Big Nimbo

We are highlighting one of the 22nd Bomb Group’s B-24s this week. Its profile history, as well as those of 47 other aircraft from the unit, can be found in Appendix V of Revenge of the Red Raiders.

BIG NIMBO, named after a character from the Lil’ Abner comic strip, was flown to the Southwest Pacific out of Hamilton Field, California on orders dated January 12, 1944, with a destination of the Fifth Air Force Replacement Center at Amberley Field. It was part of a batch of 14 Liberators that had been assigned to newly trained crews at Herington and Topeka, Kansas during December 1943. BIG NIMBO’s ferry crew, led by 2/Lt. George H. Bailey, is believed to have named the aircraft and had the nose art applied before it left the States. While several of the ferry crews were forwarded to other units as replacements, all 14 of the planes in this detachment ended up forming part of the initial complement of B-24s that equipped the 22nd Bomb Group. Seven went to the 33rd, four to the 19th, two to the 2nd and one to the 408th.

The bomber initially went through theater modification before being assigned during February to the 19th Squadron at Charters Towers, Queensland, where it was undergoing transition training. It thus became one of the 13 Liberators assigned to the unit during January and February 1944,with whom it returned to combat operations out of Nadzab in March. The new B-24 was assigned to a ground maintenance crew led by T/Sgt. Jesse G. Smith, a veteran crew chief who had served with the unit from its inception.

Sometime just before the plane was flown to Nadzab, it received its new aircraft designator, a large black “P” that was AV-37 centered on the white patch on the outboard side of both vertical stabilizers. The prominent nickname and nose art appeared only on the right side of the nose. No scoreboard or mission symbols were ever applied. As was typical at the time, the prop hubs were painted in white, the Squadron color. Our profile painting represents the aircraft in these markings as it would have appeared at Nadzab about July 1944.

22BG B-24 Big Nimbo nose art

The artwork for BIG NIMBO was almost certainly put on the aircraft back in the States by the crew that ferried it overseas. The cartoon character was from the Lil’ Abner comic series in the newspapers of the time. This plane was one of the original B-24Js assigned to the 19th Squadron at Charters Towers, Queensland, during February, 1944, and was one of the few in that unit to carry nose art. It was written off in a landing accident at Owi Island on July 25, 1944, with 2/Lt. James H. Shipler at the controls. (Claude V. Burnett Collection)

The 19th Squadron’s Air Echelon, including BIG NIMBO, moved from Charters Towers to the new Squadron base at Nadzab, New Guinea, on February 28th, and within a few days was ready to get back into action. Captain George I. Moleski piloted the Liberator on the Group’s first B-24 combat mission on March 10th, a strike against Lugos Plantation on Manus Island. A few days later on March 16th, Capt. Jesse G. Homan was at the controls over Wewak when a burst of flak exploded between the number one and two engines. One of the shrapnel fragments penetrated the fuselage and damaged the hydraulic system, which began leaking badly. After using all the spare hydraulic fluid aboard, the engineer collected urine from the crewmembers and added it to the fluid reservoir. This kept the hydraulic system working until Homan could bring it down to an emergency landing at the forward fighter base at Gusap. During the next three weeks a maintenance crew repaired the plane and the B-24 was flown back to Nadzab, where it returned to combat on April 8th. The crew never mentioned having added urine to the reservoir.

The plane served with the Squadron throughout the Nadzab era, but as was the general practice at the time, it had no specific crew assigned. During the 23 combat missions completed and two more from which it aborted, this B-24 it was piloted by crews led by 16 different pilots; only one flew it more than twice. That crew, led by Capt. Ferdinand R. Schmidt, put six of the last 14 missions on the bomber.

