Repost: The Last Voyage of the Amatsukaze

We’re heading back to the blog archives once again to bring you a story we first posted in January 2016 about the disabling of a Japanese ship, the Amatsukaze.

 

 

On April 5, 1945, Allied intelligence detected a small convoy of Japanese ships sailing up the China coast, from Hong Kong to Amoy (now Xiamen). The short hop, only about 350 miles by ship, was being attempted by two cargo ships, protected by several frigates and a destroyer, the Amatsukaze. These ships were the remnants of the last convoy to attempt the 3000 mile journey from Singapore, off the southern tip of the Malay, to the Japan home islands, through waters patrolled by Allied submarines and aircraft. Already, they had lost a third of their number to bombing attacks. Now that they had set sail, the 345th Bomb Group could get their shot at sinking the convoy ships.

Twenty-four B-25 strafers were sent up to intercept the convoy, and discovered two frigates, Escorts #1 and #134, at 11:30, right where intelligence briefings had predicted. Captain George Musket led the 501st Squadron on a skip-bombing attack against one of the frigates. Musket dropped a bomb which bounced off the water and onto the ship’s deck, where it exploded. Another bomb opened a hole on the frigate’s side, causing it to sink within minutes. The 499th Squadron continued on to the second frigate. Lt. Lester Morton dropped a bomb that exploded just below the waterline, in the ships center. It blew a large hole in the starboard side of the frigate, and it rolled over soon after.

The 498th Squadron, seeing that both ships had already been sunk, decided to circle the second frigate and strafe the Japanese survivors in the water. One of them took this picture as he circled the capsized ship. Crewmen can be seen clinging to the side or bobbing in the water.

Frigate destroyed by 345th Bomb Group

The 500th Squadron missed the action entirely. They continued along the coastline, looking for more ships, and after a 10-minute hunt, spotted another promising shape in the water. 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt led his six B-25s on a low-altitude run. The ship was the Amatsukaze, which the B-25 pilots had mistaken for a merchant vessel, perhaps because of its small stature. The Amatsukaze had lost its bow and front stack to a torpedo attack by a U.S. submarine in January 1944. After it was towed to base, the ship’s aft end was patched up and fitted with a makeshift bow. Though the destroyer was only half as long as it had once been, it was still bristling with weaponry.

Amatsukaze April 1945

The Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze. Sailing with a temporary bow after its bow was blown off by a submarine, is seen under attack by the lead flight of the 500th Bomb Squadron off the China coast on April 6th. This photo was taken by 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt, the Squadron Leader, as he raced by the ship. The large splash at top left in thisphoto may have been the crash of Schmidt’s wingman, 1/Lt. Joseph Herick, who was hit in the cockput by a 40mm shell and crashed inverted into the sea near the destroyer. 2/Lt. Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 from the second flight can be seen lining up for its attack.

The B-25 pilots saw their target begin to flash, and suddenly the sky was filled with ack-ack. The formation bore on, undeterred. Schmidt and his wingmen, F/O Van Scoyk and Lt. Joe Herick, began firing on the ship, hoping to suppress the gunners on its deck. Herick’s plane took a direct hit from a 40mm round. It pitched forward and smashed into the water, upside down. Schmidt dropped his bombs, catching two direct hits on the Amatsukaze. The other three B-25s made their run, catching this photograph of the ship afire.

Amatsukaze Explosion

1/Lt. George R. Schmidt’s camera caught 2/Lt. Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 pulling away from its attack on the destroyer Amatsukaze.

As the 500th Squadron B-25s headed back to base, the 498th Squadron plans came upon the burning destroyer. It was still moving at full speed, even as dark smoke billowed up from its hull. The B-25s broke into two flights of three, with one, led by Lt. James Manners, planning to use the smoke cloud as cover, and the other, led by Capt. Albin V. Johnson, arcing around the cloud. The Amatsukaze directed all of its fire on the latter flight. Johnson landed a direct hit on the stern, but was heavily damaged by flak, causing him to ditch as he pulled away. A search for survivors the next day turned up empty-handed.

