23 Days at Sea

After a three-day break from combat missions, the 345th sent six planes each from the 498th and 500th Squadrons on March 10, 1945 to patrol the east coast of French Indochina. It promised to be an eventful patrol when the 500th Squadron encountered two Japanese ships, one of which was the 5239-ton tanker Seishin Maru. This, along with a 10,000-ton freighter, were attacked and strafed. The Seishin Maru was sunk and the freighter was severely damaged.

A little further south, the 498th spotted a 2500-ton tanker anchored near the Qui Nhon shoreline, which was promptly attacked by the B-25 pilots. Second Lieutenant Benjamin F. Chambers skipped a 500-pound bomb into the ship, which, instead of exploding a few seconds after hitting the ship, exploded right as Chambers’ B-25 passed overhead. Bauduy Grier, the radio operator, likened the bomb blast to being hit on the bottom of one’s feet with a baseball bat. After checking over everything, it seemed like the aircraft was just fine, and Chambers began the 700-mile journey back to base. Trouble began about halfway through the trip when the plane started vibrating severely.

When Grier looked out a window, he saw smoke coming out of the back of the left engine. Apparently, a fragment from that bomb holed the oil line and the engine was beginning to overheat. Chambers shut down the engine to buy the crew some time, but the propeller started windmilling and dramatically reduced the aircraft’s speed. Equipment was tossed overboard to lighten the B-25 as much as possible, then the crew braced for impact before the plane hit the water.

Grier, who was knocked unconscious by the crash, woke up to water rushing into his compartment. He and the tail gunner, Sgt. James L. Lane, escaped the sinking plane and yelled the names of their fellow crewmen in hopes of locating them. Unfortunately, no one answered their calls. After grabbing a one-man life raft, Grier swam out and away from the plane with Lane. It took all of 90 seconds from when it first crashed for the B-25 to sink beneath the waves.

B-25 #43-36044

Plane #044 of the 498th Squadron, 345th Bomb Group was damaged by one of its own bombs during an attack on a merchant ship along the French Indochina coast on March 10, 1945. The pilot managed to keep it airborne for about two hours but was finally forced to ditch in the middle of the South China Sea. The radio operator, Sgt. Bauduy R. Grier, survived 23 days in a life raft before he was rescued during a chance encounter with an American submarine. This photo was taken shortly before the aircraft was lost. (Francis R. Breen Collection)

High above them, two B-25s circled for a few minutes before they were forced to head home. Before leaving, they radioed the coordinates of the downed airmen to a ground station. Back in the sea, the main life raft had inflated before the plane sank and began drifting away from Grier and Lane, the latter of whom was holding tightly to an oxygen bottle that popped up to avoid drowning. Grier knew they needed both rafts and told Lane to stick with him while he swam after the raft. Lane refused and Grier swam off, catching the raft after about five minutes.

He then climbed aboard and, calling for Lane, tried to fight the 12-foot waves to get back to his friend. After ten minutes of rowing, Grier realized it was hopeless. He broke down in tears, feeling frustrated and scared, not knowing how long it would be until he was rescued—if he ever was. Unbeknownst to him, the search for his crew had already started and continued into the next day. No sign of life was seen from the air and the 345th assumed all had been lost at sea.

Twenty-three days later, on April 2, 1945, Grier was still alive. He was badly sunburned, dehydrated, lost a third of his weight and had developed several salt water ulcers on his body, but he was alive. At this point, he was napping in the raft when a loud him woke him. Jumping up, he scanned the sky for aircraft, but the sky was empty. On the horizon, Grier saw a submarine heading his way. He found a whistle on the raft and started blowing an S.O.S. call. It was the U.S.S. Sealion, which was on its way to a rendezvous with the U.S.S. Guavina. The watch spotted Grier’s raft, and even though no one saw any signs of life, they decided to check it out anyway.

A rope with a weighted ball was thrown to the raft. The downed airman caught it and the raft was brought in. For the first time in more than three weeks, Grier got out of that raft. He was given a small amount of food and water, pills to help him sleep and some morphine for the pain. Soon after, he was back on dry land and in a hospital for treatment. It wasn’t long before he was out of the hospital and heading home to the United States.

Note: Due to space constraints, this story has been abbreviated from its original form in Warpath Across the Pacific.

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9 thoughts on “23 Days at Sea

  1. I always find it incredible how these guys manage to survive in conditions like this, and how so very close they come to being lost. Skip bombing is another interesting way of attacking ships, used more, I believe, in the Pacific, than the European theatre. Fascinating story as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: From IHRA – 23 Days at Sea | PROFILES IN COURAGE

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