At Great Expense

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints, ten Artist’s Proofs, and ten canvas reproductions (same dimensions)

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 16.5″ x 20.5″

Paper Size: 24″ x 26″

Central to the success of Fifth Air Force during the war in the Southwest Pacific was commanding general George C. Kenney’s mastery of long-range bombing operations. Well before April 1945, the 345th Bomb Group pushed their medium bombers to the limits of their range on minimum-altitude bombing operations, and great pride was taken by all squadrons at the destruction of distant Japanese bases. In April 1945, a number of exposed cargo ships were discovered to be at Saigon, in French Indochina. Medium bomber units from Thirteenth Air Force attempted strikes on the base but turned back before they could reach it, and Kenney, unhappy with the result, assigned the mission to a crack medium bomber group, the 345th, for April 28th.

The Air Apaches’ group commander at the time was Col. Chester Coltharp, who had a reputation for achieving the impossible. Coltharp was to lead the 501st and 499th Bomb Squadrons to bomb and strafe Japanese shipping targets just east of Saigon, about 30 miles up the Dong Nai River. Auxiliary fuel tanks were loaded aboard 15 B-25s at San Marcelino before they were taken south to a staging base at Puerto Princesa, 800 miles east of the Dong Nai. After an early morning departure, two 499th (Bats Outta Hell) B-25s left the formation with mechanical problems, leaving 13 aircraft to finish the strike. Colonel Coltharp, in the 501st B-25 “MY DUCHESS,” led them to landfall at Phan Thiet, about 100 miles WNW of Saigon. The plan was to join up with a P-38 fighter escort, then approach the target from the north and egress downriver, skirting the heavy defenses that protected Saigon. But when Coltharp and the other B-25 pilots made landfall, the P-38s were nowhere to be found. The bombers would have to go in alone.

The primary objective of this anti-shipping strike was a 5800-ton freighter known to be anchored alongside a riverbank studded with flak guns. This ship was attacked by one of the youngest pilots in the 345th Group, 20 year-old 1/Lt. Ralph E. “Peppy” Blount, Jr. who was leading the 501st’s third flight. Blount’s aircraft, B-25J-11 #43-36199, is seen in the foreground having released its 500-pound bombs, one hitting the vessel amidships, another hitting the well deck and detonating, and the third landing long, exploding against the riverbank. Following Blount was his wingman, 2/Lt. Vernon M. Townley, Jr. His aircraft was hit by flak and set afire while approaching the target, but he still managed to line up on the ship and release his ordinance, only to be hit by another flak burst, causing his B-25 to snap-roll over and dive into the ground, killing all aboard. Blount’s #199, also hit by flak, continued to attack target vessels downriver, next shooting up a large sailing vessel, which left a seven-foot long piece of its mast embedded in the horizontal stabilizer. With substantial structural damage to his aircraft, Blount had to struggle for the next five hours to reach Palawan, 750 miles distant, which he did with only a few gallons of fuel left in the tanks. The 501st Bomb Squadron successfully attacked and destroyed the targets assigned to it but at a high price: three B-25s and their crews were lost on this mission. A Distinguished Unit Citation was awarded to the 501st for their bravery.

Additional details about this mission can be found in this post. This painting is published in our book Warpath Across the Pacific. Purchase a copy of this print on our website.

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Repost: That Saga-Writing Kavieng Cat Crew

Seventy-five years ago today, a PBY Catalina pilot performed a series of daring rescues. His bravery was the subject of a post back in June 2014 and is being reposted today.

Meet Lt. (J.G.) Nathan Gordon. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing three aircrews near Kavieng on February 15, 1944. His crew received  high praise for the daring rescues made that day. Admiral Halsey sent a telegram saying, “Please pass my admiration on to that saga writing Kavieng Cat crew.”

Here’s a short video of Gordon talking about how he saved the men. One of the crews that was rescued by the men on his Catalina was the subject of the previous post. Don’t forget to read their story after you watch the video.

Medium Bombardment Attack and Aviation

We’re always glad to see how much video footage from World War II is so easily accessible to us more than 70 years after it was first taken. This film is no exception. It was meant to introduce life in the Pacific Theater to the men who were transferring over from the European Theater. The film focuses on a familiar bomb group: the 345th. After covering some of the basics in the Pacific, there’s some great footage taken from bombing missions that you won’t want to miss.

