3 More Stories from the 312th

HOT SHOT CHARLIE’s Final Flight
Back in March 1944, A-20G #43-9480 joined the 387th Squadron. A year and two months later, it had been designated the oldest A-20 in the squadron with 600 hours put on the original engines. By that time, it was a difficult aircraft to fly, as it was extremely unstable (possibly due to a bomb blast or hard landing damaging the frame) and black smoke would pour out of the right engine.

On the 5th, 2/Lt. Warren H. Phillips had been assigned HOT SHOT CHARLIE on a mission to Solano. He reported smoke coming from his engine after coming off the target, which wasn’t surprising. The engine, however, finally reached its end life and stopped running. As Phillips continued home on the single working engine, the dead engine burst into flames and Phillips and his gunner, Cpl. Douglas Shafer, were forced to bail out of the A-20.

Shafer landed with cuts and bruises, and Phillips with a broken leg after he slammed into the vertical stabilizer when he bailed out. The pilot was sent to a hospital at Lingayen, then went home. His gunner returned to the 387th.

Hot Shot Charlie

1/Lt. Edward E. Bretch (on the right) of the 387th poses with Capt. Wann V. Robinson in front of HOT SHOT CHARLIE. The Squadronʼs oldest A-20, it was known for its stability problems and questionable engine performance. On May 5, 1945, 2/Lt. Warren H. Phillips flew it to bomb and strafe Solano, in northern Luzon. After leaving the target, one engine stopped running and burst into flames, forcing Phillips and Cpl. Douglas Shafer to bail out. Shafer returned to the Squadron with only cuts and bruises, but a fractured leg sent Phillips to the hospital at Lingayen, and eventually, back to the States. HOT SHOT CHARLIE crashed and burned near Mangaldan. (Wann V. Robinson Collection)

Most Memorable War Experience
In early May 1945, pilot Charles W. Stricker and gunner Ernest R. Reisinger were aboard an A-20 on an especially cloudy day. They were diverted from both their primary and their secondary target due to the bad weather. They flew on to the tertiary target, then headed home to Floridablanca on this much longer flight. As they flew back, Stricker tried to talk to Reisinger over the radio, but his gunner wouldn’t respond. Other pilots told Stricker that Reisinger was hunched over, leading the pilot to believe that his gunner was either severely wounded or dead. Upon landing, Stricker checked on Reisinger and discovered he was fast asleep. “He was astonished that I could sleep through all that,” said Reisinger.

Bringing Home a Souvenir
At the end of May 1945, the 387th and 389th were sent to strike Echague Airdrome. Edward L. Rust, a relatively new pilot in the 389th, used most of his ammunition over the target area. As he flew over a meadow, he saw muzzle flashes coming from a tree at his right. He headed for the tree, using his only working gun, which sounded a lot like a typewriter when he fired it. After he returned to base, his crew chief pulled a sapling half an inch in diameter from a wing. That was when they also noticed that the last eight inches of the propeller blades had been stained green by cut grass. Rust had been so focused on his target that he didn’t realize how low he was flying, nor did he see the tree he hit.

 

Find these stories in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

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Moving Day

Throughout the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific, units had to pick up and move from one base to another as they drove the Japanese northward. Just like a household move, it was organized chaos. Personal items and equipment used by the different sections were packed up into crates, hauled down to a beach and loaded into a waiting Landing Ship Tank (LST). Vehicles were driven on board and tarps were placed over stacks of crates.

Loading LSTs

Airmen of the 312th load Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) in preparation for the voyage to Leyte in November 1944. (Russell L. Sturzebecker Collection)

After a day or two of getting everything and everyone not flying a plane to the next base on board, the men settled in for their sea journey, which could last a week or more. Sleeping quarters might be somewhere below deck or up top, under a tarp. Navy food was typically much better than what the airmen were used to, and on one trip, Adrian Bottge of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group noticed how the sailors “look much healthier than we do. Never realized before how beat up, underfed and jaundiced looking we are.”

On a good trip, the men were able to move to their new location without Japanese interference. There was one terrifying trip when the 345th Bomb Group was attacked by kamikaze pilots on the way to Leyte in November 1944. Tragically, 111 members of that group were killed in that attack.

