Interview with Gert Schmitz

A lot of the interviews we have shared with our readers tend to focus on the American perspective in the Pacific or European Theaters. Gert Schmitz actually fought with the Germans during World War II. He talks about his war experiences, what it was like to live in Germany in the 1930s, postwar Germany and why he left the country. This interview comes from the Memoirs of WWII YouTube channel.

Ormoc Bay – A Dangerous Place

38th Bomb Group B-25 over Ormoc Bay on November 10, 1944

On November 10, 1944, 1/Lt. H. C. McClanahan and his wingman, 2/Lt. A. R. White, formed the third flight in the 822nd Squadron’s attack on Ormoc Bay, on the island of Leyte, in the Philippines. Roaring at minimum altitude, McClanahan and White opened fire on the freighter-transport Kinka Maru. McClanahan’s co-pilot, 2/Lt. W. A. Wolfe, placed one 500-pounder just aft of the ship’s stern. White ended up in a better position over the transport, and his co-pilot, 2/Lt. Robert L. Miller, dropped their string of bombs, managing to get two direct hits on the vessel. One bomb was seen to explode in the area of the forward hatch and the second amidships.

This painting depicts McClanahan and White pulling up from their strafing run, caught in a maelstrom of flak bursts and tracers. In his bid to escape, McClanahan engaged the Yugumo-class destroyer Akishimo, strafing its deck and releasing three bombs just seconds after passing mere feet above the ship’s superstructure. However, McClanahan’s severely damaged aircraft crashed into the waters of the Kawit Straight, southeast of Ponson Island, breaking into four pieces on impact. Lt. White observed the crash and signaled in the bomber’s position before returning safely to Tacloban Airdrome. There were no survivors from the crash. The 38th Bomb Group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for this mission.

To purchase a copy of this illustration by Jack Fellows, visit our website.

B-26 Accident at Iron Range

After a successful strike on Lae on September 13, 1942, the 19th Squadron stopped over at Port Moresby to refuel before heading back to their base at Iron Range, Australia. It was a new camp, just hacked out of the Queensland rainforest, and very primitive, lacking many of the more comfortable aspects that the men had gotten used to at other Australian bases.


The trip from Port Moresby to Iron Range was uneventful and Capt. Walter A. Krell lined up his B-26, KANSAS COMET #2, for landing on the new runway at Iron Range. He planned on landing short, then taxiing off at the midpoint so the rest of the formation could land behind him. Without a landing threshold in place, though, he instead touched down on the overrun at the end of the strip. Unseen from the air was a large termite mound that was not cleared away by the engineers. The termite mound broke off the B-26’s right landing gear and strut, causing the plane to slide down the runway completely out of control. Abruptly veering right, it crashed into a compressor truck parked next to the runway.

Man next to termite mound
Here, a member of the 63rd Squadron inspects one of the giant termite mounds found near their camp at Mareeba. The mounds contained a veritable termite city encased in a concrete-hard structure, approximately ten feet high. This is the sort of mound Krell’s B-26 hit while trying to land at Iron Range. (Charles R. Woods Collection)


On impact, the fuselage cracked in half, then both the truck and the plane burst into flames. Krell was briefly knocked unconscious, but revived in a smoke-filled cockpit. His friend and co-pilot, F/O Graham B. Robertson, was pinned in his seat. Krell extracted himself from the plane and ran around to the other side to try and free the unresponsive Robertson. The rest of the crew was able to exit through a gaping hole in the fuselage and Krell climbed in, shifting debris in an effort to free his friend. Soon, the heat and smoke from the flames were unbearable. Ammunition from the bombardier’s compartment was also cooking off, making it took dangerous for the burned Krell to stay any longer.


He climbed out of the cockpit and everyone moved away from the burning B-26 in case of an explosion. The crew’s injuries were tended to by several flight surgeons from different units in the area. Thankfully, the plane never exploded. The wreckage was finally cool enough to go through around midnight and the dead bodies of both Robertson and the truck driver were removed. Back at a field hospital, Krell, who was recovering from his burns, was heard calling, “Hold on! I’ll get you out!” After three days in the field hospital, he was sent to Townsville for further treatment. It was months before he resumed his duties. The rest of his crew suffered permanent injuries from the accident.