The Disappearance of Capt Kizzire’s Crew

On the night of November 26th, 1943, the 345th Bomb Group was assigned a raid against Boram Airdrome. Expecting heavy antiaircraft fire, Captain William L. Kizzire and his fellow 498th Bomb Squadron pilot Lt. Melvin Best debated how best to handle a shot-out engine. A B-25 could fly on a single engine if the propeller was feathered, but if it couldn’t be feathered, the drag created by a windmilling prop would keep the B-25 from flying for very long. They decided the best strategy was to fly out to sea and wait for an Allied submarine to pick them up.

The next day, the 498th took the worst of the ack-ack. They were the last over the target, so the antiaircraft gunners had the most time to prepare. As Kizzire led his flight to the Boram coastline, he spotted a wooden ship in the harbor to strafe. A well-aimed shell from a nearby freighter took out the right engine on Kizzire’s B-25 IMPATIENT VIRGIN. Over the radio, Best, his left wingman, heard “God-a-mighty, I can’t feather it.” The oil reservoir used for feathering the propeller was damaged.

In the heat of the moment, Kizzire deviated from the prepared strategy, and instead flew about 35 miles down the coast to a suitable spot to ditch the B-25. He landed in Murik Lake, a lagoon about five feet deep at the mouth of the Sepik River. Everyone climbed out of the aircraft and fellow aircrews circling above dropped supplies to the downed airmen. Back at Bomber Command, Col. Jarred V. Crabb tried to get a Navy Catalina out to rescue the crew. He was unsuccessful.

B-25 Impatient Virgin takes off

B-25D-5 #41-30046, IMPATIENT VIRGIN, seen here taking off, was hit by antiaircraft fire near Wewak on November 27, 1943 and crash-landed into the shallow water of Murik Lagood about 35 miles east of the target. Captain William L. Kizzire of the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group and his crew reached shore safely but eventually fell into the hands of the Japanese. (Clifford C. Cottam Collection)

Lieutenant Ralph Robinette took off on a search for the crew the next morning with clothes and boots for each man as well as survival items to hold them over until they could be rescued. Kizzire’s navigator, 1/Lt. Joseph W. Carroll, and another crewmember were spotted near the lagoon and the supplies were dropped nearby. Robinette wrote a note telling them to wait by the lagoon for a Catalina and handed it to his co-pilot to drop from the flare shoot, but, in all the excitement, he forgot to do so. After Robinette flew back to Port Moresby, he secured a Catalina and headed back to the lagoon with the crew. Approaching the area, they spotted three flares west of the lagoon. Above the Catalina flew an unwelcome visitor, a Japanese Betty bomber.

Reluctantly, the pilot called off the search in case the pilot of the Betty called in some fighters to attack the Catalina. Around sunrise the next morning, the Catalina returned, the crew aboard fruitlessly searching the area for an hour and a half. About an hour later, another Catalina showed up with a fighter escort, also searching for the downed crew. They were never found. It wasn’t until March 1944 when three names from Kizzire’s crew were mentioned over an unofficial shortwave broadcast in English. These three men were alive and safe after being captured in Wewak. It was the last thing anyone ever heard about the crew.

 

This isn’t the only story from the November 27th raid at Boram. Read another one here.

The First Major Attack on Rabaul

As the Allied forces looked beyond their current situation in October 1943, they were determined to neutralize the threat presented by the Japanese at Rabaul in order to keep moving northwest toward the Philippines. It was time to initiate a series of heavy attacks on the area, the first of which was scheduled for October 12th. Over 100 B-25s from the 345th and 38th Bomb Groups, three P-38 squadrons, 40 planes from the 3rd Bomb Group, and more than 80 B-24s from the 90th and 43rd Bomb Groups joined forces with RAAF P-40s, Beaufighters and Beauforts. They were up against a powerful foe made up of almost 300 aircraft spread out on the airfields surrounding Rabaul as well as nearly 400 antiaircraft guns. A number of ships were also sitting in the harbor at this time.

This formidable Allied force was to split up in order to tackle the defenses on each field: the 345th and 38th would attack Vunakanau, the 3rd would take on Rapopo, Beaufighters were to hit Tobera, then the B-24s would take care of the shipping in Simpson Harbor. As the formations flew toward their specific target areas, they knew the best thing for them at the start of this strike would be the element of surprise. It worked.

Flying over the hillside, the 498th Squadron began firing on the rows of Japanese aircraft sitting on Tobera’s airfield. Maintenance workers that had been working on planes quickly ran for cover and men in the B-25s noticed that the antiaircraft guns were still covered up and pointing the wrong way. The B-25s also disrupted the takeoffs and landings of several Japanese planes. As the 498th worked over its target area with machine guns and parafrags, Japanese antiaircraft gunners started firing back and dislocated part of the right aileron on 1/Lt. Kenneth C. Dean’s B-25. Dean and his crew were able to return to base without further incident.