Upon arrival at the new base, it was time to unload and set up camp. Unloading was always a frenzy. The shipcrews were on a strict schedule, rain or shine, and anything left on board would be taken away when the LST departed. The 312th Bomb Group was also subject to Japanese raids the night the men arrived on Leyte on November 19th. This particular move was not easy for the 312th. Besides the raid, they expected to stay at their temporary camp for a few days, not seven weeks in the rain. Twenty-three inches of rain fell that month, the food was terrible and there was no mail delivery. It took until the end of December for the 312th’s base at Tanauan to be ready for the men.

Unloading LSTs

A section of the 43rd Bomb Group unloads their cargo. Judging by the muddy conditions, this was probably taken at Leyte. (Leon D. Brown Jr. Collection)

Mickey

Delivered to the AAF on July 8, 1944, this “H” model went into service with the 389th Squadron in March 1945. The pilot was Maj. James M. Wylie, the 389th Squadron C.O., and he named the aircraft MICKEY, after his wife’s nickname. When S/Sgt. Orian E. Hackler, the crew chief, asked about a tail identifier, Wylie replied that it would be nice to have “X,” for “X marks the spot.”

Wylie claimed this aircraft was a “pilot’s dream,”, and he flew most of his missions in it. On one, he almost lost control of it over Nichols Field on February 6, 1945. An unexploded 20mm shell tore through one wing and the plane swooped towards the ground before Wylie regained control and returned his damaged mount to Mangaldan. Afterwards, the aircraft received only occasional small arms hits. The profile painting shows MICKEY at Mangaldan during April 1945, with 67 missions arranged around the large spade scoreboard. This aircraft carried a skull and crossbones on the nose, and the crew ID panel, done as a scroll, stated: PILOT ~ MAJ. J.M.WYLIE; on a second line: c.c. T/SGT HACKLER.

In June 1945, Wylie transferred to Headquarters, Far East Air Forces. Seventy-five of his 77 combat missions were flown in MICKEY. The aircraft was assigned next to 1/Lt. Lloyd A. Wilson, but details are lacking. Yet a third pilot also flew the plane before the war ended, and it is his name, “PILOT ~ CAPT. BEARDSLEE” that now appeared on the ID panel, reversed to white lettering on a black background that was on the plane when it was used as a backdrop for Squadron photos taken in late July 1945. By this time, the scoreboard from Maj. Wylie’s service had been removed from inside the spade design, and the name MICKEY had been replaced by LITA~BONITA. The port machine gun also was enhanced with a black background, with the forward half of the area decorated in white. It is this version that is shown on the port insert profile. Probably at this time, but perhaps earlier, a large spade was painted in a similar position on the other side of the plane, incorporating a pin-up girl from a Gil Elvgren work entitled “Fun House.” This is the image on the second profile insert. After the war ended, LITA~BONITA was flown with the rest of the Squadron’s aircraft to Biak, where it was scrapped several years later.

Some of Wiley’s significant missions in MICKEY, all in 1945, were: Tuguegarao, 2/14; Corregidor, 2/16; San Fernando, 3/11; Eiko, 3/29; Saiatau, 3/31; Ipo Dam, 4/25; Mt. Ayaas, 5/13; and Tuguegarao, 6/13.

View the color profile on page 208 of our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