BIG NIMBO’s last combat mission was on July 1, 1944, when Capt. Schmidt flew the plane on a strike against personnel and supply dumps at Kamiri Village on Noemfoor Island. Because of the lack of suitable targets within range, and preparations for a move to Owi Island, the unit flew few missions during the month of July. During this time the B-24s were heavily committed to shuttling equipment and supplies to the new base. The 19th’s Air Echelon moved to Owi on July 24th, but BIG NIMBO, carrying a large amount of equipment and a full load of frag bombs, experienced a partial brake failure while taxiing for departure. The pilot, 2/Lt. James H. Shipler, brought the plane back to its hardstand and a corroded valve in the hydraulic system was replaced. The next day, Shipler took off and had an uneventful flight to Owi. However, when the plane touched down, he had trouble with the left brake. The pilot immediately applied full throttle to the number four engine to compensate, but the right wing of the Liberator hit and badly damaged the nose and cockpit of a B-25 parked along the runway, tearing away several feet of its own wing in the process. Upon inspection it was found that the entire hydraulic system on BIG NIMBO had been badly corroded, undoubtedly as a result of the acidic urine put in it back on March 16th. The aircraft was deemed unfit for repair, and both it and the B-25 were subsequently salvaged for parts. Four months later the Liberator was officially removed from the Government’s inventory on December 8th.

BIG NIMBO flew the following combat missions, all from Nadzab: Lugos Plantation, 3/10 (Moleski); Boram Airdrome, 3/12 (Dorfler) and 3/13 (Parker); Hansa Bay, 3/14 (Clarey); Wewak, 3/15 (Moleski) and 3/16 (Homen); Hollandia and Marienburg, 4/8 (Nicholson); Dagua, 4/9 (Paffenroth); Hansa Bay, 4/10 and 4/11 (Smith); Boram Airdrome (abort), 4/23 (Thunander); Sarmi, 5/7 (Schmidt); Wadke, 5/11 (Harvey); Sawar, 5/13 (Schmidt); Wakde, 5/16 (Schmidt); Biak, 5/22 (Schmidt); Hansa Bay, 5/23 (Clarey); Biak (weather abort), 5/27 (Homen); Kamiri Airdrome, 5/28 (Finley); Biak, 5/29 (Almon); Peleliu Airdrome (takeoff abort), 6/13 (Shipler); Kamiri Airdrome, 6/20 (Haines) and 6/25 (Schmidt); Cape Kornasoren, 6/26 (Markey); and Kamiri, 7/1 (Schmidt).

A Night at Sea

Shortly after half of the 22nd Bomb Group finished moving to Owi Island, the Group began flying missions to the Vogelkop Peninsula. For reasons unknown, the 2nd and 33rd Squadron were flying from Wakde Island instead. Crowded revetment and parking spaces on Owi may have been a factor in this decision. On July 26, 1944, the 33rd and 2nd were sent on a mission to Ransiki, an airfield on the eastern side of the peninsula. While releasing their bombs, crews faced moderate antiaircraft fire over the target area. The B-24 flown by 1/Lt. Amos was hit once in the #1 engine and once in the #4 engine right after the bombs were dropped on Ransiki, starting a fire in the #1 engine.

While most of the crew escaped injury during the explosions, bombardier, 2/Lt. James K. Bishop was mortally wounded after flak tore open his abdominal area. The co-pilot treated Bishop as best as he could, then returned to help fly the damaged plane. With 200 miles to go on two functioning engines and an inability to maintain altitude, Amos knew that he and his crew would have to ditch the plane soon. After throwing extra equipment overboard and making distress calls, the two working engines, which had been at full power, began to overheat. It wasn’t long before the #2 engine quit and the plane subsequently landed in the water.

The B-24, which was notorious for breaking apart upon ditching, did not fare well in this landing. After the tail sheered off, the plane cracked in half from the nose to the fuselage. Amos, who was on the left side of the plane, was under water when the plane stopped and hurriedly surfaced, only to find his co-pilot still sitting in his seat with a cigar still in his mouth. He went to release the raft and was soon joined by the radio operator and co-pilot. They picked up the navigator, bombardier and engineer, who were in the water.

As they got the raft situated, the plane sank, taking the assistant engineer, two gunners and assistant radio operator with it. The remaining men fished a “Gibson Girl” radio  and a parachute pack out of the water and did their best to reach someone who might be searching for them. Bishop, who had by then regained consciousness, spoke of his wife who was soon to give birth. Just after the crews took off for their mission that day, a message was received that his wife had a baby girl and they were both doing well. Unfortunately, Bishop would never receive this message. He died in the raft that afternoon and was buried at sea by his crew mates.

While the men floated, a storm blew through during the afternoon, thoroughly soaking the raft’s occupants. Amos and the co-pilot, 2/Lt. William A. Rush, decided to try some purple fish they saw swimming around. The other two men refused to try them. Some hours later, daylight faded and the men spent an uncomfortable night at sea. They huddled under a parachute to shelter them from passing storms as well as the rain in the morning.

