Prior to a mission on September 2, 1942 to Lae, Capt. Walter A. Krell went through his customary visit with each aircrew to make sure they were prepared and understood what they were about to do. He did this for each mission he led, and this event was no different than any other. Until, that is, one pilot started up the engines on his B-26 and headed for the runway. Misinterpreting this pilot’s actions as the signal to start their engines, more pilots started their engines and followed the first pilot toward the runway. Krell was both livid and flabbergasted by the sudden change and he quickly ran to his plane to get in line for takeoff.
Unsurprisingly, Krell did not end up in the first spot for takeoff. This caused confusion among some of the pilots, even leading one to break radio silence and say he wasn’t going to continue the flight. He was later reprimanded. Since Krell was stuck in the middle of the pack, no one was able to find him and form up properly. One pilot in the air before Krell waited for a bit, then decided to head across the Owen Stanley Mountains to Lae on his own. His navigator got lost and they ended up over Salamaua, about 20 miles south of their intended target.
The rest of the crews stayed behind and waited for Krell, which helped alleviate the earlier disorganization. One turned back because of mechanical issues. The rest continued on to Lae with Krell in the lead. As they approached the target area from 9300 feet, they had yet to meet a single fighter. It was too quiet. P/O Graham B. Robertson, Krell’s co-pilot was feeling uneasy about the situation. Krell suddenly veered left before reaching the target. The rest of the formation followed him, then the sky erupted in antiaircraft fire where the formation was only seconds before.
Half the bombardiers’ bombs hit the target, while the other half harmlessly fell into the sea because of the maneuver the crews performed. Heading home, the B-26 crew was accompanied by a fighter escort that met them over Cape Waria. Upon returning to Port Moresby, Krell found the pilot who caused the earlier mix-up. As the pilot tried to give Krell an explanation for his actions, he was quickly silenced as a .45 automatic was drawn and pointed at his face. If he pulled a stunt like that ever again, Krell threatened, he would be dead.
The rest of the day didn’t go so well either. The B-26s had landed to refuel before continuing on to Cairns in Northern Australia. After landing a second time, everyone deserted their planes and headed to town. Much to Krell’s chagrin, no one had stayed behind to guard the aircraft. It took a few hours before he was able to find enough men to watch the B-26s overnight.
This story can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders.