Calamity Charlie

CALAMITY CHARLIE was one of the original 18th Recon Squadron Marauders that was piloted overseas by 1/Lt. (later Maj.) Ralph L. Michaelis during the initial deployment of the Group. After traversing the ferry route between Hawaii and Australia, it arrived at Brisbane on April 22, 1942, in company with three other aircraft from the Squadron. Immediately upon arrival in Australia, Michaelis continued on to Reid River, where the renamed 408th Squadron had set up camp. There the engineer, Sgt. Centabar, continued his stateside job of supervising maintenance on the plane, assisted by Sgt. Jack S. Hirschbein. Centabar flew only a mission or two before all crew chiefs were grounded from combat flying.

The nickname was chosen during the fall of 1941, after the aircraft was assigned to the Michaelis crew while they were stationed at Langley Field, Virginia. Charlie was the nickname of Michaelis’ wife, and Calamity was a take off on “Calamity Jane,” a famous female muleskinner and personality from the American old west. Initially, only the name was stenciled on the nose of the Marauder, but after consultation with the crew, the design for the artwork, a modification of a Walt Disney cartoon bee, was chosen. This was painted on both sides of the nose before the plane left for California on the first leg of its deployment to the Pacific.

Michaelis and his crew flew their first mission on April 30th, in the Squadron Commander’s aircraft, but thereafter flew many of their missions in CALAMITY CHARLIE. The members of the crew during this period were 2/Lt. (later Capt.) Wade H. Robert, Jr., co-pilot; 1/Lt. Edwin R. Fogarty, navigator; 2/Lt. Arthur C. King, bombardier; Cpl. (later Sgt.) Stanley A. Wolenski, engineer; PFC. Havis J. Barnes, radio operator; Pvt. Daniel C. Perugini, gunner; and S/Sgt. Jack B. Swan, photographer. The plane was also flown by several other Squadron pilots during its career with the 408th.

This Marauder was scheduled to fly its first mission on May 16th, but this was scrubbed due to poor weather conditions. Its combat debut was made over Rabaul on May 24th with Michaelis at the controls although he was leading a different crew on the mission. Over Vunakanau Airdrome it sustained AA damage to the right wing and hydraulic system, but it eventually landed safely at Port Moresby on one engine. On this mission, three members of Michaelis’ original crew, King, Wolenski and Swan, went down while flying with another crew. Wolenski apparently died in the crash; King was captured and apparently died in Japanese hands, while Swan died of his injuries after an extended period on the run from Japanese forces on New Britain.

Calamity Charlie

The artwork on CALAMITY CHARLIE, a 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group B-26 Marauder, was painted on both sides of the nose. This aircraft transferred to the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group during the spring of 1943, and continued its career with the Silver Fleet until the beginning of 1944. During that period it displayed an unusual tally system on its mission scoreboard, which can be seen in a photo appearing in Appendix IV of Revenge of the Red Raiders. (Laverne L. Limpach Collection)

 

After repairs, CALAMITY CHARLIE was back in action by mid-June and thereafter flew regularly until its last combat mission with the 408th, which took place on November 27th. It played no role in the last six weeks of B-26 operations by the Group, probably because of the need for a major overhaul. On November 2, 1942 Michaelis was transferred to Port Moresby to become an Operations Officer in V Bomber Command. At the same time several Squadron officers transferred out to staff the recently arrived 38th BG.

The profile illustrates this aircraft as it appeared during September 1942, with ten mission markers on its scoreboard. When it completed its tour with the 408th, this was updated to reflect a total of 27 flown, including ones aborted for weather or mechanical reasons. By the time of its last missions with the 408th, the top of the vertical stabilizer had been tipped in the Squadron color, Kelly Green.

As with other 22nd BG planes, CALAMITY CHARLIE was overhauled during the spring of 1943, and the camouflage paint was removed. It was one of only two B-26s still assigned to the 408th at the beginning of June, 1943. The nickname and artwork were repainted on both sides of the nose in a revised format. The plane was transferred to the 19th Bomb Squadron’s “B” Flight by July, 1943, where it started the second phase of its combat career with the Silver Fleet.

Its first mission with the unit was flown on August 13, 1943. During its service with the 19th, CALAMITY CHARLIE did not have a regular pilot although 1/Lt. Jesse G. Homen flew it on ten missions during its last three months with the Squadron. Mission reports indicate that ten different crews flew the plane at least 24 times before it ended its combat flying on January 4, 1944. The members of the ground crew assigned to CALAM1TY CHARLIE during this period included T/Sgt. Frank L. Cain, crew chief; S/Sgt David M. Crawford, his assistant; and mechanic Sgt. Ed Schwietzer.

A unique aspect of the plane’s markings while with the Silver Fleet included a mission scoreboard done in a system of tally marks, which were recorded in groups of five on both sides of the fuselage. Photos taken at the time it was retired from service show the aircraft with 75 tally marks, which far exceeds the 45 combat missions known to have been flown by the aircraft. It is these markings that are depicted in the insert profile. As with the other Marauders remaining in service in the theater, CALAMITY CHARLIE was declared “War Weary” in January, 1944, and flown to Brisbane where it was scrapped during the spring.

Among the missions flown during 1942 were: Rabaul, 5/24 (Michaelis); Kila Point, 6/16 (Ellis); Buna, 7/22 (Augustine); Lae, 8/6, 9/13, 9/19 (Michaelis); Buna, 11/24, 11/27 (O’Donnell); and 11/27 (Ellis). During its service with the 19th Squadron in 1943, missions flown included: Lae, 8/13 (Hathaway), Lokanu Ridge, 8/25 (Burnside); Bogadjim, 8/27 (Rugroden); Cape Gloucester, 9/2 (Higgins); Cape Gloucester, 9/3 (Burnside); Lae (abort), 9/8 (Steddom); Lae, 9/9 (Steddom); Finschafen, 9/18 (Hathaway); Wonan Island, 9/21 (Burnside); Cape Hoskins, 10/2 (Homen); Alexishafen, 10/14 (Homen); Faria Valley, 11/5 (Homen); Satelberg, 11/19 (Irwin); Satelberg, 11/24 (Forrester); Kamlagidu Point, 12/2 Burcky); Cape Gloucester 12/3 (Flanagan); Wandokai, 12/8 (Irwin); Kelanea Harbor, 12/16 (Homen); Sag Sag, 12/24 (Homen); Madang, 12/26 (Homen); Cape Gloucester, 12/29 (Homen); Bogadjim,1/31 (Homen); and in 1944: Erima Point, 1/2 (Homen); and Nambaaron River, 1/4 (Homen).

Read more about CALAMITY CHARLIE and the rest of the 22nd Bomb Group in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

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3 Short Stories from the 22nd

A Nerve-Racking Flight on SO SORRY
Captain Gerald J. Crosson was leading B-26s from the 2nd Squadron to Lae on January 3, 1943, where they were to bomb sailing vessels in the area, or the airdrome if the boats couldn’t be found. The aircrews thoroughly searched the area between Lae and Cape Cretin and failed to find the boats. They turned for the airdrome and were met by flak sent up by the alert Japanese antiaircraft gunners. Before Crosson’s bombs were released, his B-26 SO SORRY jolted around and there was a sound of rattling metal in the cockpit. SO SORRY nosed upward in an unanticipated climb and Crosson worked frantically to right the plane. Bombardier T/Sgt. T.J. Smith saw that the bomb bay doors were still open, then noticed that the bombs were still in their racks. He carefully eased himself onto the catwalk where he manually jettisoned the bombs.

Meanwhile, Crosson and his co-pilot struggled to maintain a level course as they dealt with a cut elevator cable, bomb bay doors that wouldn’t close and dragging flaps. SO SORRY dropped out of formation and flew on at about 700 feet in bad weather. The crew was happy to spot Dobodura 50 minutes later, but everyone knew they were in for a rough landing because the aircraft was so unstable, the landing gear wouldn’t lower and the aileron controls were damaged. In spite of everything, Crosson brought the B-26 down safely, and, remarkably, without injury to the crew.