389th Squadron officers

Officers of the 389th Squadron assembled for this photograph at Floridablanca in late July 1945. The 389th gained A-20 pilots from the 387th Squadron when that unit prepared for the projected B-32 conversion. However, that conversion had not been completed before the war ended. From left to right, the men are: (back row) 1/Lt. Charles L. Reynolds, 1/Lt. Everard Holske, 2/Lt. Leonard Eisen, 2/Lt. Dwight L. Gnepper, 1/Lt. Kenneth L. Brown, 2/Lt. Walbert C. Brooks, 2/Lt. Joseph C. Wallman, 2/Lt. John K. Schreiber, Capt. William T. Walsh, 2/Lt. Clough H. Blake, Jr., 2/Lt. John B. Price, 1/Lt. EinoA. Salo, 2/Lt. Howard S. Britton, 2/Lt. Elmer O. Jones and 1/Lt. Henry G. Dacey; (middle row) Capt. Chester H. Hummell, 2/Lt. Thomas P. Mulrooney, Capt. Raymond W. Beardslee, W/O Charles W. Stricker, 2/Lt. George F. Howatt, 2/Lt. Frances P. Delaney, 1/Lt. Frank M. Martin, Capt. Cecil W. Shelton, 1/Lt. Lawrence O. Feldkamp, Capt. Lloyd A. Wilson, 2/Lt. Hugh T. Mulhern, 1/Lt. Joseph C. Benet, Jr., 2/Lt. Elliot W. Wooldridge, F/O William A. Bartles, III and Capt. Leonard G. Dulac; (front row) 1/Lt. Donald K. Longer, Capt. Philip H. Schaaf, F/O Jack R. England, 2/Lt. Martin E. Heck, F/O Glenn V. Walters, 1/Lt. Martin Sobel, 2/Lt. Lawrence R. Poythress, 1/Lt. Harry T. Sharkey, 1/Lt. John G. Moore, Capt. Frederick H. Wood and F/O Guy P. Clark, Jr. LITA BONITA, formerly MICKEY, is the subject of Profile #28 in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s. Capt. Lloyd A. Wilson renamed the aircraft, which Capt. Raymond W. Beardslee also flew. (Eino A. Salo Collection)

 

3 Short Stories from the 312th

While our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s doesn’t have as many long stories as some of our other books, there are a lot of great short stories sprinkled throughout the 312th Bomb Group’s history. We picked out three of them to help you get to know the 312th better.

A Bronze Star for a Creative Mind
Theodore R. Tanner, a pilot in the 386th Squadron, flew more than 70 missions during his service in the Pacific Theater. Oddly enough, none of them were the reason behind him being awarded the Bronze Star in 1944. Instead, the award came out of an idea that changed combat photography. There were problems with combat photography on an A-20: it took about half a day to install the combat camera in the tail, which meant crews could only load film during the day (potentially degrading the film’s quality) and the alternate camera location of the engine nacelle was too shaky to allow for decent photography.

Tanner designed a new mount in the lower tunnel hatch of the A-20 that had a bracket which could clear the lower gunner’s door and fold in place during a flight. This mount allowed ground crews to install or remove cameras in five seconds and remove the camera film at night. Once V Bomber Command heard about Tanner’s innovative design, he was awarded his Bronze Star and his new mount became part of the light bomber’s standard equipment.

Obscured Vision
First Lieutenant Larry Folmar was flying a mission at But on April 26, 1944, when he had an unusual close call during a bombing run. The bombs used by the A-20s on this day were 500 pounds each and set with one-second delay fuses. Given the short delay, pilots had to be very careful to maintain their distance from each other so they wouldn’t end up flying into a bomb blast. This time, Folmar got caught by a blast of mud from a bomb dropped by the preceding aircraft. The mud coated Folmar’s windshield, making it impossible for him to see what was ahead of him.

Larry Folmar with his A-20

1/Lt. Larry Folmar of the 386th Squadron (shown here as a captain with his aircraft, CALAMITY JANE), had an unusual experience at But Airdrome on April 26, 1944. Mud from an exploding bomb covered Folmarʼs windshield, obscuring his view. He turned for the coast, hoping that “one of the planes ahead might skip a bomb off into the water, causing a blast of sea water that I might fly through.” That was what happened, clearing the windshield enough for Folmar to return to Gusap. (Mack E. Austin Collection)

While wondering how he was going to land when he returned home, Folmar had an idea. He wrote, “I then remembered that the far end of the landing strip we were hitting was at the coastline. It occurred to me that one of the planes ahead might, just might, skip a bomb off into the water, causing a blast of sea water that I might fly through. As I live and breathe that is what happened.” While the spray wasn’t enough to completely clear his windshield, it was enough to get home and land safely.

The Lighter Side of Missions
Once in a while, members of the ground crews were granted permission to fly with pilots on their missions. One day in June 1944, T/Sgt. George K. Hanks, Jr. rode along with 1/Lt. Robert C. Smith on a mission to a Japanese escape route behind Madang. Hanks decided to bring along his own bomb, a large rock, for Smith to release once they were over the target area. Hanks’ contribution wasn’t the only odd object dropped on the Japanese. Captain Peter J. Horan, an Australian Liaison Officer from the 389th Squadron, took his own “Bring Your Own Bomb” approach by unloading nails, grenades, books and rocks, among other things, on the targets below.

