Flying the A-24

In late December 1941, 40 graduates from the 41-H Flight Class arrived in Australia after being diverted from their planned destination in the Philippines. They were soon enrolled in the 27th Bomb Group’s A-24 Dive Bomber School. The core of experienced 27th BG pilots trained the fledgling pilots on the basics of flying the Douglas dive bomber and how to make a dive bombing attack. The aircraft was not a favorite of the 27th’s pilots, who complained that the aircraft handled like a truck compared to their preferred plane, the speedy twin-engined A-20 Havoc low level attack bomber. A silver lining of the A-24 was that its low speed kept the number of crashes amongst the new pilots to a minimum. Despite the plane’s poor reputation with the Army Air Force pilots, the plane would be used by the Navy to sink more Japanese ships than any other U.S. aircraft.

The new pilots learned how to fly the A-24 at “Little Randolph,” (so named after Randolph Field, TX) located at Archerfield, Brisbane. After four or five weeks of training, the graduates of the school were assigned to the three 27th Bomb Group Squadrons, the 16th, 17th and 91st. They were promptly ordered to fly their bombers from Brisbane to Darwin, which would be the starting point for a move to Java. While they were initially supposed to fly up to the Philippines, the rapid Japanese advance forced a change in plans.

A-24

This photo, taken while the 27th Bomb Group A-24s were being assembled in the Brisbane area, shows an A-24 from behind with a clear view of the perforated dive brakes. (27th Bomb Group Collection)

One of the A-24 instructors was 2/Lt. James H. “Harry” Mangan of the 27th Bomb Group, who wrote about his time as a flight school instructor in his personal diary.

January 1, 1942
Our school starts tomorrow or the next day. Harry Galusha is C.O., Zeke Summers, Asst off., J.R. Smith operations, Tubb – Supply and myself Engineering off. We will also act as flight instructors. I don’t know how it’s going to be flying from the rear seat of an A-24 with just a throttle stick and rudder but I’ll soon find out.

January 2, 1942
School has started and “Tim” [2/Lt. Francis E. Timlin] and “Gus” [1/Lt. Gustave H. Heiss] are to be added to the instructors here. . . . My students aren’t bad. I rode ‘em around today and let ‘em feel the ship out from the rear. Tomorrow or so will try to solo ‘em.

January 3, 1942
I shot a few landings with my students and then soloed ‘em. Meant to mention their names: Hayden, Anderson, and Wilkins. All of whom are not bad. Hayden’s the hottest to date – Wilkins the weakest. [Note that Wilkins later became commander of the 8th Bomb Squadron and would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions over Rabaul Harbor on November 2, 1943.]
I’ve enjoyed the last few days of instruction. I wanted it back in the States but they wouldn’t listen to me. Instead I went to a hell-bent-for-leather outfit of attack and perhaps I’d not be sorry. Instructing I guess does get terribly “old”.

January 10, 1942
The days have become pretty much of a routine now. We’ve a few spare men of the 8th Material [Squadron] for a ground crew and our school’s going great. It’s the first decent deal we’ve pulled since we left Manila and I’m enjoying it. So far we work on the school during the day, assemble ships as we train then clean up for dinner and occasionally grab a Jeep or car & go into Brisbane.

January 23, 1942
We moved from Archerfield today to Amberly field and I hated to move. Good bye to freedom and order, hello wheel-spin. Good bye to the decent mess the Aussies shared with us, good bye to table cloths, waitresses (WAAF), cold beer and cokes before dinner. Oh well I’m used to that stuff. Have some pleasant memories of lifting gas for our Southport trip, going out with Les Jackson, Hill, and others.

The 91st has formed now at Archerfield with Harry Galusha, Zeke, J.R. Smith, Tubbs and some of the trainees. “Gus”, “Tim” and myself are joining our 17th here at Amberly. Oh yes, add Salvatore and Ed Backus to the 91st. Think Ed Backus got tired of the flub dubbing here and the Lennon’s Hotel life so took over the 91st Squadron. I personally believe they now have more spirit than in 17th but – we shall see how they fare. They are due to go to Java within a few days. The P.I. deal is out and we are now destined to help the Dutch. Right now I’m trying to sort out ships and get them equipped with the better jobs.

Looking them over today I had to smile disgustedly at the way the planes were originally shipped and how much additional work we’ve had to put on them to make them somewhere near fit for combat. We are using truck tires for the wheels – we’ve no replacements. We lacked hand triggers for the guns until frantic wires to General Marshall brought a B-24 out with electric solenoids etc(?) Oh yes, and even then brought the wrong stuff and not enough!

10 thoughts on “Flying the A-24

  1. Equipment-wise, the 91st had the worst imaginable start a squadron could have.
    Here is a fragment of C.O. Major Jim Davies official report on the state of things:
    “…The parties responsible for providing armament supplies and equipment for the A-24 airplane should be charged with criminal negligence. Without delicate machine shop work, neither the front guns nor the rear guns will fire. No bombs will fit the racks without adding another lug. No sights were sent and no solenoids. By using improvised methods one airplane has been rigged to fire the forward guns…”
    In the end, 7 A-24’s operated in Java, commanded by Capt. Ed Backus. The three remaining A-24’s flew their final sortie on March 1, 1942 against the Japanese invaders at Kragan on Java’s north coast, west of Surabaya.

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