Later that morning, they saw a B-25 flying a search pattern and waved a parachute in hopes of catching someone’s eye. Unfortunately, no one on the plane saw them. Determined to be rescued, the men in the raft broke out the dye markers for the next aircrew to hopefully spot. Three hours later, a PBY Catalina began flying a search pattern and the men watched the plane, hoping it would see them. An hour later, the again men waved parachutes, as it looked like the Catalina would probably pass close by the raft. The plane flew overhead, circled, and landed nearby. One man aboard the flying boat poked his head out and yelled, “Hey, you guys! Wanna ride?” Rush, Amos, 2/Lt. Louis Moore (navigator), S/Sgt. Harold W. Talley (engineer), and S/Sgt. Benjamin M. Gonzales (radio operator) were finally rescued.

This story can be found on p. 261 of Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Repost: Riding Out the Storm

We are revisiting the archives this week for a post about a powerful typhoon that blew through Okinawa in October 1945. Read on to find out how the men stationed there made it through the storm.

While World War II had officially ended in August 1945, men were still stationed in the Pacific in October as groups went through the demobilization process. On October 7th, men from the 22nd Bomb Group were going about their business when a weather announcement interrupted the radio broadcast. A typhoon that had previously been on a northwesterly course that would take it 150 miles west of Okinawa had suddenly veered off that path, headed north towards Okinawa, where it was predicted to make landfall the next day. October 8th started out calm and sunny, but the men kept an ear out for any new information and an eye on the sky. That afternoon, the weather changed drastically as Typhoon Louise began her march across Okinawa…

Keep reading this exciting story.

Also find it in our ebook Stories from Fifth Air Force.

Marauder at Midway

Marauder at Midway by Jack Fellows

Early on the morning of June 4, 1942, the Japanese Combined Fleet, with four aircraft carriers, was approaching Midway Island in the Central Pacific with the intention of seizing the island. They expected to surprise the Allied base, but due to a broken Japanese code the Allies had advance warning, and sent every available bomber in Hawaii to Midway’s defense. Among this eclectic mix were four B-26 Martin Marauder fast medium bombers, now equipped to carry aerial torpedoes: two from the 22nd Bomb Group and two from the 38th Bomb Group. Navy ships, including two carriers, were also now approaching the scene. But even without the element of surprise, the Japanese had more ships, more carriers, and more aircraft armed to take down opposing ships.

While Midway Island was subjected to a terrific pounding by an initial Japanese air attack, the B-26s participated with Midway-based Navy attack aircraft in a desperate but spirited counterattack on the carriers. The strike ended badly for this American strike force and two of the B-26s were shot down during their target runs. The other two were so badly shot up that they barely made it back to Midway, where they crash-landed and never flew again. While attempting to evade the Akagi’s Zero fighters after releasing his torpedo at the ship, Lt. James Muri of the 408th Bomb Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group, in B-26 #40-1391 SUZIE Q, ended up flying just feet above the Akagi’s flight deck. Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, leader of the Midway assault, witnessed the American counterattack, saw the Marauder fly a few feet above the ship’s deck, and incorrectly surmised that the planes stationed on the island’s airbase were the biggest threat to his precious carriers. Accordingly, he re-armed his force of attack aircraft with ordnance intended to destroy land targets. What Nagumo didn’t realize was that at the moment that Lt. Muri was hurtling down the flight deck of Akagi, mere feet away, two yet undetected U.S. carriers had arrived to engage the Japanese fleet.

The shocking discovery a short time later of U.S. carriers preparing to strike the Japanese fleet forced Nagumo to once again download the ordnance on his waiting planes and reload them for attacking ships. Aside from the breaking of the Japanese code that allowed the U.S. Navy to respond to the Japanese invasion fleet, this fateful decision was responsible, more than anything else, for the U.S. Navy’s stunning victory over the Japanese Naval forces in the Battle of Midway. While the Japanese planes were sitting on the flight decks, busy reloading, the Americans had already launched their attack aircraft. Had the Midway-based attack not been so aggressive, or if Lt. Muri had not so audaciously buzzed the Admiral’s flagship, the Japanese attack aircraft may well have kept their anti-ship ordnance and been in the air when the American carrier attack planes were launched. By the end of the day, all four of the Japanese carriers had been sunk; the USS Yorktown was the only carrier loss suffered by the United States Navy in this battle, which was the turning point in the Pacific war.