The Rise of the Silver Fleet
Since the early days of the 22nd Bomb Group’s formation and involvement in World War II, the unit was designated a medium bomber unit and the men flew B-26 Marauders on missions. This would last until April 1943, when three of the four squadrons were told that their B-26s would be phased out and replaced with B-25s. At a meeting, the 19th Squadron pilots said they preferred flying the B-26 and the Marauders were given to that squadron. They were stripped of their camouflage paint, which increased their speed by a few miles per hour, as well as given a complete overhaul for optimal performance. First Lieutenant James C. Houston came up with the “Silver Fleet” nickname and an accompanying logo. The 19th would remain the silver fleet until January 1944 when the B-26 was completely phased out of the Pacific Theater and the 22nd Bomb Group was redesignated a heavy bombardment group and transitioned to the B-24.

Silver Fleet

For a short time, the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group was know as the “Silver Fleet.” This nickname referred to the fact that the unit was flying the only combat aircraft in the theater in a natural metal finish. This insignia and nickname were the work of bombardier 1/Lt. James C. Houston, who adapted it from the model railroad with which he played during his youth. Here, the 19th Squadron Line Chief, M/Sgt. Raymond D. Fuller, and Maj. Walter H. Greer, the Squadron C.O., can be seen posing with the new insignia on the tail of B-26 #40-1488, which carried the nickname HOOSIER MISS during its service with the Silver Fleet. (J. William Brosius Collection)

The Practice Bomb Squadron
After several reports of poor bombing records from the Silver Fleet, the squadron was removed from combat in late July 1943 for three weeks so crews could receive additional training. Not only did accuracy leave something to be desired, there were bombs handing up in the racks. When the 19th Squadron returned to combat, one crew discovered the additional training paid off: all ten bombs were dropped in the target area and hit crucial targets.

 

Read these stories in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Lady Luck’s Unlucky Day

After the atomic bombs were dropped, but before a Japanese surrender had been negotiated, V Bomber Command was busy moving troops and equipment to Okinawa. The 22nd and 43rd bomb groups were also enlisted to ferry troops, as all the C-46s and C-47s were already in use. While the B-24’s potential as a troop carrier may have looked good on paper, the logistics behind turning these bombers into transport aircraft subjected passengers to a potentially deadly situation. The ideal location for extra passengers would have been closer to the tail of the aircraft, but that would make the plane much more difficult to fly. Instead, passengers had to ride on precarious wooden seats installed in the bomb bay.

The 11th Airborne Division was selected to drop onto Atsugi Airdrome as part of the Army of Occupation if the Japanese were to surrender. First, though, they had to be moved from Luzon to Okinawa. Ten B-24s from the 22nd Bomb Group were sent down to Luzon for the move. The 11th Airborne Division was spread out among four airfields, and the 22nd would transport the 511th Regiment waiting at Lipa, located south of Manila. Each of the B-24s were loaded with 20 paratroopers and their equipment and rumbled down the runway one at a time. The first dozen took off without incident. LADY LUCK did not.

Captain Jack L. Cook didn’t notice any issues with the aircraft as he taxied to the runway. The #1 engine took longer to reach full power, which was unusual. Still, LADY LUCK reached takeoff speed and Cook attempted to lift the nose off the runway, only to feel a huge amount of drag that kept the nose on the ground. He was very quickly running out of runway and still couldn’t lift off. After hitting a small tree at the end of the runway, Cook noticed the airplane gaining speed and hoped once again that he could take off.

