically used for burning away jungle foliage. In June 1945, however, the 22nd and 43rd Bomb Groups were chosen to conduct tests regarding how well a drum of napalm would burn if it was dropped next to wooden surfaces in the water (i.e. boats) and whether a phosphorus or sodium igniter would work better.

This was not the type of mission crews looked forward to. They hated dealing with the napalm-filled drums which were difficult to load, leaked (thereby raising the risk of a catastrophic explosion on board), hung up in the bomb bay and sometimes detonated right after being dropped instead of a few seconds afterward.

On the 12th of June, 34 22nd Bomb Group B-24s joined up with 28 from the 43rd to conduct their tests in the Hong Kong area. Prior to the arrival of these planes, the chosen target had caused some controversy, as Causeway Bay was known to be home to many civilian families. A fair number of them lived aboard boats that the military had been eyeing as napalm targets. In the end, it was decided to still target the area, but make sure families had been evacuated before the strike happened.

As the 22nd’s B-24s flew to the target on the day of the the test, two napalm barrels were jettisoned from one of the planes because they were leaking badly. Another jettisoned all of its barrels because engine trouble forced the pilots to return to base. A third aircraft had one napalm barrel leak, but that was fixed with chewing gum and caramel candy. The run over the target area was somewhat of a letdown. Although most of the barrels exploded on the water as they hoped, cloud cover made it hard to see the targets and crews missed the two high-speed motorized Japanese boats that crews were hoping to destroy.

22nd crews were sent out again on the 13th to target boats in Takao’s harbor. Once again, on the way to the target, a couple of napalm drums were jettisoned because of bad leaking. As the pilots began their runs, the crew of B-24 #241 experienced a close call when the igniter on one of the barrels exploded as it was being dropped. Both the engineer and radio operator were burned as smoke and flames filled the fuselage. Quickly, the engineer sprayed the radio operator with the fire extinguisher and probably saved his life. Fifty feet below the B-24, the troublesome barrel detonated, launching the plane about 75 feet. Two other aircrews were affected by one premature detonation each, although neither aircraft was damaged by the explosion.

Fortunately for the men, no antiaircraft fire was unleashed over Takao, partially thanks to equipment that jammed Japanese guns that relied on radar-aiming technology. Mission results were undetermined, as Formosa was socked in and the experiment was successful, insofar as napalm burned on the water as expected. Aiming, on the other hand, was impossible.

 

 


Read more about these missions in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.