 

If you want to learn more about the Battle of Midway, read this post. Head to our website to buy the painting.

How a Combat Unit Passes the Time While Standing Down

After approximately nine months of combat missions, the 22nd Bomb Group’s B-26s had reached the age of being designated war-weary. Due to the “Europe First” mentality, those fighting in the Pacific Theater had been receiving far fewer replacement aircraft than they desperately needed. In the case of the 22nd, this was a breaking point for the Group. Headquarters did not feel that men could safely fly in their B-26s any longer and ordered the Group to stand down on January 11, 1943.

Not long after the orders were received, the 19th and 33rd Bomb Squadrons were told that they were moving from Iron Range back to their old camp at Woodstock. The 500+ mile trip was filled with torrential downpours, delays and crowded conditions aboard the S.S. Paine Wingate. Once the men made it back to Woodstock, though, they happily found that their camp had been improved since their last stay. This time, they enjoyed electricity in their tents, upgraded shower and latrines and eating in wooden mess halls. Picking weevils out of bread was also a distant memory, as the food had greatly improved.

As the men adapted to a slower life, they enjoyed the routine flight training and transport runs, playing sports, and visiting cities such as Sydney and Brisbane. They read books, put on skits, played music and a few of the men decided to run for mayor in the Australian town nearby. Their campaigns were unsuccessful.

 

Woodstock Stage

One way to pass the time while under orders to stand down is to perform. A stage was built at Woodstock during the spring of 1943, and numerous shows, both locally produced and traveling USO groups, entertained the troops. Several talented enlisted men are shown here during one of these performances. On stage was Milt Weiner, singer and emcee. From left the others were Walter Shook on the clarinet, Jones on the accordion, Scott Day on the guitar, “Buckwheat” Westmoreland on the piano and Davis on the drums. (Walter Gaylor Collection)

 

22nd Bomb Group men play baseball

What does a combat unit do while under orders to stand down? Various leisure time activities helped pass the time during the spring of 1943, with baseball being one of the most popular. Under the direction of the newly assigned Special Services Officer, 2/Lt. “Buck” Weaver, many teams were formed and tournaments were organized. This photo was taken at Reid River, the camp for the 2nd and 408th Bomb Squadrons. (William K. Miller Collection)

 

Days of little activity stretched into weeks and the men grew restless. They wanted to be back in the action, helping the Allies fight in New Guinea. The fate of the 22nd was still unknown, leading to various rumors going around the camp. Maybe they would go back to the U.S. for reassignment, they would be re-equipped with B-25s, or they would receive new B-26s. It wasn’t until mid-March when they finally got some answers.

General George C. Kenney and a few others had flown to Washington DC, where they met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff about operation plans for the remainder of the year. Out of the meeting came an authorization for additional aircraft, an order to push the Japanese out of New Guinea as far as Madang and a policy to rotate original crews back to the States. The 22nd Bomb Group was also going to transition from a medium bombardment group to a heavy bombardment group equipped with B-24s.

Before the transition to the B-24, three of the four squadrons would fly B-25s for a short time (the fourth, the 19th, would stick with the B-26 a little longer). Like the B-17, the B-26 would be phased out of operation in the Pacific Theater and sent to Europe. This news was not entirely welcomed by the crews who had grown fond of their fast, durable B-26s and they weren’t certain how the B-25 would hold up in comparison. Nonetheless, the days of inactivity soon reached an end as the 22nd received new crews, said goodbye to the old crews being sent Stateside and refurbished as many B-26s as they could for the 19th Bomb Squadron’s new “Silver Fleet.”

In July, the Silver Fleet of unpainted B-26s left the rest of the 22nd in Australia and flew to Dobodura, where the crews would began flying combat missions on July 21st. The three remaining squadrons began receiving their new B-25s in Australia and wasted no time learning the ins and outs of the new planes. Transition training took approximately three months. Finally, the 2nd, 408th and 33rd Squadrons were sent back to combat in early October. All four squadrons were reunited in combat on October 14th.

