Lieutenant Byrne’s Postwar Adventure in Japan

After the war ended, the men who hadn’t yet reached the required number of points to head home were sent to Japan as part of the occupation force. One of those men was Lieutenant Arthur D. Byrne. He was part of the 65th Squadron Intelligence section and wouldn’t be sent Stateside until February 1946. In January of that year, he had a memorable excursion to the house of a Japanese man who sold silk, kimonos and other fabric goods.

“Last night I had quite an experience,” wrote Byrne. “Earlier in the afternoon Toepperwine and I were making the rounds of the shops in Tachikawa. While we were looking at some embroidery, a well dressed Japanese male of about forty spoke to us in English, making suggestions about the comparative values and prices of goods we were looking at. We left a few minutes later and he walked out to the street with us where he explained that he has a large shop in Tokyo dealing in fine silk products and inviting us to come see him later in the evening. We were disgusted with the cheap junk in Tachikawa, so, when we returned to the base, we called Felix and asked him to come over to the barracks and bring a jeep. He did so with fairly good grace, and we took off at 1830 bundled to the ears.

“We had been told by our Mr. Turuya that he lived in Asagaya, about half way to Tokyo on the railroad, which he advised us to take. We started by asking everyone we saw on the post where to find Asagaya. They never heard of it. We asked the MPs at the gate. They never heard of it either, but they had a map showing everything of importance in the Greater Tokyo area. It wasn’t on the map. The Jap boys in the civilian Labor Office told us in a few thousand precise phrases that they didn’t know it either. We decided to ask at the railway station in Tachikawa. The interpreter was out. There was a consultation resembling that which must have preceded the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It resulted in a rough map drawn upside down, as regards compass directions, and accompanied by the explanation that Asagaya is easy to find by train, but by jeep, well, ha ha, shrug, grin, no so easy. We muttered the usual ‘sank you’ and left in a cloud of dust. By this time it was 20 minutes to 8, in other words 1940. Finally, after twisting and turning and bypassing bombed bridges, we got to Route 2, a wide, black topped highway into Tokyo. After two miles we stopped at a little road side 2 x 4 police station. The blue uniformed Nip cop, smiled, nodded, consulted and emerged with chalk with which he and his colleague sketched a map near actual size on the pavement in the moon light. They put in circles for towns, 9 kilometers to Shofu, etc., drew a bridge, a side road to the left and then, with a triumphant flourish of chalk, Asagaya itself. We ‘sanked’ them and sped away for the prescribed number of kilos, stopping occasionally for confirmation from civilians still abroad at this late hour. Some of them understood us but didn’t know; others understood us but didn’t give a damn if we went to Asagaya or to Hades.”

Google map of the distance between Tachikawa and Asagaya

This screen shot from Google Maps shows present day routes between Tachikawa and Asagaya, Japan. The green and orange lines in the middle symbolize modern rail routes between the two cities.

[map of the distance between Tachikawa and Asagaya, orange and green line are the modern rail lines]

It was bitterly cold out and their prolonged exposure to the cold air was leading the men to believe they were frostbitten and needed to hurry to Asagaya. They stopped many times along the way to confirm that they were heading the right way, and, eventually reached the Asagaya station.

Upon arrival, “Topper got out, took the paper bearing our friend’s name and address in Jap characters and waved it around. Top is one of the biggest men who ever came out of Texas, although certainly one of the gentlest. To add to his dimensions he was wrapped in a complete Eskimo flying outfit. Also, Americans were obviously a complete novelty in these parts, and a crowd gathered at once with a small sword-dragging cop trying frantically to bore into the center of things to satisfy his own curiosity…after a few minutes we hustled the cop into the jeep to act as a guide, since he seemed so interested and so willing to be helpful…It seems we had passed the place we were looking for. He directed us to it and we pulled up at about 9 o’clock after a two and one half hour hunt.”