Under Attack at Vunakanau

This Japanese “Zero” fighter was caught on the main runway during the October 12th attack on Vunakanau. It was strafed repeatedly by the waves of aircraft as they passed overhead but shows little evidence of damage in this photo taken from aircraft #220 of the 38th Bomb Group’s 71st Squadron. Strafing damage rarely showed up in belly camera photography. Two squadrons from the 38th attacked Vunakanau immediately behind the 345th. (John C. Hanna Collection)

Among the Japanese on the ground was 18-year-old Petty Officer Masajiro Kawato, who had been assigned to 253 Kokutai. That day, he was at Tobera to deal with some paperwork for his unit. Instead, he wound up defending the airfield from the Allied attack. His experiences during the strike can be found in Warpath Across the Pacific.

With each squadron’s attack on the airfields, the Japanese defenses increased as Rabaul turned into a fully armed and operational battle station. Japanese fighters attacked the enemy aircraft, with the fiercest attacks directed at the new wave of Allied aircraft: the B-24s. Two were shot down. Once the Allies left the area and began to analyze claims and photography, it was clear that this raid was a success. Approximately 100 Japanese planed on the ground were destroyed and 26 more were shot down. Several ships and harbor facilities also sustained damage.

War Weary

War Weary B-25 painting by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 28.5″ x 24″

Paper Size: 34.5″ x 24″

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

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

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

 

Read more of this story here. This print is available for purchase on our website.

A Training Mission Goes Awry

Shortly after a tense flight on August 15, 1944, the co-pilot of QUITCH, 2/Lt. Edward L. Bina, was promoted to first pilot and offered some rest and relaxation in Sydney. He declined and returned to flying duty with the 501st Squadron, 345th Bomb Group on August 28th for a training mission. This was a routine strafing mission against Japanese positions on Biak, an island in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). The attack went off without any major issues. After Bina completed his runs, he formed up with the other B-25s about 20 miles off the island, but as he did, a cylinder in the left engine of THE EAGER BEAVER blew, which ripped an 18-inch hole in the engine cowling.

Bina asked the engineer for advice, who recommended he climb to 3000 feet and then fly back to Mokmer Airdrome. After leveling off, Bina throttled back the engines and the rest of the upper cylinders in the left engine blew, taking off the rest of the cowling and severing the fuel lines. What remained of the engine caught fire, and fuel began leaking into the navigator’s compartment. They were only 12 miles southeast of the airdrome, but that wasn’t close enough to reach Mokmer. The crew prepared to ditch.

The Eager Beaver B-25

This photo shows the 71 mission markers on B-25D #41-30078, THE EAGER BEAVER, sometime before the aircraft was ditched on August 28, 1944 near Mokmer Airdrome by pilot 2/Lt. Edward L. Bina. Cylinders on the B-25’s left engine blew, causing major damage to the wing. The crew survived and later returned to Mokmer. (Howard J. Dean Collection)

Right before making contact with the water, the co-pilot jettisoned the overhead escape hatch, which created a wind tunnel that sucked the flames into the cockpit and scorched the three men in that section of the aircraft. After the landing, Bina sat in the cockpit questioning whether or not he was still alive, then concluded he was and quickly exited the plane. He helped the radio operator out and both cleared THE EAGER BEAVER as it started to sink.

Within 30 minutes of the water landing, the Navy cruiser USS Long Beach had rescued the whole crew. Bina was treated to a dinner that was far better than anything he had eaten in awhile. After he returned to his unit, Bina told his fellow officers about the pastries, fresh salad and roast turkey that he consumed while sitting at a table with linens, etched crystal glasses and silverware with the ship’s crest. In a way, the ditching was almost worth the meal.

 

Find this week’s story on page 181 of Warpath Across the Pacific.

23 Days at Sea

After a three-day break from combat missions, the 345th sent six planes each from the 498th and 500th Squadrons on March 10, 1945 to patrol the east coast of French Indochina. It promised to be an eventful patrol when the 500th Squadron encountered two Japanese ships, one of which was the 5239-ton tanker Seishin Maru. This, along with a 10,000-ton freighter, were attacked and strafed. The Seishin Maru was sunk and the freighter was severely damaged.