This story can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Air Support Over Biak

Throughout the war, there were times when air units were assigned to aid ground troops as they landed in Japanese-occupied territory. Even though the 63rd and 868th Bomb Squadrons flew specialized B-24s designed for night shipping strikes, on May 27, 1944, they were called upon to hit Biak Island in advance of the Allied invasion. The preliminary strike was carried out at 10,000 feet in the pre-dawn hours. Aircrews had to be precise about their bombings. To keep the ground troops safe, aircrews had to obey several restrictions, such as: staying at high altitudes to minimize the chance of friendly fire accidents, no bombing reefs since it could send coral shrapnel into the ships and no bombing jetties that could be used by the Navy for beach landings.

Once the sun rose, more than 140 B-24s and B-25s were in the air and most of the 41st Infantry Division was assigned to move in on the ground. The 43rd’s B-24s bombed Mokmer Airdrome and the Roeber Area, located south of Borokoe Airdrome. Crews were pleased with the accuracy of their drops. Far below and out of harm’s way, the first wave of Task Force Hurricane was dealing with an unanticipated setback: a westerly current that pushed the transports 3000 yards away from the correct landing beach. Watching the scene unfold, the rest of the crews on the landing craft were able to compensate for the current and landed on the right beach.

Biak
American ground forces invaded Biak Island on May 27, 1944. The 43rd Bomb Group supported this offensive with repeated missions to the Biak area, including Mokmer Airdrome, the subject of this photograph. The scale of that pummeling can be seen by the hundreds of bomb craters on the airfield. (William J. Solomon Collection)

By nightfall, all 12,000 Allied troops were on Biak. While they were met with some resistance, there was so little action that the Allies thought that the bulk of the 4000 Japanese troops had already evacuated from the island. That assumption, as well as the troop estimates provided by intelligence, turned out to be wrong. Colonel Naoyuki Kuzume, in charge of the 11,000 troops on Biak, had spread out his troops in strategic locations along ridges and terraces outside of Mokmer Airdrome and the “Ibdi Pocket,” located between Ibdi and the Parai Defile. In these spots, the Japanese put up a fierce fight against the 41st, keeping them out of Mokmer Airdrome until June 8th. It would take even longer for American engineers to safely repair the bombed airfield, as Japanese troops kept shooting at them from higher elevations around Mokmer. The fighting continued into mid-August, delaying any further invasion plans. As word of Col. Kuzume’s successful tactics to ward off Allied troops spread, other Japanese garrisons would adopt similar strategies in the coming months.

Read more about this mission in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume II.

Repost: Betting Against the Weather

First published in 2015, we’re revisiting a diary entry written after a 1943 mission.


This week, we have an entry from Col. Donald P. Hall’s diary. The C.O. of the 3rd Bomb Group wrote about a particularly exciting mission on July 28, 1943.

Henebry led the 90th [Bomb Squadron] this AM and hit barges beyond Cape Gloucester in New Britain. Got 11 barges. The P-38 escort tangled with enemy fighters and shot down six. All our planes returned. Took 15 B-25s, T.O. 1300 composed of planes from 8th, 13th and 90th to go to north coast of New Britain and hunt more barges. Weather bad on route out and I received call from ground station saying something about a destroyer and transport somewhere en route. P-38s called and said they were going back because of weather. I decided to take a chance and go on without cover and use the bad weather alone. You don’t get a chance at a destroyer and a transport every day.

Buck Good decided to go as co-pilot for me as he hadn’t flown in a B-25 in a long time. He’d just came back from leave that A.M. We hit Cape Bushing on the south coast of New Britain in light rain. No barges. As we rounded the point at Cape Gloucester saw everything at once. 2 destroyers lying off shore (I thought one was transport it was so large). As we headed for them, 20 Zeros passed directly over-head but didn’t attack right then. “Oh Boy!” I thought this is going to be rough.

A Jap air transport or bomber was circling over the boats and four of the boys headed for it. They fired a long burst into it, but it didn’t go down. So all planes except mine headed for 1st destroyer which was by now throwing up lots of ack-ack. Took my flight toward enemy air transport as it landed at Cape Gloucester. 16 Japs passed out of it but we cut all of them down. “Pappy” Gunn flying No. 2 position on my wing laid a 75mm shell under it. The wing caught fire from our bullets by the time it had stopped rolling. Buck Good let go a couple or three bombs as we went over it and that finished it.