A tongue-in-cheek entry from the 312th’s Group history for June 1944 noted that the repeated missions southeast of Tadji had a strange effect on the A-20s. They “gradually acquired the ability to fly the course to Wewak, sans human control.” One pilot also reported that “his plane automatically buzzed down over Wewak and he couldn’t get control of the craft again until 3 strafing passes had been made.”

The Joker

The Joker Clark Field 14 JAN 312BG

The Joker by Jack Fellows

On the Philippine island of Luzon, elements of the 312th Bombardment Group, nicknamed the Roarin’ 20’s, sweep across Japanese-occupied Clark Field near Manila on January 14, 1945. The attack was executed in a line abreast formation at 100 feet or less above the airfield complex. First lieutenant Wilbur L. Cleveland of the 387th Bomb Squadron, flying an A-20G sporting a winning poker hand with the face of Batman’s nemesis, “the Joker,” narrowly avoids colliding with the squadron commanding officer, Capt. John C. Alsup, in his fatally damaged A-20. A burst of flak had just exploded in the bomb bay of Alsup’s A-20, causing it to nose up and burst into flames. It then crashed into the target, killing him and his gunner, Cpl. Oscar C. Rush. The third plane was flown by 1/Lt. Ormonde J. Frison of the 386th Squadron. Clark Field was the most important and heavily defended Japanese airfield on Luzon, and the low-level attacks were key to neutralizing Japanese airpower on the island during the critical week of the American amphibious landing at nearby Lingayen Gulf. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Buy a copy of this print on our website.

Repost: A Fiery Landing

This post first appeared on October 2, 2015.

Nine planes took off for Utarom, a Japanese air base on the west coast of Dutch New Guinea, on the morning of September 28, 1944. The mission was soon cancelled due to bad weather over their target and the A-20 crews headed back to base. Shortly into the return journey, 2/Lt. Kenneth S. DuFour lost oil pressure in one engine of his plane. He shut it down, jettisoned his bombs and told his gunner, S/Sgt. Thomas E. Smith, to bail out if the other engine quit. For the time being, things were stable, and DuFour continued flying back to Hollandia. Above him, 2/Lt. Walter F. Hill kept a watchful eye on DuFour’s A-20.

As DuFour approached Tanahmerah Bay, he followed the common landing procedure of switching from the bomb bay tanks to the wing tanks, only to have vapor lock shut down the remaining working engine. His A-20 went into a spiral dive and DuFour worked furiously to regain control of his plane by easing off the rudder trim and switching on the booster pumps. The engine restarted and the pilot got his plane back in control. For a short time, Hill thought DuFour’s A-20 would plunge into the water and was relieved after he pulled out of the dive. During the chaos, Smith bailed out with Hill watching him float towards the cliffs on the west side of the bay.

DuFour slowly took his aircraft up to 3000 feet in order to clear the mountains that stood between him and Hollandia. When he could not contact the tower, he decided to land on a dirt strip next to the runway. As he attempted to lower his landing gear, only the nose wheel came down. DuFour aborted the landing, determining that he would be better off ditching in nearby Sentani Lake. The descent to the lake was too difficult to control, leading the A-20 to crash into nearby trees instead. During the landing, the pilot was knocked unconscious.

When he woke up, he was surrounded by fuel and fire. DuFour attempted to escape the inferno through the canopy, but it wouldn’t open. Instead, he used a pistol to break the Plexiglas and climbed out of the plane. Soon after getting out, he heard the ammunition exploding. This worried the pilot, as he was unaware that his gunner had bailed out and thought Smith was still trapped.

Meanwhile, Hill landed at Hollandia and headed for a PT boat where he and others would search for Smith. A member of the 25th Liaison Squadron, T/Sgt. James D. Nichols, would help him with the search from the air. As they began looking, they saw a native canoe with Smith sitting in it. Other than minor cuts and bruises, he was uninjured after landing at Cape Korongwabb.

Back in the jungle, DuFour was certain that he landed near Hollandia and walked back in the direction of the base, which happened to be five miles away. After a six hour walk that included several stream crossings, the pilot heard an engine and began walking towards the sound for about 25 yards before he emerged from the jungle surrounding the base. DuFour walked into the closest tent, waking the occupant from a sound slumber.