A little further south, the 498th spotted a 2500-ton tanker anchored near the Qui Nhon shoreline, which was promptly attacked by the B-25 pilots. Second Lieutenant Benjamin F. Chambers skipped a 500-pound bomb into the ship, which, instead of exploding a few seconds after hitting the ship, exploded right as Chambers’ B-25 passed overhead. Bauduy Grier, the radio operator, likened the bomb blast to being hit on the bottom of one’s feet with a baseball bat. After checking over everything, it seemed like the aircraft was just fine, and Chambers began the 700-mile journey back to base. Trouble began about halfway through the trip when the plane started vibrating severely.

When Grier looked out a window, he saw smoke coming out of the back of the left engine. Apparently, a fragment from that bomb holed the oil line and the engine was beginning to overheat. Chambers shut down the engine to buy the crew some time, but the propeller started windmilling and dramatically reduced the aircraft’s speed. Equipment was tossed overboard to lighten the B-25 as much as possible, then the crew braced for impact before the plane hit the water.

Grier, who was knocked unconscious by the crash, woke up to water rushing into his compartment. He and the tail gunner, Sgt. James L. Lane, escaped the sinking plane and yelled the names of their fellow crewmen in hopes of locating them. Unfortunately, no one answered their calls. After grabbing a one-man life raft, Grier swam out and away from the plane with Lane. It took all of 90 seconds from when it first crashed for the B-25 to sink beneath the waves.

B-25 #43-36044

Plane #044 of the 498th Squadron, 345th Bomb Group was damaged by one of its own bombs during an attack on a merchant ship along the French Indochina coast on March 10, 1945. The pilot managed to keep it airborne for about two hours but was finally forced to ditch in the middle of the South China Sea. The radio operator, Sgt. Bauduy R. Grier, survived 23 days in a life raft before he was rescued during a chance encounter with an American submarine. This photo was taken shortly before the aircraft was lost. (Francis R. Breen Collection)

High above them, two B-25s circled for a few minutes before they were forced to head home. Before leaving, they radioed the coordinates of the downed airmen to a ground station. Back in the sea, the main life raft had inflated before the plane sank and began drifting away from Grier and Lane, the latter of whom was holding tightly to an oxygen bottle that popped up to avoid drowning. Grier knew they needed both rafts and told Lane to stick with him while he swam after the raft. Lane refused and Grier swam off, catching the raft after about five minutes.

He then climbed aboard and, calling for Lane, tried to fight the 12-foot waves to get back to his friend. After ten minutes of rowing, Grier realized it was hopeless. He broke down in tears, feeling frustrated and scared, not knowing how long it would be until he was rescued—if he ever was. Unbeknownst to him, the search for his crew had already started and continued into the next day. No sign of life was seen from the air and the 345th assumed all had been lost at sea.

Twenty-three days later, on April 2, 1945, Grier was still alive. He was badly sunburned, dehydrated, lost a third of his weight and had developed several salt water ulcers on his body, but he was alive. At this point, he was napping in the raft when a loud him woke him. Jumping up, he scanned the sky for aircraft, but the sky was empty. On the horizon, Grier saw a submarine heading his way. He found a whistle on the raft and started blowing an S.O.S. call. It was the U.S.S. Sealion, which was on its way to a rendezvous with the U.S.S. Guavina. The watch spotted Grier’s raft, and even though no one saw any signs of life, they decided to check it out anyway.

A rope with a weighted ball was thrown to the raft. The downed airman caught it and the raft was brought in. For the first time in more than three weeks, Grier got out of that raft. He was given a small amount of food and water, pills to help him sleep and some morphine for the pain. Soon after, he was back on dry land and in a hospital for treatment. It wasn’t long before he was out of the hospital and heading home to the United States.

Note: Due to space constraints, this story has been abbreviated from its original form in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Attacking Wewak

Weather was interfering with Fifth Air Force’s plans in October 1943, specifically on October 16th. Instead of targeting Rabaul, the 345th Bomb Group was sent to hit the Wewak airfield complex instead after finding out that the Japanese were rebuilding their air power there. All four squadrons as well as a squadron of fighter cover were to first attack Boram Airstrip, then fly the two miles to Wewak where their main strike would occur. Four of the Group’s B-25s were unable to complete the mission for various reasons, including one unusual occurrence: a turret canopy broke and fell off.

The Japanese were ready for the 345th, filling the sky with antiaircraft fire and fighter aircraft prepared to attack their enemy. Separating into squadron formations, one flew off to release parafrags over the antiaircraft batteries dotting the shoreline. Once over the runways of Wewak, ten B-25s dropped 100-pound wire-wrapped bombs in hopes of destroying the runway, aircraft on the ground, supply dumps and more. Meanwhile, the Japanese were fiercely fighting back and some of their bullets were hitting crucial points of the B-25s. BOOM-BOOM’s nose guns were knocked out of action when the electrical connections were severed, and it received several other hits that took it out of the 500th Squadron for several weeks upon return to Port Moresby.