B-24 Crash at Lipa

Following the dropping of the second atomic bomb on August 9, 1945, the Japanese gave strong indications that they were preparing to surrender. On August 12, 1945, the 33rd Squadron’s LADY LUCK, a late-model B-24M, crashed during takeoff at Lipa Airdrome, near Manila. It was one of several 22nd Bomb Group B-24s that flew there to ferry paratroops of the 11th Airborne Division to Okinawa to position them for the initial occupation of Japan in the event that peace feelers received the previous day should bear fruit. First Lieutenant Jack L. Cook and his crew escaped without serious injuries, but 11 of the 20 paratroopers aboard were killed. Another 33rd Squadron pilot, 1/Lt. Thomas Kennedy, further back in the line of B-24s waiting to take off, took this photo as the plume of smoke rose from the crash site. (Thomas Kennedy Collection)

In a split second, that hope was dashed to pieces when the right wheel struck a ramp 100 feet beyond the official end of the runway. The landing gear was driven through the wing and fuel line, subsequently setting LADY LUCK on fire. What remained of the fuselage was broken into pieces. None of the men in the cockpit had serious injuries and all were able to climb out of it. The fire in the fuselage would kill 11 of the paratroopers on board. Three more would have died if not for the heroic efforts of Lt. Hoadly G. Ryan, who ran into the burning plane twice to rescue whoever he could. Others followed his example and saved a few more lives.

As for the cause of the crash, Cook first suspected the runway was too short. The day after the accident, he and his co-pilot went back to the scene and noticed two parallel black lines going down the runway. Both of them immediately knew that the brakes must have locked on and kept LADY LUCK from gaining sufficient speed to take off. How or why that happened remains a mystery.

 

Read this story in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Repost: Raided!

First published on this blog in September 2014, we thought it was time to bring the story of a Japanese raid on the 22nd Bomb Group back to the front page.

 

Official message from Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters: “On the morning of August 17th, twenty-four Japanese bombers attacked the aerodrome at Port Moresby, which resulted in slight damage to installations and a few casualties.”

For three days, the 22nd Bomb Group had been in standby mode at Seven Mile Drome as they waited for their next big mission. Each B-26 was loaded with six 500-pound bombs, fueled and parked in the open, as revetments had not yet been built. The ten crews were camped out next to their planes, ready to move at a moment’s notice.

During the last couple of months, the Japanese had been keeping an eye on the situation in New Guinea and decided it was about time to improve their prospects there. They decided to move troops and artillery from Rabaul to Buna, and would need a distraction for a successful move. This distraction would come in the form of an air raid on Seven Mile on August 17, 1942.

That morning, Capt. Gammon heard that a Japanese raid was imminent. He ran to his plane, calling to Bauman to start the engines and get ready for an immediate take off. Three bursts from an antiaircraft gun were heard, signaling a red alert. Their early warning system failed and caught everyone completely off guard. As the men scattered, 24 “Betty” bombers in perfect formation approached the airfield at 20,000 feet. Puffs from antiaircraft fire dotted the sky, but were too low to hit the incoming Japanese.

Gammon climbed aboard his plane and headed for the runway with a small crew. As he took off, bombs fell all around his plane, exploding violently, and sending shrapnel into the aircraft. Some of the pieces landed on the bombs in the bomb bay. Quickly, Bauman released the bombs in order to keep the aircraft in one piece. Gammon kept close to the hills to avoid drawing any attention from the Japanese, then circled the runway until the debris was cleared and it was safe to land. He eventually landed with 200 holes in his plane and a shot-up right tire.

When the red alert sounded, Capt. Gerald Crosson was taxiing to the runway with a full crew. He was about halfway down the runway when the bombs began falling and one exploded about 20 feet in front of his B-26’s left wing. As flames from the explosion engulfed the plane and crept towards the bomb bay, the crew abandoned the aircraft as quickly as they could before the bombs exploded. The co-pilot, RAAF Sgt.-PIlot Logan, had been incapacitated by the explosion, so Crosson stayed back to pull him from the bomber. Just as Crosson and Logan took shelter in a crater from one of the bombs, the bombs in the plane blew up. The two men were helplessly caught in flames and a shockwave from the blast. Once the raid ended, Logan and Crosson were loaded into an ambulance. Logan did not survive the journey to the hospital.