Manners’ flight, coming from behind the destroyer, swept over the ship, strafing it from stern to bow. They bracketed the ship with their bombs, leaving it burning, dead in the water. The American pilots immediately headed out of the area. After dodging a brief fighter interception, they returned to Laoag, Luzon, out of fuel. The Amatsukaze was towed to Amoy, run aground, and designated as target practice.

Find this story and much more in Warpath Across the Pacific.

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Diary Excerpt: Clifford Taylor

We’re back with another entry from the diary of Lt. Clifford Taylor, who was a member of the 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group. If you haven’t read the previous entries we’ve published, you can find them here.

 

Aug. 24th [1943]
Today was one of the toughest assignments the 13th of the 3rd Group ever drew. We, the 3rd Group, were to go up to Hansa Bay, 20 minutes fighter time from Wewak & take care of some shipping and supplies up there. It had been reported that six luggers & a couple of large “Sugar Charlies”, and a flock of troop barges were anchored there. In this ever tightening “pincer” on Salamaua & eventually Lae, the main line of supply lies in getting some shipping thru. With the complete success of our barge hunts, we have been slowly starving old Tojo out & he is becoming increasingly desperate trying to get thru our aerial blockade. From this type of strategy, our mission was born, so we were loaded with 8 300 pound 45 sec. demo bombs. The ack-ack up here is known to be the most intense in all of New Guinea & promised to be most interesting.

After we had the number one spot in the Wewak show, it was only rightly decided to let the 90th & the 8th have the shipping to themselves & we were to take care of the ack-ack so they could do a thorough job on the shipping. We took off at 730 & assembled at the Gona wreck, picking up our umbrella of cover, 50 P-38’s and started on course. I was with Bill Dersch & we had Sgts. Witek & MacLean as gunners. We were leading our squadron & flew on the left of the 90th in a “V” of “V’s.” We arrived south of the target at 955 & each element of the 13th was to go in with a group of the 90th giving it the necessary support for ack-ack. As we drew up toward the target slightly ahead of the 90th, black puffs started to appear around us. We opened up with out 8 guns & went in. We strafed some gun positions & toggled off our bombs in a string on the supply bases & saved a couple for the previously known heavy ack-ack on the peninsula, which dropped near the position. We were quite lucky & started a gasoline fire that was visible for 45 miles.

While we were doing our chore, I saw two direct hits made by the 90th on the luggers. As we went out over the bay a long line of bullets churned the water just ahead of our right wing. We went out & circled to the right & as the last element came over, “Jock” Henebry turned & went back in & we joined him to give him the necessary cover. By this time we were down to 3 guns firing, as our barrels on the others were burned out. We started to catch hell again so went down on the trees & flew thru the various columns of smoke, which we, the 13th, caused. Jock pulled away & we continued inland over the strip. We also sighted a camouflaged “Betty” bomber & tried to strafe it, but our bullets started to go all over due to the barrels going too. We then pulled up & went out to sea & dropped low taking evasive action. We were still catching ack-ack. We started down the coast to pick up our wing men & found a couple of “25’s” making passes on two more “luggers” down the coast a ways. We then came in low on the water toward the ships & noticed more ack-ack.

As we came in I saw a shell skip in front of our nose. As we came in to strafe only one of our guns was firing. Some tracers came up at us but were wide of there mark. As we passed over the ships one had been sunk & the other was a sheet of flame, as a result of some good bombing by our boys. We then started home leading a couple of our ships & about 5 P-38’s. As a result of some good dead reckoning & luck we came right out where we should & arrived back at Dobodura without further ado. As proof of our fair support, not one of the other squadrons were hit by ack-ack, and four of our boys were. It was a very successful mission & I’m sure that the little yellow men are on even more meagre rations of rice & fish heads.

Craig told me an interesting incident that happened to him & “Smitty” over the second target. They were coming in for a strafing pass when a burst of ack-ack shook the hell out of them. They then spotted the position & turned to take care of it. With ack-ack coming up all around them, they opened up their 8 50’s & put the old ring & bead right on them. As they closed in, the return fire ceased & they came up over the position, observing four sons of Tojo that would never fight again.