One B-25, #561, had fallen behind the rest of the 500th Squadron’s formation with a damaged engine. Aboard the aircraft, Lt. Donald Stookey was doing his best to keep his plane in the air. With one engine out of commission and the other losing power, it wasn’t long before he had to make a water landing ten miles down the coastline and three miles off Cape Moem. The crew escaped their B-25 and swam for the raft that they ejected before the crash. Overhead, three B-25s from the 501st Squadron and several P-38s circled the downed crew, dropping two more rafts before their fuel began to run low and they had to head home. Stookey and his crew rowed toward land, where they were eventually captured and killed by the Japanese.

Downed 345th Bomb Group B-25 near Wewak and Boram

B-25D-1 #561 of the 500th Squadron was hit in the right engine by intense AA fire a mile from Wewak on October 16, 1943. Lieutenant Donald Stookey made an excellent water landing three miles northeast of Cape Moem. The plane remained afloat for only 90 seconds. This photo was taken from a 499th Squadron aircraft just after the tail lifted and a few moments before the plane sank. This nose-down attitude was typical of ditched B-25s. The crew was later captured and all died in captivity at Wewak and Rabaul.

Back over Wewak and Boram, two B-25 pilots discovered their own unpleasant surprises when their bombs wouldn’t release because the bomb racks malfunctioned. Leaving the bombing to the other B-25s, they strafed the target area instead. STINGEROO sustained damage from bullets through the hydraulic system and gas tanks, which made for a tense flight home. The pilot made an overnight stop at Nadzab to get the damage repaired before heading back to Port Moresby. After doing extensive damage to the two airfields, the remaining 345th aircraft formed up and headed home.

Overall, the mission was deemed a success. Photography taken from the B-25s cameras helped determine 25 confirmed aircraft destroyed on the ground or in the air, with another seven probable. While a break would have been welcome news, the 345th would be back in the air on the 18th, heading for the dreaded stronghold of Rabaul.

 

Find this story in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

Outta My Way!

Wewak and Boram were the targets of the 38th and 345th Bomb Groups, respectively, on November 27, 1943. Leading the 500th Squadron over Boram was Assistant Operations Officer Capt. Bruce Marston. The strike started off well enough when B-25s flying over the hillside caught the Japanese by surprise. As they neared the airfield, pilots opened the bomb bay doors to drop parafrag clusters on the runway. Marston in his B-25 HITT AND MISS, was followed by 1/Lt. Alfred J. Naigle on his left in BUGGER OFF. On Naigle’s left was a B-25 nicknamed WATTUM-CHOO.

Just as Naigle began to unload his parafrags, his co-pilot diverted his attention to the sudden shift in WATTUM-CHOO’s location from next to BUGGER OFF to right above it, with bomb bay doors open. Naigle quickly radioed the pilot to not release his parafrags and attempted to get out of the way of the B-25. White parachutes began leaving WATTUM-CHOO and Naigle ducked as a parafrag cluster shattered the cockpit canopy, nearly cutting the aircraft in two pieces as it dragged the astrodome and turret dome down through the fuselage. Naigle and gunner S/Sgt. Wayne W. Hoffman were injured, with the pilot only conscious because he was wearing his steel helmet as the top of the cockpit came crashing down on him.

Damage to Bugger Off

With 1/Lt. Alfred J. Naigle struggling with the controls, BUGGER OFF came off the target at Wewak on November 27th with heavy damage. The plane off Naigle’s wing overflew him during a bomb run and dropped a string of parafrags on top of him. This photo shows some of the damage to the cockpit and fuselage of BUGGER OFF. A piece of the iron fragmentation wrapping around one of the bombs can be seen sticking out of the window of the fuselage at lower right corner of the cockpit window. (Alfred J. Naigle Collection)

The B-25 itself was also severely damaged. The left engine was vibrating enough to potentially break the plane apart, the left nacelle and propeller had also been damaged and the rudders were gouged and dented. Naigle pulled away from Wewak to jettison the rest of his parafrags and feather the propeller. Seeing the impaired B-25, several 38th Bomb Group planes formed up to escort Naigle and his crew as far as they could go. Naigle was able to fly more than 200 miles to Dumpu, where he made a successful landing. He was followed by one of the 38th B-25s, who took Naigle’s crew back to base. The pilot was taken to an Australian field dressing station, then sent on to Nadzab.

 

 

Find this story and many others in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.