The soldier drove the pilot to the hospital where he was treated for first, second and third degree burns over 30% of his body. All of his hair and part of his ears were burned off, as well as half the skin on his forehead. His hands and arms were also badly burned. At the hospital, skin grafts failed and he was transferred to the plastic surgery center at Northington Hospital in Alabama, where he stayed for six months. Once he recovered, he returned to flying status near the end of the war.

This story can be found in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

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

Port Moresby

The town that would later become the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, was a major staging base for the Allies during World War II. Port Moresby’s air fields, named for their distance from the city, included: 3 Mile (Kila Kila), 5 Mile (Ward), 7 Mile (Jackson), 12 Mile (Berry), 14 Mile (Schwimmer), and 17 Mile (Durand). It was crucial for the Allies to hold onto this territory, as it was the last piece of land between the Japanese to the north and Australia to the south. The city’s occupants were subject to many Japanese bombing raids until September 1943. Postwar, Port Moresby transformed from an Australian territory to the Papua New Guinea capital in 1975. Today, all that remains of World War II are artifacts and steel matting from the runways.

Port Moresby then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the Port Moresby complex as it appeared in December 1942. At right is Port Moresby today, taken from Google Maps.

Floridablanca

Translated from Spanish as “white flower,” Floridablanca was settled as a Spanish mission in 1823. Not much is known about the area’s history, but it was taken over by the Japanese during World War II, then liberated once the Allies moved that far north. The 312th Bomb Group and 348th Fighter Group both used the air base on Floridablanca for a short time. The Philippine Air Force now uses the base and it has been renamed Basa Air Base.

Floridablanca

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Floridablanca as it appeared in 1946. At right is Floridablanca today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Owi Island

Owi’s only inhabitants before World War II consisted of two families, one at each end of the small island. Shortly after the arrival of Allied forces in 1944, the natives left. It took about three weeks to build the airstrip, which consisted of coral, a difficult surface to land on when it was wet. Owi was used between June and November 1944, then abandoned as U.S. forces pushed north. Traces of the runway can still be seen today.

Owi then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo at the top, taken from an upcoming book, is Owi Island as it appeared in August 1944. Above is Owi Island today, taken from Google Maps.

Finschhafen

In 1885, Finschhafen was settled by the German New Guinea Company. About 15 years later, it was abandoned after disease spread rapidly among the settlers and resulted in the failure of two different colonization attempts. At some point before World War II started, Lutherans built a mission station on Finschhafen. The Japanese took over the area on March 10, 1942 and held it until Australian forces moved in and captured Finschhafen on October 2, 1943. Allied forces expanded the base and used it until the end of the war. After the war ended, a huge hole was dug and much of the leftover equipment was buried. These days, Finschhafen is a quiet location.

Finschhafen then and now

Click to enlarge. In the undated photo at the top is Finschhafen sometime around World War II. Above is Finschhafen today, taken from Google Maps.

Gusap

Previously uninhabited, Gusap was built up into an eight-runway airfield by U.S. Army engineers. It was used from October 1943 to July 1944 by several units that included the 49th Fighter Group and 312th Bomb Group. This location was ideal for staging missions by fighters and light bombers. After the war was over, remaining aircraft were scrapped. Today, only one of the eight strips is still being used by aircraft and is noted by the balloon in the right image. The rest of the area has been turned into a cattle ranch. With the radical transformation of Gusap, the exact location of the airfields seen in the left image has become unknowable.

Gusap then and now

Click to enlarge. In the top photo, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is part of Gusap’s airfields as they appeared in December 1943. Above is Gusap today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_port_moresby.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Port-Moresby

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/philippines/floridablanca/index.html

http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php/Floridablanca,_Pampanga

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owi_Airfield

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/owi/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_finschafen.html

http://engineersvietnam.com/engineers/WWII/owi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finschhafen

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/papua-new-guinea/morobe-and-madang-provinces/finschhafen-area/introduction

https://www.britannica.com/place/Finschhafen

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/gusap/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusap_Airport

Tough Day at Utarom

By August 1944, months of Allied advancement in the Southwest Pacific had forced the Japanese back to the port town of Utarom and its airdrome, Kaimana, their only major airfield left on New Guinea. On the 11th of that month, 24 A-20 crews from the 386th and 387th Squadrons were briefed by Maj. William Pagh, who told the men that there were multiple antiaircraft guns guarding Kaimana and pointed out their locations. He recommended that they stay out of the range of the guns. Targets for the mission were mainly barges just off the Utarom coastline.