How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II

In last week’s post, we mentioned the use of white phosphorus bombs by the Japanese. We wanted to take a closer look at this weapon that really gained notoriety during the Vietnam War, what it is and how it was used during World War II. White phosphorus bombs have been in use since World War I. The element phosphorus is highly flammable and toxic, and most notable for spontaneous combustion, meaning it will catch fire if it’s left out in the open. As such, any burning bits of phosphorus are very difficult to fully extinguish. For a visual demonstration of its flammability, take a look at the video below.

 

The U.S. Army Air Force used white phosphorus a couple of different ways. Because this element reacts when it comes in contact with oxygen, it made an excellent smoke screen for disguising troop movements. Another use was as an incendiary against enemies, especially those dug out in foxholes or gun emplacements. On contact with human skin, white phosphorus has been known to burn all the way to the bone. Fifth Air Force created something that became known as “Kenney’s Cocktails,” 100-pound bombs with their main explosive charge replaced with phosphorus. Dramatic images of these “cocktails” in use can be seen in photos from the November 2, 1943 raid on Rabaul.

White phosphorus bombs were also used as air-to-air bombs by the Japanese against Allied air raids, but these were far less effective than ordinary flak bursts. Some of the more famous photos of exploding phosphorus bombs are from 1944 and 1945. Thanks to someone shooting a video of these explosions, we can show you several examples of phosphorus bomb bursts as seen from the air.

As we were digging up videos for this post, we found a video from 1943 of a test to see if phosphorus or standard explosives created more casualties in the field. Watch that video here. At the time, incendiary weapons were a regular part of warfare, but excessive civilian casualties due to fire-bombing during and after World War II led to a ban on any incendiary device used in any region near civilians (cities, for example) in 1980. Despite this, white phosphorus is still used to this day, primarily to create smokescreens. Whether or not the chemical should be banned altogether is still a matter of international debate.

Piecing Together An Air Battle: Balikpapan October 10, 1944

We found a couple of interesting diagrams in our archives that we wanted to share with our readers. These were done after the 65th Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group returned from a raid on Balikpapan in October 1944. This was a significant moment in the 43rd’s history, as it was one of several Fifth Air Force units participating in the raid that day. For a quick refresher on Balikpapan, read this post.

Sorting out the chaos of an air battle with only one side of the evidence was no mean feat. Here, we see one of the tools Intelligence Officers used to make sense of it all. These diagrams of the air interception during the October 10, 1944 raid on Balikpapan, Borneo were drawn after debriefing each returning aircrew of their own experience. The composite sketch still leaves some details uncertain—and elements such as the two fighters with bailing pilots might have been one bailing pilot, seen from different aircrews’ perspectives. Note that both sketches depict the same moment in time. We believe the black splotches represent white phosphorus bombs, dropped from J1N1 “Irving” fighters (labelled in the diagram as a “Nick”). We know from Japanese records obtained after the war that the Japanese planes were Navy aircraft: thus the Oscars and Tonys (Army aircraft) listed in the diagram must have actually been A6M5 Model 52s—an advanced variation of the classic “Zero” fighter.

65/43 Balikpapan Interception side view

65/43 Balikpapan Interception top view

Near-Disaster over Huon Gulf

It was about 4AM when the 405th Squadron’s Operations Officer, Benny Jackson, gave 1/Lt. Garrett Middlebrook and his neighbors a rude wakeup call in the form of a revving jeep backed into the opening of Middlebrook’s tent. First Lieutenant Lawrence F. Tanberg was a little nicer to his crew, but everyone sprang to action, as they would soon take off to bomb a Japanese convoy heading to Lae on January 7, 1943. Major Ralph Cheli would lead the 405th Squadron aircrews on this mission and Tanberg would lead the 71st Squadron.

Japanese gunners were ready and waiting for the B-25s, having already filled the sky with more flak than Tanberg had ever encountered. Middlebrook noticed eight Zeros flying toward them and Cheli led the 405th into cloud cover to avoid enemy fire, then they dropped down to begin their bombing runs. Right as Middlebrook went over the target, a flak burst in front of his plane blew out a panel in the nose. His crew, as well as the rest of the 405th crews there, strafed the decks of the Japanese ships below them and dropped their bombs, then made a run for it.