Black Smoke

Black smoke and flames rise from Seven Mile Drome following an enemy raid by Betty bombers. This photo was taken on either July 5th or on August 17th, when a similar attack took place and caught Marauders on the ground. (William P. Sparks Collection)

After the raid was over, the 22nd tallied their losses. The message from MacArthur’s office about the raid minimized the results of the surprise attack. One report listed four of their planes as destroyed, as well as three from other groups, and 25 damaged. Pieces of planes, clothes, guns and much more littered the airfield. One thousand barrels of gas and oil burned at one end of the runway, sending plumes of smoke 1500 feet in the air. The Group lost its tower and Operations shack in the raid. The spot where Gammon’s plane had been parked was turned into a giant crater five feet deep and 15 feet wide. For the next 24 hours during the cleanup, delayed action bombs would explode every four or five minutes.

 

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

Bombing Clark Field

After a successful day of bombing Clark Field on December 22, 1944, the 22nd Bomb Group returned to the area on December 24th. There, they were going to target Japanese aircraft located in revetments and parking areas. Several miles outside of Clark Field, the B-24s and their P-47 fighter cover were jumped by 20-40 Japanese fighters. Two Zeros dropped air-to-air bombs, which did not damage any of the B-24s, and neither did the phosphorus bombs that were dropped by the Japanese fighters. Above the 22nd flew a lone Betty bomber, which was most likely radioing airspeed and altitude information to the antiaircraft batteries at Clark Field. This proved to be a problem for the B-24s, as they were greeted with heavy, accurate antiaircraft fire from the Japanese.

Right after 1/Lt. Cameron B. Benson released his bombs over the airfield, his B-24 was rocked by an explosion in the rear fuselage that also damaged the tail section and the hydraulic lines. The explosion nearly broke the aircraft apart, instantly killing the radio operator, T/Sgt. Paul Deis, who had been manning the right waist gun. At the left waist gun, T/Sgt. Vernon J. Farup, an assistant engineer, sustained injuries to his legs from shell fragments. Ammunition aboard the plane began going off and members of the crew rushed to toss the boxes of ammo out the windows.

B-24 flak damage

On December 24, 1944, this 2nd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group B-24 was damaged over Clark Field after an exploding 75mm antiaircraft shell blew out the side of the plane, killing T/Sgt. Paul Deis, the radio operator, and badly injuring T/Sgt. Vernon J. Farup, the assistant engineer. Both men were manning the waist guns. Despite the instability caused by the damage, 1/Lt. Cameron B. Benson, the pilot, brought the plane in for a successful emergency landing at Tacloban Strip on Leyte Island. (Robert W. Hulme Collection)

None of the 2nd Squadron’s six aircraft escaped Clark Field unscathed. Lieutenant Scott’s aircraft was hit multiple times by flak, one of which damaged the gears for the bomb bay doors. Once Scott made it back to base, he had to land with the bomb bay doors open. Lieutenant Barron left Clark Field with a hole in the right wing between the two engines that punctured the fuel tanks and leaked 600-700 gallons. Both Benson and Barron were able to land safely at Tacloban.

Back at Clark Field, the 19th Squadron was attacked by about two dozen Japanese fighters before they began their bombing run. They were able to fend off the attackers and make their runs. Only two out of the five B-24s from the 19th made it through unscathed. Captain Hume and his crew managed to escape serious injury and aircraft damage when a shell went through their plane, then exploded above it. Two of the 33rd Squadron’s B-24s were damaged, though none of it was severe. Gunners managed to pick off three attacking Zeros with a fourth probable. Three of the 408th Squadron’s aircraft were holed, but also without any serious damage.