Landing with a Compass and Two Parachutes

By May 1945, the Japanese had been pushed back to Formosa, now known as Taiwan. Throughout May, the 22nd Bomb Group had been flying missions to various parts of Formosa. Now that the month was coming to a close, Fifth Air Force’s heavy bomber groups were sent back to Taihoku (Taipei) on May 31st to take out the city’s antiaircraft guns and give it a heavy pounding. The 90th Bomb Group was to hit the antiaircraft guns, which would be followed by the 22nd and 43rd Bomb Groups focusing their efforts on bombing administration and municipal buildings in the city.

As the 37 B-24s from the 22nd Bomb Group began making their runs, they discovered that the 90th had not been able to take out the antiaircraft guns as planned. Instead, the crews were met with flak so heavy that the smoke from it nearly obscured the flight leader. Somehow, only two planes were hit by the flak. One of those two, MISSLEADING, was severely damaged after a burst hit the #2 and #4 engines, the #4 gas tank, knocked out all navigational and radio communications except for Morse Code and broke the instrument panel. To make matters worse, both the pilot, 2/Lt. Charles E. Critchfield, and co-pilot, 1/Lt. Robert A. Morgan, were critically injured in the blast. Critchfield was wounded in both his right arm and leg as well as his groin. Morgan was bleeding profusely after his left leg was cut to the bone by shrapnel.

Once the stricken plane left the target area with the rest of the formation, a pilot in another plane noticed that MISSLEADING was having trouble and alerted the formation leader. He ordered one of the other crews to accompany the lagging aircraft as far as it could fly and contacted rescue planes about the situation. For reasons unknown, the Catalinas never showed up.

Back in MISSLEADING, Morgan wrestled with the B-24, as the trim tabs were inoperative and he had feathered the unusable engine #4, cut the throttle of #2 to partial power and feathered engine #3 because of a gas leak that was running over the hot exhaust, leaving engine #1 as the only fully operating engine. There was no way that they would be able to get back to base on one engine, so Morgan cautiously restarted engine #3 and hoped it wouldn’t burst into flames with the gas running over it. Fortunately, it did not. Critchfield had been carefully removed from his seat so that other crewmembers could administer first aid and Lt. Robert S. Edgar slid into the pilot’s seat to assist Morgan whenever possible. It had only been five minus since they were first hit.

To lighten the plane, the crew tossed out everything they didn’t need. Without a working instrument panel, flight engineer S/Sgt. Lloyd Watson kept an eye on the engines and gave the rest of the crew instructions as needed. Navigator 2/Lt. R.E. Grey fished a small compass out of an emergency kit, and with a heading provided by T/Sgt. Benjamin D. Oxley, they headed for Laoag, an emergency strip on the northwestern coast of Luzon. Upon their descent, they discovered that the B-24’s main hydraulic system had been shot out and they would have to lower the landing gear manually. The flaps to help slow the plane were also not working and the nose gear wouldn’t extend. Parachutes were tied to gun mounts in the rear waist windows to help slow the plane.

B-24 MISSLEADING after landing at Laoag

MISSLEADING had its hydraulics shot out by antiaircraft fire during a combat mission to Taihoku, Formosa on May 31, 1945. Without flaps, the 19th Squadron co-pilot, 2/Lt. Robert A. Morgan, made an emergency landing at Laoag Strip, Luzon, after the pilot, 2/Lt. Charles E. Critchfield, was badly wounded by flak. Parachutes were deployed out both side windows to slow down the brakeless plane. However, the nose gear folded and the plane crushed its nose when it smashed to the runway.

When the B-24 touched down on the 3500-foot runway, Morgan held the plane’s nose high so that the tailskid would act like a brake as long as possible. Once the brakes were engaged, the parachutes were deployed and MISSLEADING skidded to a stop 200 feet off the far end of the runway. Emergency crews waiting for the plane hurried to get Critchfield and Morgan out of the plane. Both were taken to the local field hospital, where most of the small anesthetic supply was used on Critchfield’s operation. Morgan was held down by two medics as shrapnel was removed from his leg. It would be two days before Critchfield’s injuries were no longer life-threatening, however, that mission would be his last before he rotated home. Morgan was recognized for his determination and skill and received a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1988.

 

This exciting story and many others can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders. Buy your copy now.

