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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