Buck Good an I then headed for large destroyer which had not been touched. Looked over my shoulder and saw enemy planes coming from about 10,000 feet, but there was too juicy a target to stop now. I could see that the boys in Henebry’s, Wilkins’, and Hawkins’ flight had the other destroyer burning and were still bombing and strafing it. We dropped down on our run for the large destroyer and it lit up like a Christmas tree as its ack-ack tried to knock us down before we bombed them. While Buck opened the bomb doors for me, I started to tap rudders and rake the deck with my 50’s [nose guns].

You could see Japs all over the decks trying to get cover someplace. We released our bombs as we pulled up to clear the mast, then dropped to the water to get out of their heavy gun fire. As we turned sharply to the left I could see we scored two direct hits as the destroyer rolled back and forth, then began to burn. Oh Boy! Buck and I shook hands on that job!

As we could see the Zeros coming in among us, I wiggled my wings to collect the formation but it was hard to do as they were still in a circle around the first destroyer. I could see that it was finished too. We finally got together and left the target with a few Zeros on our tail. The rest of my flight had been unable to release their bombs, so it was lucky that Buck and I had thrown ours into the sides of the large destroyer.

I knew some of the boys had been hit as the planes couldn’t close their bomb doors. Lt. Nuchols’ plane (13th SQ) I found out later was badly shot up by enemy fighters and rudder about gone. Radioed our report home and came straight home. After the bombing, Nuchols was still flying around and someone saw parachutes descending. Later it was found out that everyone got out except Lt. Nuchols who had lost too much altitude to make it. He crashed and burned about 15 miles from drone. Took his co-pilot two days to get back here.

Received wire from Gen. Ramey and phone calls from others [saying] congratulations in our job. The boys were really happy. We stayed up late to see the photos. Buck said he’s never seen me so happy and excited over the target, but he didn’t exactly take out his knitting either! Only two planes had 300 lb. bombs and rest had only 100 lb. Lucky for us 300 lb. were along and I was glad I had one of the planes with this load.

Captured Near Hainan Island

After a two day break from combat missions, the 345th was back in the air on April 3, 1945. The 499th and 500th Squadrons’ original target, shipping in the strait between Hainan Island and China’s Luichow Peninsula, came up empty and the two squadrons flew on to their secondary target, Hoi How, located on Hainan Island. As the 500th Squadron flew towards the clouds of flak hanging above the Japanese Navy base, navigator Capt. Merritt E. Lawlis began wondering whether or not the flight leader, the pilot on his plane, had previously led any flights. The B-25s weren’t taking any evasive action. Right before he reached out to get 1/Lt. William Simpson’s attention, he suddenly realized that his back was hot.

Captain Merritt E. Lawlis
Captain Merritt E. Lawlis, shown here, was the navigator aboard the B-25 PENSIVE, which 1/Lt. William P. Simpson ditched with flak damage in the bay a mile off Hoi How, Hainan Island, on April 3, 1945. Three of the crewmen aboard the plane were captured by the Japanese and two, including Lawlis, survived imprisonment on Hainan Island until the end of the war. (Merritt E. Lawlis Collection)

Turning around, he saw a fire burning in the bomb bay. It started after shrapnel hit a gas tank in the bomb bay, then spread into Lawlis’ navigator compartment and the top turret. The right engine on this B-25, nicknamed PENSIVE, was damaged, as well as the main hydraulic reservoir. Because of the damage to the hydraulics system, the wheels were now hanging down about a third of the way, dragging the aircraft towards the water below. Simpson prepared his crew for a ditching, then crashed into the water in a bay about a mile away from Hoi How. Above, another B-25 crew dropped a raft for the downed airmen and watched three of them climb aboard. A fourth, 2/Lt. Arthur D. Blum, made a jump from the sinking B-25 to the raft and was instead carried away by a strong current. Simpson never made it out of the plane.