38th Bomb Group B-25 Pacific Prowler

PACIFIC PROWLER, pictured here over the New Guinea coast, was nearly knocked out of the sky by THE EGG CRATE, which was hit by flak on January 7, 1943. THE EGG CRATE went into an uncontrollable dive towards PACIFIC PROWLER and missed it by several feet. (Ernest McDowell Collection)

Meanwhile, 1/Lt. Tanberg led the 71st Squadron on its bombing run, and the crews unloaded their bombs on the ships at the same time. A split second later, THE EGG CRATE’s right wing absorbed a direct flak burst, sending the plane into an uncontrollable dive towards PACIFIC PROWLER, piloted by Tanberg. THE EGG CRATE’s pilot, 1/Lt. Elmer P. Brinkman managed to turn the B-25 away from PACIFIC PROWLER, missing it by mere feet. Bombs from Brinkman’s plane that were released on Tanberg’s signal fell just behind PACIFIC PROWLER, a stroke of luck for the entire formation.

After THE EGG CRATE dove past the B-25 formation, Brinkman and his co-pilot worked to extinguish the fire that started on board and bring their plane back under control. It was too late: they were forced to make a water landing. This was the end of THE EGG CRATE, which broke in half and sank, with no survivors.

Leaving the target area, the 71st Squadron was attacked by several Zeros, two of which broke off their pursuit due to return fire from 71st Squadron gunners. Middlebrook’s aircraft was also pursued by Zeros, but his gunners weren’t shooting back. Word quickly got to the pilot that the turret gunner was badly wounded and bleeding profusely from his elbow, and the bombardier had been cut by glass when the nose panel blew out earlier. The injured men were tended to by their crewmembers and Middlebrook flew the B-25 back to Port Moresby as fast as he could. For turret gunner S/Sgt. Robert S. Emminger, the crew had to alternate between compressing his wound to slow the blood loss and allowing the blood to flow to his arm to prevent it from dying. Miraculously, his arm did not suffer permanent damage, and both wounded men recovered fully after receiving blood transfusions.

Camp Life: Gusap to Nadzab to Hollandia

After a rough start at Gusap in late 1943/early 1944, the men of the 312th Bomb Group had adapted to life in their muddy, temporary home by May. For the most part, their meals consisted of canned meat and dehydrated vegetables or potatoes. The occasional shipment of fresh food from Australia was heartily welcomed by everyone. At times, men would trade items such as razors and cigarettes for bananas, papayas, or coconuts from the villagers. If they weren’t looking for something to eat, they would trade for bows and arrows to keep as souvenirs. Somehow, the 312th acquired a Coke machine with the help of Lt. Harold Friedman of the Special Services section.

New equipment and crews were filtering into the unit when they were needed, which also made life in the Pacific easier. So, too, did plumbing and wooden floors as well as a laundry service. At this point, the 312th got to watch American movies on a regular basis and visit Australia for some rest and relaxation more often. There was also less disease in camp, and all these things contributed to a higher morale among the men in the unit.

It wasn’t long after the Hollandia raids of April 1944 that rumors of moving to Hollandia began to fly. Because that base required more development before it could accommodate the 312th, the air echelon of the Group was temporarily moved to Nadzab on June 11th. The move came with a few perks, namely newer movies and treats such as cookies, candy and juice. Meanwhile, the remainder of the unit had received orders on May 30th to head to Hollandia. Their move was staggered over June and July, as there was a shortage of C-47s to transport larger groups of men.

Upon arrival at Hollandia, it looked like the Japanese had left the base in a hurry. Aside from aircraft, vehicles and equipment strewn about, they had left behind clothing and blankets. Those and the huts they lived in were burned and the equipment was stripped of anything that might prove to be valuable
for trade with infantrymen. There were instances of hungry Japanese soldiers going through camp to scavenge for food, but none of them were captured or shot by the 312th. Around the end of June, the air echelon began trickling in and got to experience the most annoying thing about Hollandia: the dust. It was everywhere and got into everything.