A Convoy Meets Its End

Around the middle of March 1944, Allied intelligence was monitoring reports about the movements of the 21st Wewak Resupply Convoy. Three subchasers were escorting three medium-sized merchant ships and a small “sea truck” from the Palau Islands for Wewak. The convoy’s position was accidentally betrayed by the Japanese, who did not know that the Allies had intercepted their communications, then detected by a couple of radar-equipped B-24s that had been sent to destroy the convoy before it reached Hollandia. The B-24s put one ship out of commission and the rest continued on to Wewak, reaching the base on the 18th, six days after leaving the Palau Islands.

With their location compromised, the Japanese worked through the night to quickly unload supplies and nearly 400 troops, then reload the ships with soldiers moving rearward to Hollandia early on the 19th. They hoped to avoid any further run-ins with Allied aircraft, as the convoy was carrying valuable cargo. In addition to the large number of passengers (1000), aboard one of the ships was a new radar system to detect enemy aircraft that was being moved to Hollandia, where the Japanese were building up their forces. At that time, the Japanese had very few of these radar systems.

B-24 crews from the 90th Bomb Group arrived at Wewak later that morning, only to find an empty harbor. They flew on, staying near the New Guinea coastline, and eventually found the convoy about 50 miles west-northwest of Wewak. Bombing the convoy from a medium altitude turned out to be mostly unsuccessful, although the crews may have sunk one of the escorts. Crews from the 22nd Bomb Group caught up to the convoy later that morning and were greeted by puffs of flack that stood between them and the convoy.

A three-plane element from the 19th Bomb Squadron attacked the Yakumo Maru, dropping 72 bombs around the ship, some of which landed within 50 feet of the ship. The 19th’s first attack was followed by an attack by the 33rd Bomb Squadron, then the 19th once again. Japanese fighters joined the fray in an attempt to defend the convoy below. During the chaos, the B-24s of 2/Lts. Ralph L. Anderson and G. Hill and 1/Lt. Chester G. Williams were holed by fighters. Hill’s plane suffered the most damage with a hit to the turbo-supercharger, damage to the outer left engine, the left wing and vertical stabilizer, as well as damage from a 20mm cannon shell to the fuselage.

Destroying the 21st Wewak Resupply Convoy

Following the sinking of the Yakumo Maru by the 22nd Bomb Group on March 19, 1944, the Taiei Maru picked up survivors from the sunken ship, and, along with a small transport and two escorts, resumed the dash for Hollandia at top speed. A-20 and B-25 units back at Nadzab scrambled around noon and raced each other to the scene, where a wild engagement with almost no flight discipline. This photo shows the Taiei Maru after being set afire by bombs dropped by a B-25 from the 345th Bomb Group. Note the attacks from several directions at once.

After the fighters let up their attacks and the B-24s had dropped all their bombs, an explosion rocked the Yakumo Maru, which began listing dangerously. The two squadrons left the smoking convoy behind as they departed the area. Word of the convoy spread through Fifth Air Force and about 80 B-25s and A-20s converged on the convoy that afternoon. This time, the attacks on the convoy were completely uncoordinated. As an A-20 from the 3rd Bomb Group made its attack, it was accidentally shot down by an overexcited B-25. The 3rd also lost another A-20 after it hit the ship’s mast and had to ditch nearby. Both the pilot and gunner were rescued by a Catalina the following day.

In the end, the convoy was thoroughly destroyed, with only three members surviving the attack. As a result of the attack, the Japanese ceased sending convoys to reinforce the Japanese 18th Army, now trapped in northeastern New Guinea.

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

This week, we wanted to take a look at how much several World War II bases from the Pacific Theater (as well as one from the U.S.) have changed since the war ended.

 

Hunter Army Airfield
Located in Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Field was originally a municipal airport built in 1929. It was named Hunter Municipal Airfield in May 1940 after a World War I flying ace from Savannah, Lt. Col. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter. Soon afterwards, an Army Air Corps base was built and several units, the 3rd and 27th Bomb Groups as well as the 35th Air Base Group, would call it home for a short time. The 312th Bomb Group was another unit that did their aircraft training at Hunter Air Base (so renamed on February 19, 1941). Today, there are about 5000 soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield, including the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah.

Hunter Army Airfield Then and Now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left,  taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the base where bomb groups such as the 312th were activated. At right is Hunter Army Airfield today, taken from Google Maps.