The remaining B-25s circled as long as they could and let the air-sea rescue know the location of the downed crew. Unfortunately, it was too dangerous to pull off a rescue operation, as this crew was too close to shore. It only took about 90 minutes for a Japanese motor launch to show up and fish the men out of the raft. All three: Lawlis, S/Sgt. Charles L. Suey and S/Sgt. Benjamin T. Muller, were burned in the fire. Lawlis had hit his back on the edge of the escape hatch during the ditching, leaving him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. By the time they were picked up, he was just starting to regain feeling in his legs.

Once on land, they were taken to the commander of the base, where they were interrogated and thrown into jail. Three days after they were taken prisoner, they were forced to walk blindfolded and handcuffed to a medical dispensary about half a mile away, but their wounds were given only the barest treatment. They returned every three or four days and Suey’s infected burns showed no signs of healing. On May 13th, he died of infection and malnutrition. About a week later, Muller and Lawlis were transferred to Samah, which was an improvement over their previous living situation. Their handcuffs were removed and neither man was beaten at this camp. Much to their surprise, they saw a couple of familiar faces: Lts. James McGuire and Eugene L. Harviell. Lawlis watched McGuire’s B-25 go down and didn’t think anyone had survived.

Aside from Harviell, who died on August 10th, the rest of the men survived their internment. Muller came close to death, but the men were freed from the POW camp just in time and taken to a Navy hospital where they received the food and medical care they needed to recover.

This story can be found in Warpath Across the Pacific.

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2020

This week, we’re listing our most popular posts published this year as determined by the number of views. Did your favorite post make the list?

Thank you for your continued support by subscribing, reading and sharing our work, and buying our books. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, let us know in the comments. We’ll be back next year with more great content. And now, without further ado, our most popular posts published in 2020.

 

Tanker at Tourane 1. Adrift at Sea: A Chance Encounter A downed aircrew from the 345th Bomb Group waits for rescue.

 

Color illustration in the book Rampage of the Roarin' 20's2. Alcohol Busters Highlighting one of the paintings by aviation artist Jack Fellows that appears in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

 

Feeding a kangaroo3. A Collection of Photos Here, we shared some of the photos that don’t make it in our books.

 

4. Ditch at Sea and Live in a Boeing B-17 Learn all about the procedures taken to prepare for and ditch a B-17.

B-26 Over Lae5. Takeoff Snafu A 22nd Bomb Group mission started off on the wrong wing…

 

Fisher with Topsy6. Roland Fisher’s Brush with Death This member of the 43rd Bomb Group had two close calls with Japanese aircraft. Here is one of the stories.

 

B-17 Pluto II 7. Loss of PLUTO II No one saw this 43rd Bomb Group B-17 get shot down, a mystery that wasn’t solved until 1946.

Military Life in December 1941

When the events of the early days of the U.S. entering World War II are recounted, the most often heard story is that of thousands of Americans who volunteered to fight. What about those men who were already in the military? How did their lives change? Through the diary entries of men from the Fifth Air Force, we can give you some insight into what they experienced before and after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

From Lewis “Tad” Ford of the 33rd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group

…when December 7th came, I got my first day off in a month., why it was a real boon. Days off were assigned by crew and Disbro had his own plans, so I slept late, floated into town, and went to a show to see Sgt. York in mid-afternoon. I was surprised about halfway through the picture to see my name come up on a caption underneath the movie, saying “Lieutenant Ford, report to the box office.” A driver was waiting for me with a staff car to give me a ride back to Langley field: Pearl Harbor had happened.”
We were first told to move all of our personal goods back to the field into the VOQ. Then we were told, no, don’t. Pack everything you don’t want to take with you and send it home. Then, back in the Squadron we spent three or four hours loading the bomb bays with all sorts of maintenance gear. Then we went to our quarters to get as much sleep as we could.
I lived with four other guys. At about 3:30 I took the first telephone call telling Lancaster to report out to the squadron at 4:15. Five minutes later I got one regarding Robbie, and then another for Hitchcock, and finally my own. So, we all ended up at the squadron at 4:15. At 5:am, 12/8 we were wheels up on the way west as a group, 60 airplanes in all.
The only important thing that happened between there and Muroc Dry Lake [Edwards Air Force Base in California] was that Mark Lewis got killed at El Paso, leaving us with Millard Haskins as the group commander.