In spite of the heavy opposition from the Japanese, the 22nd left Clark Field knowing that their attack was a success. Many of the Japanese planes on the ground were damaged and at least 15 were destroyed. A total of four Japanese fighters were shot down, with a few more probables. The 22nd refueled at Tacloban, with Benson’s, Barron’s and a third crew distributing themselves among the rest of the B-24s that were capable of flying back to Angaur. Farup stayed behind in the hospital at Tacloban. That night and the next day, the 22nd rested and celebrated Christmas. They would return to Clark Field the following day.

 

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

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2017

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 of 2017.

1. The Fight for Mindoro As a result of some great comments from a prior post (see #4 on this list), we delved into further detail about a harrowing mission on December 24, 1944.

Wreckage of B-24 Tempermental Lady2. A B-24’s Forced Retirement After the B-24 TEMPERMENTAL LADY was hit on a mission, landing the plane wasn’t going to be easy…

 

3. Book Review: They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans We review the second book of veteran stories as told to Kayleen Reusser.

B-17 MISS EM and crew(tie) Beyond the Bomb Group What happened to the B-17s that transferred out of the 43rd Bomb Group? We follow the story of one of their old Flying Fortresses, CAP’N & THE KIDS.

 

A 63rd Squadron B-24 attacks a Japanese ship near Mindoro during WWII4. Night Action Off Mindoro This dramatic painting by artist Jack Fellows illustrates a B-24 coming off an attack on a Japanese destroyer near Mindoro.

 

 

Maj. Gerrity (in the cockpit) and Sgt. Neal (standing in the B-25's nose).5. Major Tom Gerrity’s One Plane War Against the Japanese A pilot scheduled to go home wanted one more crack at the Japanese before he left the Pacific Theater.

 

Butch the German shepherd6. 9 Photos of Dogs in the Pacific Theater During World War II It’s all in the title. Go meet some of the dogs of Fifth Air Force.

 

A painting of a 38th Bomb Group B-25 over a Japanese ship during WWII7. One Minute in Hell Steve Ferguson illustrates some of the final moments of 1/Lt. James A. Hungerpiller and his crew over Simpson Harbor on November 2, 1943.

Preparing for War in the Pacific Theater

Although the 22nd Bomb Group had been formed up in December 1939, they saw next to no activity until only a few short weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor sent everyone into a flurry of activity. “The first change of station after the attack on Pearl Harbor was stunningly sudden,” wrote Lt. Maiersperger. “At 1700 hours, Sunday, 7 December 1941, the members of the 22nd BG were engaged in individual pursuits. By 0730 Monday morning, the air echelon was taking off. For half of us, the immediate route was Memphis, Albuquerque and to Muroc Dry Lake…The other half went a more southern route by way of El Paso. The ground echelon was furiously packing all ground equipment to follow us by rail. We had overnight to load our airplanes with such spares as we could carry — hydraulic fluid, brake seals, starter solenoids and spark plugs — which we knew we would need. About 0300, those of us who lived off the base were allowed to repair our respective quarters, divide our possessions as to those that we’d take with us and the remainder to be loaded into our autos for future disposition, according to the arrangements we could make with our landlords, friends or relatives at that hour in the morning. We wrote out checks to meet our obligations to our creditors and tried to answer the excited questions of our landlords. All we could tell them was that we were leaving that day and had to be back on base by 0600. My landlord drove me back to the base and later delivered my car to my parents in New York City.”

B-26s Flying West

On December 8th, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the air echelon of the 22nd was airborne en route to the West Coast, where it was needed to protect against a possible Japanese attack on California. Most of the planes arrived at Muroc Dry Lake within a couple of days following overnight stops at bases along the way for servicing, crew rest and routine maintenance. This photo shows a flight of three 19th Squadron B-26s flying cross country in typical formation at about this time. (George H. Wilson Collection)

All the B-26 crews in the 22nd Bomb Group were ordered to fly from their former airbase at Langley, Virginia to Muroc Dry Lake, California on December 8th at 0715. The ground echelon was loaded up on a train and sent across the country, arriving on the 12th. Muroc was never intended to be a major airbase, but in the wake of Pearl Harbor the primary concern was moving the units to the west quickly, with the details to be sorted out later.