 

RAAF Base Amberley
What is now the Royal Australian Air Force’s largest base was under construction during most of World War II. Amberley, located southwest of Brisbane, was named by an immigrant farmer in the 1850s after his hometown in England. Airport construction began in 1939 and continued through 1944. During the war, the base briefly housed many Australian and U.S. units, including the 22nd and 38th Bomb Groups.

RAAF Base Amberley: Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left is airfield at Amberley during the early part of WWII, taken from Revenge of the Red Raiders. The image on the right is a current view of RAAF Base Amberley, taken from Google Maps.

 

Corregidor Island
Originally Spanish territory, the island of Corregidor was incorporated into U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War. It stayed that way until Japanese forces invaded the island in 1942, leading to the unconditional surrender of the Allies in the Philippines on May 6, 1942. Finally, in early 1945, the Allies took back the island. These days, Corregidor is part of the Philippines National Park, with several historic landmarks scattered about the island.

Corregidor Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. (Left) A 43rd Bomb Group strike photo of Corregidor after it was bombed by the Group, taken from the IHRA archives. (Right) This satellite image of the island shows how it has changed since World War II. Image taken from Google Maps.

 

Manila, Philippines
Manila was also a Spanish territory that was given to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War. From 1935-1941, it was Gen. MacArthur’s base during his time as a military advisor. The city was attacked by Japanese on December 8, 1941, and, after repeated bombings, it fell into Japanese hands in January 1942. Three years later, the U.S. returned to Manila and fought a bloody month-long battle to recapture it, destroying much of the city in the process. This picture was taken at the tail end of the conflict. The city has since recovered and is now a major urban center in the Pacific, the capital of the Philippines, and has a population of over 1.5 million people.

Manila Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left, taken from the IHRA archives, shows the destruction after Manila was bombed. At right is a satellite image of a rebuilt Manila taken from Google Earth.

 

Wakde Island
Before the Japanese set foot on Wakde Island in April 1942, it may have been inhabited by a small native population. Over the next year, much of the foliage on the island was cut down to make space for a runway that was 5400 feet long and 390 feet wide. The Japanese leveled more of the island to build 100 pillboxes, bunkers and other defenses. On May 15, 1944, the fight over Wakde began. All but four Japanese soldiers stationed there fought to the death. Wakde was further expanded by the Allies, almost completely clearing the island of vegetation in the process.  Today, the island is uninhabited.

Wakde Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left,  from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, shows Wakde Island after its development as an Allied base. The image on the right is from Google Earth.

 

Nadzab
This base, located north of Lae, started out as a tiny native village that was eventually populated by German Lutherans of the Gabmatzung Mission in 1910. A small airfield was later established. The Japanese captured Nadzab in 1942 and occupied it until early September 1943 when Gen. MacArthur ordered Operation Postern to be carried out. Once Nadzab was in Allied hands, it was expanded into a huge airbase with five airstrips. As the war wound down, Nadzab was redesigned as an aircraft boneyard. Today, it serves as a small regional airport.

Nadzab Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left, four of Nadzab’s five airstrips can be seen in this photo from IHRA. Today, the only sign of this former base is the single runway seen slightly left of center. The satellite image is from Google Earth.

 

 

Sources and additional information about these WWII sites:

Top Posts of 2015

Last year, we rounded up the most popular posts that we wrote in 2014. If you were hoping for a look back, you’re in luck! We’re going to do the same for this year’s posts as well. If you missed any stories, here’s your chance to go back and read the highlights. Enjoy!

The Reckless Mountain Boys in Flight 1. Fatal Attack on THE RECKLESS MOUNTAIN BOYS Six Japanese Zeros shot down a 43rd Bomb Group B-17 crew near Kavieng.

Heichel and his crew in stretchers 2. Survival of THE RECKLESS MOUNTAIN BOYS Crew Eight members of Heichel’s crew survived the B-17’s landing, only to be captured by the Japanese.

Corregidor Island 3. Battle of Manila: Softening Corregidor The 22nd Bomb Group is sent to bomb Corregidor before Allied ground troops begin their advance on Manila.

Betty's Dream Escorting Betty Bomber 4. The 345th’s Final Show After Japan surrendered and before the official surrender took place, the 345th Bomb Group participated in a little-known historic flight, escorting Japanese planes  to and from Ie Shima with a special delegation aboard.