Built next to a dry lake, Muroc Air Base was initially an extension of March Field in 1941, mainly used for submarine patrols off the southwestern US coast. The 22nd Bomb Group briefly flew patrols from Muroc before the unit departed the United States. (Robin Highham Collection)

Excerpt of a letter from from Gerald C. Cook of the 2nd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group

“Practice makes perfect.” This seemed to be the goal of the 22nd. We made many practice runs in order to be ready for any eventuality which might occur because of war in Europe. Then on 12/7 Pearl Harbor took place. As soon as the news reached the US, the 22nd BG officers alerted all of its personnel to return to base as soon as possible. We started the mad rush to get every plane ready for a flight to the west coast within 24 hours. This was a tremendous feat for so much to be done in so short a time! We reached the set goal, and within 24 hours the entire 22nd BG took off en mass and headed west.
It was while we were flying over the state of Mississippi that I so vividly remember hearing President Roosevelt address the Congress (as well as the American people) and give his Declaraion of War speech). Because of the limitations of the B-26 we could not fly all the way from the “East to West Coast. We made our first top near Tucson, AZ. That night there was an unusual rainstorm. Some of our planes got stuck in the mud and we had to wait a few days until we could get all the planes airborne again.

From the diary of Lt. Roland Birnn of the 27th and later 3rd Bomb Groups
12 December, 1941 Clark Field, Philippines

Very quiet morning. Low clouds and light rain. No fun living in the open. Talley and I went to enlisted man’s barracks 1/3 mile away for a shower. Now deserted—been bombed several times. Hear air raid warning—ignored it because it was too cloudy for a raid. Heard a second warning as I finished dressing. Went outside and saw nine bombers in a “V” formation. Ran for cover—ran like we had never ran before. Finally had to drop to the ground when the bombers got too close. We hugged the ground. Bombs dropped in train, straddled us. Just lucky. Ground sure shook—so did I.
Got up and moved farther away. Then nine more bombers came over. Clark is right on the edge of a mountain range. The bombers whipped around the mountains, just under the clouds, and were on us before we could do anything. We hit the ground again.
Rather nerve racking to lie in the open and wait for bombs to hit. They get closer and closer. The ground started to shake and the explosions hurt our ears. When attack had passed, we saw nine others off to the side. Walked back to HQ through tank area. Noticed that the bombs hit this area. One bomb hit a gun emplacement—killed everyone. Saw other wounded men being carried away. Bomb hit a B-17 on the field. They seem to know when we have anything on the field. Back in HQ area found a bomb had hit 50 feet away from my bunk. I am moving out. They know this is HQ. Japs strafed when they came over. AA got a couple of ships. We had no pursuit up.
Ordinance setting off duds now. They give no warning—just the explosion. When one goes off nearby, everyone hits the dirt. Gets a little nerve wracking. Japs now have an air base in the norther part of Luzon. Our bunch is getting administrative jobs since all the planes are burned. We’re doing the jobs the pursuit outfit was doing here. They moved into the hills. Shrapnel sure is mean looking—jagged edges are sharp as a knife. Hope I get to finish this diary. [Lt. Birnn was killed on a test flight in 1942.]

Found in the Archives: December 1942 Map of Salamaua

For each of our books, we carefully go through our various collections and pick out the best images for publication. For one reason or another, some of them simply don’t fit our criteria, but we want to share them because they’re still very interesting to look at. Recently, we ran across one such image, a map of the Japanese-occupied Salamaua area dated December 1, 1942. We believe the map’s data came from prewar sources as well as scouting commando units, as it appears to have prewar housing and military posts marked. At the time, the majority of the attention was on the brutal fighting in the Buna-Gona area, located south of Salamaua.

Map of Salamaua from December 1942
Click on the image to explore the map’s details.

“So they don’t forget what we had to go through”

Veterans Day is November 11th and what better way to honor our veterans than to listen to their stories? In this powerful interview with World War II veteran Frank Devita, he talks about his experiences on D-Day and how his service impacted his life. Because his job was to operate the ramp on his boat, some of the scenes he describes are very intense and difficult to listen to. It took many years for Mr. Devita to feel comfortable talking about his war experiences and he credits reporter Tom Brokaw for helping him get there.