Arriving over Utarom with Pagh in the lead position, the pilots spread out as they looked for targets. Pagh spotted a couple of barges off Kaimana’s shoreline, and, ignoring his own advice from earlier, made a run on them. As he pulled up and exposed the belly of his aircraft, an antiaircraft position on the north end of the runway opened up. The right engine of Pagh’s A-20 was fatally damaged, leading the plane to drop and cartwheel into the water. Pilots who watched the scene said that the “hill north of the strip looked like a solid sheet of flame from 8 to 10 M/G machine gun] positions there.”

Kaimana Drome at Utarom

By August 1944, Utarom was the last major Japanese operational airdrome in Dutch New Guinea. On August 11, 1944, Maj. William S. Pagh, the Group Operations Officer, led the 386th and 387th Squadrons in an attack against it and was shot down and killed. (Claud C. Haisley Collection)

Utarom was nothing but chaos. Pilots were flying in every direction, making it more difficult to make any sort of attack run without worrying about being hit by an antiaircraft gunner from below or accidentally damaging a fellow crew’s A-20. At some point, the A-20 flown by 1/Lt. Frank W. Wells was hit and he issued a mayday call. While 1/Lt. Frank Hogan had spotted Wells’ plane about half a mile ahead of his own, he did not note any hits. Hogan lost sight of the A-20 soon after and it is speculated that Wells crashed into the sea.

Once it was time to head back to Hollandia, Hogan looked for the other A-20s in his squadron, picking up Capt. Joseph B. Bilitzke flying in BABY BLITZ. Both pilots circled the area, looking for any sign of Wells or any other 386th aircraft that still might be in the area. BABY BLITZ was suddenly hit by flak, damaging both the rudder and vertical stabilizer, and knocking out most of Bilitzke’s instrument panel. Hogan and Bilitzke then headed for the nearest base, Owi, and Bilitzke made a hair-raising landing with four armed bombs still in his bomb bay. The bombs, three of which were secure and the fourth hanging precariously, were defused the next day.

Reflecting on the day’s losses, pilots realized that the location of the barges may have been a trap meant to lure pilots towards shore gun installations. While the briefing prior to the mission discussed the locations of the biggest antiaircraft guns, it’s possible that the locations of other nearby antiaircraft guns had not been mentioned. Pilots were also inadvertently putting their lives and the lives of their gunners at risk by exposing aircraft bellies to antiaircraft fire. Overall, the mission to Utarom was painful for the 312th.

Mission to Babo

Jack Fellows A-20 art titled Mission to Babo

Babo Airdrome was a key base for Japanese operations on the Vogelkop Peninsula of Dutch New Guinea. Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, commander of Fifth Air Force, hoped that this attack would catch Babo’s aircraft on the ground, but with about fifty antiaircraft positions, the Japanese base was still a formidable challenge for any attacker, especially at low level. On July 9, 1944, Col. Strauss led 24 A-20s from the 388th and 389th Squadrons against Babo. The surprise attack was highly successful, but it came at a steep price to the 389th: five men and three aircraft.

One flight leader, 1/Lt. Kenneth I. Hedges, shown here in THE QUEEN OF SPADES, lost both of his wingmen on this raid. On his left wing, at the upper right in the painting, was 1/Lt. Earl G. Hill, with his gunner Sgt. Ray Glacken. Their A-20 is shown on fire before beginning a fatal descent. A short time later, the wing spar burned through and the plane plummeted into Bentoni Bay. The explosion on the ground at the upper left shows the A-20G of 1/Lt. Walter H. Van and his gunner, S/Sgt. Gilbert V. Cooper, exploding on a taxiway on the airdrome, a victim of the antiaircraft gunners. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

This print can be purchased on our website.