The men were greeted outside by Mr. Turuya and led inside to a comfortable room in which they were directed to sit down, cover themselves with a blanket and warm themselves by the heater in the center of the room. They discovered that they weren’t frostbitten after all, just very cold.

“Wine was brought by Mrs. T. and served in tiny glasses on a small lacquered tray. Meanwhile we explained our delay to our host who was amused and sympathetic. Then his two little boys came in and sat quietly by the door. They were little burr heads dressed in army style clothes. I gave them two bars of Baker’s chocolate. They beamed, said ‘sank you,’ and departed. I suppose they are not allowed to smack their lips before company. All this time Mrs. T. was sitting or kneeling, I couldn’t tell which because of the long kimono she wore and the low cushions. Mr. T. turned and spoke to her, she definitely kneeled, smiled, and then left the room. We engaged in more small talk of this and that, of anything by the recent hostilities, and presently she was back with piles of silks, brocades and embroidery, kimonos, obis, scarfs. They were passed to Topper and Felix and me, and we ogled, murmured and exclaimed and were pretty generally bewildered by the richness of it all. I began to fidget and finally managed a vague question about process, which I felt was a breach of etiquette at that stage of the game. Mr. T. smiled indulgently and reassured me, ‘You select what you want. Do not worry about price.’ So I did, recklessly—seven or eight brocades, a kimono and two small embroidered pieces, plus a dazzling four foot length of irresistible something or other. Then Felix and Topper finished their selections, and after more talk over cups of cocoa (we were promised green tea next time), we suddenly discovered it was growing late. Then came the question of price. This occasioned surprisingly little disagreement and the goods were wrapped and handed to us. At 11:20 we were bowed out with good nights and best wishes, further invitations and much smiling.

“Half way back to camp we had a flat, but, strangely, we had both spare tire and tools, a definite oversight on the part of someone. We fixed it in twenty minutes and got to the Field about 12:20. So now I’ve been in a Japanese home and have experience the traditional Jap courtesy. Whether it’s real or false, I still haven’t the faintest idea. It looked genuine.”

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Remember the 15

May 18, 1945 was an all too eventful day for the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. Seven of its B-24s were sent to make up a third of a 21-plane raid with the 403rd and 64th Squadrons on Tainan Airdrome, located on Formosa (now Taiwan). Antiaircraft fire was heavy and accurate, and coming from both Tainan and the nearby Okayama Airdrome. Aircrews noticed two strange types of antiaircraft bursts. One looked like a gasoline fire bursting in midair, the other appeared to be a stream of fire trailed by smoke.

As the crews made their runs, 1/Lt. James J. Franklin’s B-24 took a direct hit and exploded. All ten members of the crew as well as an observer were killed. To the right of Franklin was 1/Lt. Rudolph J. Cherkauer in B-24 #373, which felt the brunt of the explosion and ended up leaving Tainan with two hundred new holes and three wounded men aboard. The bombardier was knocked unconscious by the blast. Both port engines were smoking heavily, but the #2 was still capable of running at reduced power. It was enough to get them to the emergency field at Lingayen, Luzon. The three wounded crewmen were brought to the hospital and eventually recovered.

B-24 Petty Gal

This 65th Squadron B-24, nicknamed PETTY GAL, was almost shot down in a bombing mission over Tainan Drome on Formosa. The antiaircraft fire alone was responsible for bringing down two B-24s, and it put around 200 holes in PETTY GAL. Fortunately, pilot 1/Lt. Rudolph J. Cherkauer was able to bring it back to Lingayen on three engines. (James L. Klein Collection)

First Lieutenant Charles H. Wilt, another 65th Squadron pilot, finished his run and was hit in the #4 engine. To make matters worse, the #3 engine was running away and the smell of gas permeated the fuselage. Everyone on board knew they needed to bail out before their B-24 exploded, but they were warned against it by PBY crews standing by for rescues. By that point, Wilt’s B-24 was 6000 feet above rough seas with 25-foot waves, which would make it harder for rescue crews to find the downed airmen. Still, the crew felt like everyone would have a better chance of survival if the men bailed out.