The ground echelon called Muroc “The Pits”. Living conditions were awful, it was very isolated and subject to extreme temperature changes (as it was located in the Mojave Desert). Several lucky crews from the 33rd Squadron, soon followed by the rest of the air echelon, were sent to on March Field, a much more comfortable base, at the end of December. The ground echelon remained at Muroc until the end of January, at which point the decision to mobilize the 22nd Bomb Group was finalized. Only a week later, the 22nd was leaving the States and heading off to fight the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

 

Read more about the 22nd Bomb Group’s journey in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Crash Landing at Gusap

Nadzab was drenched by heavy rain the night before Fifth Air Force’s big raid on Hollandia on April 16, 1944. When the men of the 22nd Bomb Group rose on the morning of the 16th, they were greeted with overcast skies and plenty of humidity. Six B-24s from each of the four squadron were to be sent to Hollandia, but takeoff was delayed by an hour after the sun broke through the low clouds.

Lieutenant Raysor took off with the 408th Squadron around 0900 hours and everything was running smoothly. About 80 miles in, the Squadron passed Gusap and Raysor pulled away from the rest of the 408th. His airplane’s engines were having trouble and he had to get back to Gusap. The engineer, Sgt. Milford H. Cummings, was told about the engine trouble and jettisoned the bombs and closed the bomb bay doors as the B-24 descended. Cummings warned the crewmen to ready themselves for a crash landing (they were too low to safely bail out), then went back to the cockpit where Raysor told Cummings that he had shut down three of the four engines because the superchargers weren’t working properly.

Cummings knew the pilot had made the wrong decision: the superchargers were not as important to the engines at low altitudes. Unfortunately, it was too late to fix the mistake and the single working engine couldn’t keep the plane in the air. The aircraft kept losing altitude and crashed about a mile from the north end of the runway. Cummings was ejected from the plane and not seriously injured. Only two other crewmen survived the crash. The rest, including Raysor, were killed.

408th Squadron B-24 crash

The 22nd Bomb Group dispatched 24 Liberators on another major Fifth Air Force strike against the Hollandia area on April 16, 1944. Although predicted weather conditions were marginal when the planes departed, the raid was deemed essential since Hollandia was targeted for a surprise invasion by ground forces on April 22nd. Raysor pulled out of the 408th formation with mechanical problems shortly after takeoff and tried to land at Gusap. The plane flew into the ground a mile short of the strip, killing all but three aboard. (Milford H. Cummings Collection)

These men would be the first casualties in what was to be a dark day in the history of Fifth Air Force, although this was the only crash in the 22nd Bomb Group not affected by the terrible weather later that day. Click on the Black Sunday tag if you want to read more stories from the 22nd or other units that were involved on the April 16th Hollandia raid.

 

This story can be found on p. 237 of Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Napalm Experimentation

As the war progressed, the military had been hard at work on new technology for its soldiers. Among the inventions was a substance that would gain notoriety about 20 years later during the Vietnam War: napalm. This sticky gel was highly flammable and typically used for burning away jungle foliage. In June 1945, however, the 22nd and 43rd Bomb Groups were chosen to conduct tests regarding how well a drum of napalm would burn if it was dropped next to wooden surfaces in the water (i.e. boats) and whether a phosphorus or sodium igniter would work better.

This was not the type of mission crews looked forward to. They hated dealing with the napalm-filled drums which were difficult to load, leaked (thereby raising the risk of a catastrophic explosion on board), hung up in the bomb bay and sometimes detonated right after being dropped instead of a few seconds afterward.

On the 12th of June, 34 22nd Bomb Group B-24s joined up with 28 from the 43rd to conduct their tests in the Hong Kong area. Prior to the arrival of these planes, the chosen target had caused some controversy, as Causeway Bay was known to be home to many civilian families. A fair number of them lived aboard boats that the military had been eyeing as napalm targets. In the end, it was decided to still target the area, but make sure families had been evacuated before the strike happened.