A-20s at Hollandia

The 388th Squadronʼs parked A-20s can be seen at Hollandia with dust rising from a road in the background. Depending on the amount of rainfall, dust was a recurrent problem for operations from the base. (Martin P. DeNicola Collection)

Aircraft were covered as much as possible to keep the dust from getting into engines, turrets and cockpits. Taxiing around Hollandia was a tense experience because dust clouds created by A-20s greatly reduced visibility and planes seemed to come out of nowhere all of a sudden. To combat these issues, engines were kept at idling speed and line chiefs in jeeps were often used to guide pilots to the busy airstrips.

The men began to long for Gusap. It was much quieter, there was less dust, the recreation facilities were better and they got to enjoy cool breezes through their campsite. Food quality hadn’t improved and they were still waiting for more regular mail deliveries. Still, morale remained high and they knew it was a step forward in the war.

 

Read more about the 312th Bomb Group in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Repost: The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six More WWII Bases Then and Now

This week, we wanted to bring back one of our posts that looked at the changes of a given location over 70 years. You might remember this one, which was first published in September 2016.

 

Rabaul, New Britain

Located on the coast of a natural harbor on the eastern coast of New Britain, an island in the Southwest Pacific, Rabaul was a German colony in the 1900s that was captured by the Australians in World War I. Two nearby volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, erupted violently in 1937, destroying most of the city. After World War II started, it was captured by the Japanese in January 1942, after which it was transformed into a major stronghold with approximately 97,000 troops that would easily fend off Allied attacks until October and November 1943. While the Allies continued to advance towards Japan, they cut off Japanese supply routes to Rabaul and continued to bomb the city and surrounding area. It was officially surrendered at the end of the war. After the war was over, the city became a trading hub until Tavurvur erupted in 1994, once again destroying a large part of the city. Developments closest to the volcano were never rebuilt.

Rabaul then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Rabaul and Simpson Harbor as they appeared in September 1943. At right is Rabaul today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Langley Air Force Base

Established in 1917 near Hampton, Virginia, Langley Field (named after American aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley) remains one of the oldest air bases in continuous operation in the U.S. Its small airfield was expanded in the 1930s and continued to develop as World War II began. At the time the left image was taken, Langley was used as a training ground for new units, such as the 43rd Bomb Group, established in the U.S. military build-up before they entered the war.

Langley then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Langley Field in 1941. At right is Langley today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Boram Airdrome

On the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, Boram (referred to as East Wewak by the Japanese) was one of the four airdromes that made up the Wewak Complex built by the Japanese during World War II. The other three in the complex were Wewak, Dagua, and But. It was repeatedly attacked by the Allies between 1942 and 1945, and finally ended with the Australians securing Boram on May 22, 1945. These days Boram is the home of the Wewak Airport, also sometimes known as Boram Airport.

Boram then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Boram Airdrome after it was attacked by the 312th Bomb Group during the spring of 1944. At right is Boram today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Morotai Island

Approximately two years after the Japanese invaded Morotai Island, off Halmahera Island in east Indonesia, the 31st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army landed on Morotai on September 15, 1944. Two airstrips were built and Morotai grew into a major staging base for attacks on Japanese territory in the Philippine Islands. Almost a year later on September 9, 1945, the island became the site of the formal surrender of the 126,000 Japanese still in the Netherlands East Indies [now Indonesia]. The base became a large aircraft and vehicle graveyard after the war was over. Scrapping and smelting lasted until 1988.

Morotai then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, are the two airstrips at Morotai on October 15, 1944. At right is Morotai today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Ie Shima

Ie Shima was part of the Ryukyu Island chain, a trail of islands southwest of Japan. It was just west of Okinawa, and was captured by the Allies as part of the Battle of Okinawa. Before American units took over the base, the Japanese destroyed the runways and buried mines throughout the island to deter Allied attacks. Once it was under U.S. control, various engineer aviation battalions were hard at work to make the island habitable for units that were due to move to the island in June. In August, Ie Shima was a stop for the Japanese surrender delegation on their way to Manila. These days, the U.S. Marine Corps operates a military training facility on part of the island, while civilians reside on the rest of it.

Ie Shima then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Warpath Across the Pacific, is the 345th Bomb Group’s camp area at Ie Shima in the summer of 1945. At right is Ie Shima today, taken from Google Maps.