Unfortunately, they were also short on life jackets. Four of the 11 crewmen had to go without, including 2/Lt. Norbert C. Straeck, who volunteered because he was a strong swimmer. The other B-24 crews watched 11 parachutes open and only the men with the Mae Wests were rescued. Two men went under before they were fished out and two more disappeared. It was a tough day for the 65th Squadron, losing 15 men and two B-24s. A funeral for the 15 men, 1/Lt. James J. Franklin, 2/Lt. Frances J. Smith, 2/Lt. Darrell F. Hoffman, 2/Lt. John R. Duff, Cpl. Walter J. McKay, Jr., T/Sgt. Henry A. Cichy, T/Sgt. Francis J. Dougherty, S/Sgt. Lloyd B. Arie, S/Sgt. Frank D. Byrd, S/Sgt. Donald C. Gayle, S/Sgt. Sigmund J. Magiera, 2/Lt. Norbert C. Straeck, 2/Lt. Gabriel R. Levinson, Cpl. Walter J. Christensen and Cpl. Lehland Stauffer, was held on May 23rd at the 43rd’s chapel. Below is reproduced the order of service for the event:

Choral Prelude Choir
Call to Worship
Leader: Renewed this day be all noble memories
People: All high and holy traditions of the past
Leader: Let us remember all those who went over the sea
to share the perils of oppressed peoples
People: Who suffer torment from fire and smoke
Leader: Who took food to the starving in strange lands
People: Who went down to the sea in ships and into the
air like eagles.

Hymn #99 “BLEST BE THE TIE THAT BINDS”

Call to prayer
Leader: The great and brave who have gone before us and
blazed the trail, gave freely of their talents, their strength,
their lives. We who would remember them to-day unite
our prayers in memory of their noble giving. Let us pray
together.

Unison Prayer
O God, here in the memory of death we pause in thy sight
for life is precious to thee. Even as the life of those we know
and care for is dear to us so dost thou care for each of thy
children. And because we know this we have no fear for
those we know who leave us to return to thee. Their release
from the limitations of the flesh is a greater freedom than
ever they have known before. Lift us above the shadow of
mortality into the light of hope.

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)

Working With the Low Altitude Bombsight

About halfway through 1943, the United States developed new radar technology that allowed heavy bombers to attack shipping targets at night. Shortly thereafter, the 1st Sea Search Attack Group was formed at Langley Field, Virginia. Most of these crews were brand new, and as they learned flight basics, they were also trained on how to use the Low Altitude Bombsight (LAB). Two of the three squadrons were sent to the Pacific Theater for night bombing missions. One, the 868th Squadron, operated independently. The other was integrated into the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. One member of the 63rd Squadron wrote about the way the LAB was used on a mission.

Typical Sea Search Mission
by Richard M. Salley, 63rd Squadron Radar Mechanic

The Radar was the SCR 717A, 10cm wavelength, and had a 200 mile range at about 3000 ft. altitude. The bomb sight was on RC17 Low Altitude Bomb sight (LAB) and had to be adjusted for a specific altitude and bomb configuration. I would usually set it up for a 400 feet altitude drop and a 500-1000-500 (pounds) bomb configuration. A radio altimeter would maintain the altitude through the auto-pilot with no need for hands-on by the crew.

A search would be made at max range (about 3000 feet altitude), and when a target was sighted, and IFF [Identification Friend or Foe] interrogation revealed an enemy, the run would begin. Gradually dropping in altitude to keep the target at maximum range would prevent enemy radar (which was less sophisticated than ours) from picking us up. After a period, we would be at minimum altitude, with the bombardier in charge of the plane. His job was to keep the target between crosshairs which maintained azimuth [the angle of the aircraft] and allowed the electronics to separate the target and a voltage pip correctly. At the exact start range for the bombs, the voltage pip would come up and intersect the target pip. The increased voltage would trigger the intervalometer and drop the bombs automatically.