The Aguirres 5. Memorial Day 2015 Remembering the crew of B-17 HONI KUU OKOLE, which was shot down by an Irving night fighter on May 21, 1943.

 
Crash of B-25 Suicide's Flying Drunks 6. Writing Off SUICIDE’S FLYING DRUNKS A 38th Bomb Group B-25 crew attempts to escape an air raid on Horn Island. It doesn’t go as planned.

McGuire Shot Down 7. (tie) Shot Down over Yulin Bay: Part 1 The Japanese brought down a 345th Bomb Group B-25 crew on March 30, 1945.

Letter to Yoshimasa Nakagawa  Friendship After Bombing Davao A lone 43rd Bomb Group B-24 crew flies out to bomb Davao and is intercepted by a kamikaze fighter. 20 years later, friendship develops between the two pilots.
 
 


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The 22nd’s Short-Lived Torpedo School

Early in the war, the U.S. Navy was in need of a fast, long-range torpedo bomber. There weren’t any in the Navy’s inventory that met their requirements and so they turned to the Army Air Force in hopes of converting B-26s into torpedo bombers. Out of the blue, an order from General Brett, the senior U.S. Commander in Australia, came to the 22nd Bomb Group’s C.O., Lt. Col. Haskins, wanting two of his crews and B-26s to report to Melbourne, Australia for torpedo school. Pilots Lt. Frank Allen and Lt. Cooper were chosen to go. Allen specifically came to Haskin’s mind when he thought of Allen’s torpedo lessons in San Diego.

For a week, Allen got the runaround as he tried to get further instructions about this torpedo school before he was told he was on his own. He knew that the Navy had an installation at Pearce Airdrome (north of Perth) and decided to set up the program there. Upon his apparently unanticipated arrival on May 1, 1942, he found out that no one else knew about this project. Fortunately, the Navy promised Allen support and assigned a Commander Robinson to work with him. Robinson, Allen soon discovered, knew everything about torpedoes.

They started out by building dummy torpedoes out of “jarrah” wood (metal resources were unavailable to them), which was a close density to that of iron. Testing started after Cooper and his crew arrived on May 17th. Their B-26 was damaged after it got stuck in the mud and they had to get a different aircraft. Murphy’s Law continued to wreak havoc with the first torpedo test: the B-26’s booster coils burned out and needed to be replaced, its batteries died, and once the plane finally took off, the dummy torpedo was left on the runway because the firing switch shorted out. After all the mechanical issues were fixed, the dummy torpedo was finally dropped on the target. Instead of breaking like a torpedo should, it bounced and somersaulted before finally entering the water and settling into the deep mud somewhere.

In all, there ended up being about ten tests with the wooden torpedoes at different heights and airspeeds before they were finally given real torpedoes with water-filled heads. They tested these for about two months, recording data and taking photos and videos. It was established that the most successful torpedo drops occurred when the airspeed and drop height were equal: at 200mph, drop the torpedo from 200 feet, etc.

Allen, who had been promoted to Captain on May 10th, finally decided they were ready to start teaching in July at a torpedo school at Nowra, 75 miles south of Sydney. Given his previous experiences at Melbourne and Pearce, it’s not surprising that this torpedo school didn’t exist yet and he was supposed to get it started. By August, many of the 22nd’s crews went through Allen’s torpedo school and gave themselves the name of the “1st Torpedo Squadron.” They weren’t too fond of the idea of using B-26s as torpedo bombers because of the impaired aerodynamics and short ground clearance on takeoff.

The training wasn’t too interesting, but the men still entertained themselves. One day, Nowra’s local paper reported on a buzz job: “Yesterday morning when the ‘Birds’ came home to roost, they skimmed the tops of the houses in the town, much to the alarm of residents. Among complaints received at this office, mostly from womenfolk, are that choice lemons were blown off her trees in the garden; another that the force of the air slipstream blew the paint off the roof, while a third lady, suffering an attack of lumbago was seen disappearing down an air raid shelter head first.”

Soon, the men were sent back to join the rest of the 22nd at Iron Range, as they were needed elsewhere. The Navy realized that the B-26 wasn’t the right plane for the job and the torpedo school was closed down in August, thus sending these tests to the 22nd Bomb Group’s records.