From a Layout to a Book: Behind the Scenes at IHRA

Last week, we gave you an idea of how we get our information, compile it, and begin to write a compelling narrative. We left off with the chapter layout process and now we’ll finish the book. Before we get to the rest of the chapters as well as the appendices, let’s focus on the color section.

The color section consists of color photos we received, aircraft profiles, nose art closeups (this is a recent addition as of Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s and Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I), paintings, and patches. As for plane profiles, one plane from each squadron during each quarter of the war is chosen based on availability of photos, unique attributes (such as camouflage schemes and hardware), coverage of a plane, and elaborate nose art.

Once planes are chosen, we gather up all the photos and written information we have into what we call profile packages. These are sent to Jack Fellows, our profile artist, who creates the detailed profiles you see in our books. Jack is dedicated to his craft, and will often conduct his own research if he spots something unusual. At this point, just like the chapter material, profiles will go through several revisions before they are finalized. New information is incorporated as we get a hold of it.

B-17s and a B-24 profile from Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.

B-17s and a B-24 profile from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.

As for the color paintings, each squadron in a bomb group is represented by a painting of a particular mission agreed upon by that squadron. We then interviewed members who were on each mission to begin filling in the blanks. After completing the interviews, we go back to our research for any details that aren’t fully clear, and then write an extensive description of the mission for our artist to storyboard. Because the artist as well as IHRA want these paintings to be as accurate as possible, this process can easily take a few months or more. Finally, though, the paintings are ready to be added to the color section. The cover painting, a decision made by IHRA and Jack Fellows, is chosen to represent each bomb group and goes through the same research procedure.

Let’s move on to the appendices. Standardized after Warpath Across the Pacific, each appendix covers (I) group leadership, (II) recognition of every man in a specific bomb group who died during World War II, (III) an index of every plane flown by a bomb group, (IV) the markings and insignia, and finally, (V) a history of each plane in the color profiles. The information in Appendix I is probably the easiest to get, as leadership information was prominent and noted in several places. Appendix II is mainly compiled through information from Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) and a separate casualty list. This information is cross-referenced with the narrative text and updated as needed.

A page from Appendix I (later II in the other books) in Warpath Across the Pacific.

A page from Appendix I (later II in the other books) in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Most of Appendix III is straightforward, since we have a lot of the plane, pilot and crew chief names and other details from previous research. However, some of the details, especially serial numbers and when an aircraft was assigned or transferred, require a lot of effort to track down, and a few may never be discovered. As with Appendix II, this information has to be cross-checked with other mentions in the rest of the book. The fourth appendix is the most challenging for both the author and person doing the layout. It requires not only understanding the overall markings and insignia used by each squadron as well as the group as a whole, but also when there were changes in these markings, and information about mechanical modifications that were made. To say the least, it can get incredibly detailed and technical. Choosing the photos for this appendix is a whole other matter. They must not be duplicates of photos already used and need to be a good illustration of what was written in the text.

This appendix is loaded with photos (from 75 on the low end to more than 100), which can take a few days or more to clean up and arrange in the layout. After a preliminary layout is complete, the text is edited and, much to the layout person’s chagrin, photos will sometimes have to be rearranged, added, or deleted. Just like previous appendices, the information here is also cross-checked. Shifting to Appendix V, this one isn’t nearly as complicated as the previous appendix. Thanks to the work necessary to create the profiles, a lot of the history is already complete. Information is added to its fullest extent, then fact checked by people familiar with a plane’s history, and, as before, cross-checked with the rest of the mentions in the book.

Almost finished now. What’s left is the glossary, bibliography, acknowledgements and index. Words selected for the glossary are typically abbreviations such as P.O.W., Japanese and Allied plane types and terms used in the chapters. The bibliography and acknowledgments are pretty straightforward. We have running lists for both that are added to the layout and formatted for printing. Putting together the index is a task in and of itself. It is a tedious but necessary process done by hand that can easily take a week or more. Once it’s done and checked over, everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. The book is almost out the door. The endsheets and cover are readied for printing. A final-final check (or two) over everything is completed, then the book is uploaded to the printer’s server. We wait for several nerve-wracking days to get the blue lines (a preview to make sure everything looks good), then send it back with an ok or a list of changes. After we approve of any changes, the printing begins. A few weeks later, our next book is ready for you.

Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I ready to be shipped out

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