 

The following page may have appeared in CROSSHAIRS magazine in the late 1980s or early 1990.

LAB

The Old Man’s Ordeal

The Old Man’s Ordeal a B-17 painting by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 200 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 25″ x 19.5″

Paper Size: 30″ x 24″

On March 8, 1943, a 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group B-17 named THE OLD MAN was on a long-range photo-recco mission over Gasmata airstrip on New Britain when it was jumped by three Zeros. The battle was on. One Zero pilot shot several bursts into the nose of the aircraft, wounding pilot Melville “Dutch” Ehlers. Bombardier Thomas Lloyd “Breezy” Boren released four 500-pound bombs and the long-range bomb bay auxiliary fuel tank to lighten the craft as they frantically clawed to gain airspeed. They limped back to the Dobudura airfield complex, on the north side of Papua New Guinea, and the crew (also including co-pilot Joseph “Indian” Cochran, navigator Warren “Doc” Bryant, engineer Willard R. Madison, gunner David J. Eckholt, radioman William A. Boly, ball gunner Michael R. Andrade, tail gunner Joseph Ferriola, and photographer Leonard Williams) was credited with five aircraft destroyed. This artwork is published in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume I and is available for purchase on our website.

 

The Costly Mistake

By the end of 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group made a series of attacks on Cape Gloucester to soften it up for an upcoming invasion. Over 100 aircraft participated in these raids on December 22nd and 23rd, where a wide range of items from bombs to leaflets and even beer bottles (these were to scare Japanese on the ground, as they whistled like bombs) were dropped from the B-24s, B-25s and A-20s. There was nothing from the Japanese in return. No antiaircraft fire or intercepting fighters rushed to discourage the Allied forces from their mission.

While the missions themselves were relatively uneventful, taking off or landing was sometimes an entirely different story. In this case, a routine takeoff for Capt. Bryan A. Flatt on December 22nd nearly turned into a nightmare. Flatt was accelerating to takeoff speed and thought he had lifted off the runway. Instead, he was still on the ground when he applied the landing gear brakes, which caused the nose gear to fold. Quickly realizing his mistake, he retracted the the main gear to get his B-24 off the ground, but both collapsed and the plane hit the ground. It skidded for several hundred feet, made a sharp right, then went over several tree stumps, a six-foot embankment and finally came to a stop in a marsh.

B-24 #42-41221 after it crashed

On December 22, 1943, 1/Lt. Bryan A. Flatt of the 403rd Squadron was taking off from Dobodura when he mistakenly thought that his B-24D #42-41221 was airborne. In fact, the plane was still on the runway, and when Flatt applied the brakes in preparation for raising the landing gear, the right and left gear collapsed and the plane skidded off the runway. These photographs show the B-24D after it crashed. Amazingly, none of the 11 crewmembers sustained more than minor injuries. (George A. Putnam Collection)

After all was said and done, the entire crew climbed out of the wrecked aircraft with nothing more than minor injuries. It wasn’t long before rumors were spreading around the camp about nose gear collapsing on B-24s because the early reports did not cite Flatt’s error as the cause. To quell the fears of the crews, Flatt called a squadron meeting to explain that the accident was his fault and not a mechanical issue. His honesty in this situation, which could have damaged his career, was greatly admired by his squadron.