Buka Island
Buka Island is part of the Solomon Island chain in the southwest Pacific, on the opposite end of the chain from Guadalcanal. After being claimed by the Germans in 1885, Buka was turned over to Australia in 1920. The Japanese seized Buka on March 9, 1942 and built an air base that grabbed Allied attention in June 1943 when preparations for Operation Cartwheel were in the works. A small canal separated Buka from the island of Bougainville, which was to be the site of a major invasion, and up-to-date reconnaissance of the two islands was required beforehand. That reconnaissance mission turned into one of the most dramatic moments of the Pacific war when Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. and his crew were attacked during their photomapping mission on June 16, 1943. In the end, Zeamer and his bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, were awarded the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski’s was posthumously awarded) and the rest of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for getting those photos while under fire. Contrary to internet lore, this photo was not taken during that mission. Buka remained under Japanese control until September 1945. It later gained independence from Papua New Guinea in 2005.

Buka then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from the Naval Aviation Museum, the Buka airfield in August 1943. At right is Buka today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

Lieutenant Byrne’s Postwar Adventure in Japan

After the war ended, the men who hadn’t yet reached the required number of points to head home were sent to Japan as part of the occupation force. One of those men was Lieutenant Arthur D. Byrne. He was part of the 65th Squadron Intelligence section and wouldn’t be sent Stateside until February 1946. In January of that year, he had a memorable excursion to the house of a Japanese man who sold silk, kimonos and other fabric goods.

“Last night I had quite an experience,” wrote Byrne. “Earlier in the afternoon Toepperwine and I were making the rounds of the shops in Tachikawa. While we were looking at some embroidery, a well dressed Japanese male of about forty spoke to us in English, making suggestions about the comparative values and prices of goods we were looking at. We left a few minutes later and he walked out to the street with us where he explained that he has a large shop in Tokyo dealing in fine silk products and inviting us to come see him later in the evening. We were disgusted with the cheap junk in Tachikawa, so, when we returned to the base, we called Felix and asked him to come over to the barracks and bring a jeep. He did so with fairly good grace, and we took off at 1830 bundled to the ears.

“We had been told by our Mr. Turuya that he lived in Asagaya, about half way to Tokyo on the railroad, which he advised us to take. We started by asking everyone we saw on the post where to find Asagaya. They never heard of it. We asked the MPs at the gate. They never heard of it either, but they had a map showing everything of importance in the Greater Tokyo area. It wasn’t on the map. The Jap boys in the civilian Labor Office told us in a few thousand precise phrases that they didn’t know it either. We decided to ask at the railway station in Tachikawa. The interpreter was out. There was a consultation resembling that which must have preceded the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It resulted in a rough map drawn upside down, as regards compass directions, and accompanied by the explanation that Asagaya is easy to find by train, but by jeep, well, ha ha, shrug, grin, no so easy. We muttered the usual ‘sank you’ and left in a cloud of dust. By this time it was 20 minutes to 8, in other words 1940. Finally, after twisting and turning and bypassing bombed bridges, we got to Route 2, a wide, black topped highway into Tokyo. After two miles we stopped at a little road side 2 x 4 police station. The blue uniformed Nip cop, smiled, nodded, consulted and emerged with chalk with which he and his colleague sketched a map near actual size on the pavement in the moon light. They put in circles for towns, 9 kilometers to Shofu, etc., drew a bridge, a side road to the left and then, with a triumphant flourish of chalk, Asagaya itself. We ‘sanked’ them and sped away for the prescribed number of kilos, stopping occasionally for confirmation from civilians still abroad at this late hour. Some of them understood us but didn’t know; others understood us but didn’t give a damn if we went to Asagaya or to Hades.”

Google map of the distance between Tachikawa and Asagaya

This screen shot from Google Maps shows present day routes between Tachikawa and Asagaya, Japan. The green and orange lines in the middle symbolize modern rail routes between the two cities.

[map of the distance between Tachikawa and Asagaya, orange and green line are the modern rail lines]

It was bitterly cold out and their prolonged exposure to the cold air was leading the men to believe they were frostbitten and needed to hurry to Asagaya. They stopped many times along the way to confirm that they were heading the right way, and, eventually reached the Asagaya station.