As the 22nd’s B-24s flew to the target on the day of the the test, two napalm barrels were jettisoned from one of the planes because they were leaking badly. Another jettisoned all of its barrels because engine trouble forced the pilots to return to base. A third aircraft had one napalm barrel leak, but that was fixed with chewing gum and caramel candy. The run over the target area was somewhat of a letdown. Although most of the barrels exploded on the water as they hoped, cloud cover made it hard to see the targets and crews missed the two high-speed motorized Japanese boats that crews were hoping to destroy.

22nd crews were sent out again on the 13th to target boats in Takao’s harbor. Once again, on the way to the target, a couple of napalm drums were jettisoned because of bad leaking. As the pilots began their runs, the crew of B-24 #241 experienced a close call when the igniter on one of the barrels exploded as it was being dropped. Both the engineer and radio operator were burned as smoke and flames filled the fuselage. Quickly, the engineer sprayed the radio operator with the fire extinguisher and probably saved his life. Fifty feet below the B-24, the troublesome barrel detonated, launching the plane about 75 feet. Two other aircrews were affected by one premature detonation each, although neither aircraft was damaged by the explosion.

Fortunately for the men, no antiaircraft fire was unleashed over Takao, partially thanks to equipment that jammed Japanese guns that relied on radar-aiming technology. Mission results were undetermined, as Formosa was socked in and the experiment was successful, insofar as napalm burned on the water as expected. Aiming, on the other hand, was impossible.

 

 


Read more about these missions in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

YEAH! Goes Down

On this Memorial Day, we want to take some time to remember those who were killed in combat. Among them were several members of a B-26 crew from the 33rd Squadron. Their story is below.

On January 7, 1943, 1/Lt. Leonard T. Nicholson and his crew were flying to Lae with a couple of other B-26s to target ships in the harbor. As the three planes began their bombing run, the Japanese began sending up antiaircraft fire to discourage the American crews. The men flew on and released their bombs. As they turned, YEAH! was hit by two blasts of flak, one of which knocked out the left engine and damaged the hydraulic lines. YEAH!’s bomb bay doors fell open, causing an unsustainable amount of of strain on the only working engine.

Ground Crew Members with B-26 YEAH!

Two unidentified members of the ground crew stand beneath the Squadron insignia on the nose of YEAH!

By this point, nine Zeros had caught up to the B-26s and the pilots knew it was time to get out of there. Nicholson knew there was no way he would make it back to Port Moresby on one overheating engine and let the crew know that they should prepare to ditch the plane. The pilot landed in Hercules Bay, located north of Buna, and the crew hurried to get out of YEAH! Engineer Sgt. Jack G. Mosely and radioman S/Sgt. Joseph P. Papp unfortunately did not escape and went down with the plane. The rest of the men swam to shore, helping the severely injured navigator Lt. Norm E. DeFreese along the way. Once on the beach, gunner Cpl. Thomas A. Moffitt went off to find help for his crew. DeFreese did not live through the night.

The next day, three crewmen were walking towards Buna when they were spotted by Australian Beaufighters flying overhead. Food and a map were dropped to the men below. The relief that they must have felt was destroyed soon after by the sound of a gunshot. Bombardier S/Sgt. William M. Brown was killed by a Papuan Infantry Patrol that had mistaken the Americans for Japanese. The two remaining crewmen, the pilot and co-pilot, were separated during the chaos.

Co-pilot Lt. Jack I. Childers spent a couple of unbearable nights fending off mosquitoes in the open air and three days looking for someone who would help him get back to base. On the second day, Beaufighters espied him once again and dropped supplies. Childers’ situation changed on the third day when he spotted natives on the far side of the river and was able to flag them down. They took him to their village, where he spent a more comfortable night, then was taken to an Australian camp the following day. He soon learned that both Moffitt and Nicholson were alive and had been flown back to camp within the last couple of days. Childers would soon follow them and rejoin the rest of his unit.

This story can be found on p. 166 of our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.