General Walker’s Last Mission to Rabaul

Seventy-five years ago today, Gen. Kenneth N. Walker boarded Maj. Jack W. Bleasdale’s B-17 SAN ANTONIO ROSE, thereby ignoring a direct order from Gen. George C. Kenney not to fly on combat missions. Kenney feared losing an excellent commander and what could happen if the aircraft Walker was on was shot down and its passengers, especially Walker, were captured by the Japanese. If you’ve read our previous post on the subject, you might recall that this mission was particularly dangerous because it was a raid on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul in broad daylight. Still, it caught the Japanese by surprise and several ships sitting in Simpson Harbor were either damaged or sunk. The 43rd Bomb Group lost two B-17s that day. One was SAN ANTONIO ROSE, the other was B-17F #41-24538, piloted by 1/Lt. Jean Jack. Jack and his crew ditched their B-17 off the coast of Urasi Island and all were rescued the following day. SAN ANTONIO ROSE has never been found.

Last year, Pacific Wrecks uploaded a video taken from the January 5th mission. While it’s available to watch below, we recommend you watch it on YouTube so you can read through the excellent notes about different points of the video provided by Pacific Wrecks. For even more information on the day’s events, buy a copy of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

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.

How to Make a Volcano Explode (or not)

In late March 1943, Rabaul was (unsurprisingly) still the top target of Allied raids. For two days, March 20th and 21st, the 65th Squadron was on alert to fly a mission to Vunakanau Airdrome, and the mission was cancelled each day because of less than optimal weather. All four of the 43rd’s squadrons were put on alert on the 22nd for another Rabaul raid, and they were able to take off from Seven Mile on the night of the 22nd, which would have them arriving over Rabaul on the 23rd.

The B-17s made their appearance known by dropping bombs on Rabaul before sunrise. Since there was no daylight, the crews could not observe their results, but searchlights were following the B-17s everywhere. While several planes were holed by antiaircraft fire, none were seriously damaged and all returned to base without issue.

Rabaul was the proverbial thorn in Fifth Air Force’s side and it’s possible that more than a few men were wishing for a quick way to shut down this Japanese stronghold. Several of them came up with a theory to test out: using Matupi Volcano to their advantage, specifically by using bombs to make it explode, thereby wiping out Rabaul. Major Carl A. Hustad took off with his bombardier on the 23rd to carry out this mission. The two 2000-pound bombs were dropped into the crater with no results. Afterwards, personnel realized how silly the idea was in the first place.

 

Rabaul Volcanos

Taken in 1941, this photo shows the topography of the Rabaul area. Matupi Volcano can be seen in the background.

This story can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire.

Peace Bombers Arrive

The title and written content of this week’s post come to you from the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group’s history. Once again, we’re focusing on that August 19, 1945 flight that stopped over in Ie Shima on the way to Manila to discuss the Japanese surrender.

On August 19th, the men on Ie Shima witnessed history in the making, as at 12:30 p.m. two white Jap Bettys approached the island escorted by hordes of P-38s, 2 PBYs, two B-25s and other elements of our efficacious air force. After making two trips around the island, the Bettys landed gracefully on Mocha strip which was lined up with M.P.s and thousands of curious soldiers. As the ships taxied down the runway, their bespectacled engineers stood half out of their open top hatches. They were bedecked in most elaborate flying attire—leather jackets, flying helmets, and goggles. One couldn’t help but think how uncomfortably warm they must have been, because the afternoon was torrid. The contrast of these Japanese flying personnel to our airmen who usually wear nothing more than a T-shirt and sun-tan pants, was certainly sharp, but on this particular day, the little guys were perhaps salvaging the last remnants of that imperialistic pride so completely stifled by their defeat.

Upon reaching the end of the runway, the planes did an about-face and taxied to the other end of the runway as hundreds of soldiers with cameras made a mad dash in that direction. At this end of the strip were parked two C-54s, resplendent in the afternoon sun. These were to take the Japanese emissaries to Manila.

Not much time was wasted, and within 15 minutes the emissaries with their entourage boarded one of the giant cargo planes and were off to General MacArthur’s headquarters.

We also went digging around YouTube and found part of a newsreel from that day’s events.

 

Want to read more about this point in history? Check out The 345th’s Final Show.