Upon arrival, “Topper got out, took the paper bearing our friend’s name and address in Jap characters and waved it around. Top is one of the biggest men who ever came out of Texas, although certainly one of the gentlest. To add to his dimensions he was wrapped in a complete Eskimo flying outfit. Also, Americans were obviously a complete novelty in these parts, and a crowd gathered at once with a small sword-dragging cop trying frantically to bore into the center of things to satisfy his own curiosity…after a few minutes we hustled the cop into the jeep to act as a guide, since he seemed so interested and so willing to be helpful…It seems we had passed the place we were looking for. He directed us to it and we pulled up at about 9 o’clock after a two and one half hour hunt.”

The men were greeted outside by Mr. Turuya and led inside to a comfortable room in which they were directed to sit down, cover themselves with a blanket and warm themselves by the heater in the center of the room. They discovered that they weren’t frostbitten after all, just very cold.

“Wine was brought by Mrs. T. and served in tiny glasses on a small lacquered tray. Meanwhile we explained our delay to our host who was amused and sympathetic. Then his two little boys came in and sat quietly by the door. They were little burr heads dressed in army style clothes. I gave them two bars of Baker’s chocolate. They beamed, said ‘sank you,’ and departed. I suppose they are not allowed to smack their lips before company. All this time Mrs. T. was sitting or kneeling, I couldn’t tell which because of the long kimono she wore and the low cushions. Mr. T. turned and spoke to her, she definitely kneeled, smiled, and then left the room. We engaged in more small talk of this and that, of anything by the recent hostilities, and presently she was back with piles of silks, brocades and embroidery, kimonos, obis, scarfs. They were passed to Topper and Felix and me, and we ogled, murmured and exclaimed and were pretty generally bewildered by the richness of it all. I began to fidget and finally managed a vague question about process, which I felt was a breach of etiquette at that stage of the game. Mr. T. smiled indulgently and reassured me, ‘You select what you want. Do not worry about price.’ So I did, recklessly—seven or eight brocades, a kimono and two small embroidered pieces, plus a dazzling four foot length of irresistible something or other. Then Felix and Topper finished their selections, and after more talk over cups of cocoa (we were promised green tea next time), we suddenly discovered it was growing late. Then came the question of price. This occasioned surprisingly little disagreement and the goods were wrapped and handed to us. At 11:20 we were bowed out with good nights and best wishes, further invitations and much smiling.

“Half way back to camp we had a flat, but, strangely, we had both spare tire and tools, a definite oversight on the part of someone. We fixed it in twenty minutes and got to the Field about 12:20. So now I’ve been in a Japanese home and have experience the traditional Jap courtesy. Whether it’s real or false, I still haven’t the faintest idea. It looked genuine.”

War Weary

War Weary B-25 painting by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 28.5″ x 24″

Paper Size: 34.5″ x 24″

Combat aircraft are a little like racehorses…they can only go around the track a certain amount of times before they are worn out. An airplane that has attained an advanced state of decrepitude, such that it is no longer considered safe for combat missions is considered to be “war weary.” In the Southwest Pacific Theater of operations, consignment of worn out aircraft to the boneyard was an unaffordable luxury in 1944. For utility was still to be squeezed out of an airplane which could still wheeze down the runway and struggle into the air, and enough optimists could be found to fly her.

In the painting, a war weary B-25D with over 100 combat missions to its credit, WOLF PACK, retired to utility flights by the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group, drops into the Ramu River valley in the jungles of western New Guinea, September 11, 1944, after losing an engine. The B-25 was unable to maintain level flight on the remaining engine, so a controlled crash-landing in the valley, an area known to be inhabited by cannibals, became a necessity. Pilot Lt. John Fabale, and co-pilot Lt. Harrison Beardsley managed to land in a swamp without any injuries to themselves or the crew.

After a five-day odyssey through the jungle, the crew arrived at an Allied jungle outpost, whereupon they were airlifted the rest of the way out by L-5 Stinson liaison aircraft. Many aircraft and their crew simply vanished into the jungle of New Guinea, never to be seen again, as the weather and the uncertainties of flight in aircraft which have mechanical failure as a recurring theme, took their toll on optimist and pessimist alike.

 

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