Repost- The 43rd Departs for War: Part 1

It’s been 75 years since the 43rd Bomb Group began the long journey to Australia and the Pacific Theater. Today, we’re revisiting the first part of that journey, which we originally published on Sept. 26, 2014.

 

For nine years, the Queen Mary was a luxury passenger liner that had been commissioned by the British Cunard Line. August 30, 1939 marked its final peacetime cruise across the Atlantic, and as per request by Winston Churchill, it would be retrofitted and used as a troop ship for the next few years. While Gen. George C. Marshall was hesitant to accept Churchill’s offer, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower knew the Pacific theater was in dire need of additional troops. Since this would be the fastest and most efficient way to send additional men, Eisenhower ordered to proceed with Churchill’s idea. The ship went from carrying approximately 2000 passengers in peacetime to around 16,000 troops, the size of an entire army division. Because of its speed and passenger capacity, Hitler supposedly put a $250,000 bounty on sinking this integral part of the Allied troop transport system.

Early on February 17, 1942, the 43rd Bomb Group boarded a troop train at their base in Bangor, Maine for a destination that was still unknown to them. After riding for nine hours, the men arrived at the Port of Embarkment at Boston Harbor, where they would board the Queen Mary. They spent a cold night on the ship, then watched the US coastline fade into the distance at noon on the 18th. There was no public send-off because the ship needed to leave in secret so it could avoid being targeted by German U-boats. Still, a small crowd had converged on the dock to wave goodbye–a comfort for the men and a concern for the ship’s captain about how long their journey would stay secret.

Queen Mary

One of the three largest passenger liners in the world, the Queen Mary was a luxury ship during peacetime, as seen here. After refitting, she was capable of carrying as many as 15,000 troops in a single voyage, making her crucial to the war effort. Her importance to the Allies was so great that Hitler reportedly offered a $250,000 bounty to any naval captain who could sink the gigantic ship. By the end of the war, the Queen Mary had carried a total of 765,429 military personnel over a distance of nearly 570,000 miles.

The Queen Mary was escorted by two destroyers at first, but sailed too quickly for the WWI-era destroyers to keep up, and soon left them behind to sail south alone. Meanwhile, then men on board hadn’t been told of their destination and began wondering where they would be going. The ship sailed by the eastern Florida cost, then reversed its course and dropped anchor near Key West, Florida. Two tankers quickly refueled the ship, which was guarded by six sub-chasers and a flying boat during the process. Originally, the vessel was going to stop for fuel in Trinidad, but a submarine was seen lurking in the waters. It was rumored that a U-boat sank the tanker that would have refueled the Queen Mary.

Life aboard the Queen Mary wasn’t too bad for the 43rd. Since the unit wasn’t full of draftees going through basic training, most of the men lived on the B deck, which was only two floors below the open-air main deck. Their rooms comfortably held nine men each, who enjoyed sleeping on deep, inner spring mattresses. The only downside was needing to keep the portholes closed at night, keeping the rooms hot and stuffy. Soon, the quality of food became an issue for the men. The ship’s British crew served the men meals consisting of kidneys or mutton stew–foods to which the Americans were not accustomed. The complaints were addressed on March 2nd during an officer’s meeting and the Americans were happy to find roast beef, macaroni, bread and jam, and coffee at lunch that day. The men were also introduced to the British custom of afternoon tea and went from being puzzled to gladly adopting the tradition.

A typical day on the ship was spent doing calisthenics for an hour in the morning on the sun deck, weapons classes and inspections, as well as fire and boat drills. The guns were fired every day, both as practice and to get the men used to the noise. Free time was spent watching movies or live shows, exercising in one of the Queen Mary‘s two pools, playing poker, and attending religious services. The ship traveled from Boston to the tropics in less than a week. With the heat of their tropical location, sleeping in the cabins became extremely uncomfortable and difficult. On March 1st, the Queen Mary steamed southeast and rumors of a stop at Rio De Janeiro began to fly.

Continue to part 2…

Looking Back at Our Top Posts of 2016

It’s that time of year again. Time for us to list our most popular posts published this year as determined by the number of views. Did your favorite post make the list?

This year has been our best year yet and it’s all thanks to you, our readers. 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.

 
Marauder at Midway by Jack Fellows1. Marauder at Midway An amazing painting done by Jack Fellows illustrating a B-26 speeding over the deck of the Akagi during the Battle of Midway.

 
THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL's new fuselage2. Building the Steak and Egg Special How a group of 3rd Bomb Group mechanics built their own plane from two scrapped A-20s.

 

IHRA screen shot of work in progress 3 and 4. Behind the Scenes at IHRA and From a Layout to a Book: Behind the Scenes at IHRA We took you backstage for a look at how we compile our research and turn everything into a book.

5. Surprise over Gusap A member of the 38th Bomb Group writes about a terrifying experience on a raid.

Corregidor Island Then and Now6. The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six WWII Bases Then and Now We took some of our photos from the Pacific Theater and compared them with recent satellite images to see what has changed in 70+ years.

Ken's Men Against the Empire, Volume I7. Announcing the release of Ken’s Men Against the Empire Vol. I We were thrilled to tell you the news of the publishing of a new book in March. We have received excellent feedback on our newest addition to the EOP series, the first part of the 43rd Bomb Group’s history.

Pearl Harbor II: Attack on Clark Field

A few days prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, commander of the U.S. air forces in the Philippines, was closely watching the deterioration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Japan. A 500 mile gap that stood between the 35 B-17s under his command at Clark Field and Japanese air forces at Formosa, which was well within flying range of Japanese fighters. Concerned, Brereton requested permission to move the B-17s 500 miles south to the airfield on Del Monte, which was still under construction. On December 4th, permission was granted to move eight planes each from the 14th and 93rd Bomb Squadrons of the 19th Bomb Group.

Four days later (since they were on the other side of the International Date Line), word of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor quickly spread around Clark Field and the men stationed there knew that it was only a matter of time before their base was attacked. Three times, Brereton requested permission to attack Formosa, which, owing to the chaos in Hawaii, was denied. Still, at 0830 15 B-17s took off to patrol the area. Brereton received a call from MacArthur himself a couple of hours later, granting him permission for the strike.

As crews prepared for the attack, a radar station on the west coast of Luzon at Iba Airfield picked up incoming Japanese aircraft before communications were cut off as the airfield was attacked. They would arrive over Clark Field within an hour. When the raid on Clark Field began, only the P-40s had been able to take off and they had been diverted from protecting Clark Field. Just like the scene at Pearl Harbor, B-17s were lined up on the runway, easy targets for the 53 “Betty” bombers above. The Japanese had expected a fierce fight from the Americans instead of a repeat of what happened hours earlier in Hawaii. Men could only watch helplessly from foxholes as their planes were bombed and strafed. In the end, most of the B-17s and about a third of the P-40s were destroyed.

In the days following the Clark Field attack, most of the 19th Bomb Group air and ground crews were moved to Del Monte. The few that stayed behind tried to repair some of the B-17s that had been damaged and to stage missions. Between combat and reconnaissance missions and being on the receiving end of several Japanese strikes, the number of operational B-17s dwindled. Allied forces had to withdraw to Java by the end of December 1941 and on February 26, 1942, all forces were ordered to withdraw from Java to Australia. By this point, the 19th Bomb Group’s replacement, the 43rd Bomb Group was sailing toward Australia on the Queen Mary.

Debunking the Myths of Old 666

The Medal of Honor. It is the highest honor that can be given to a member of the U.S. military, often coming at a high price to the recipient. To date, more than 3000 men and one woman have received the Medal of Honor for going above and beyond the call of duty. There is one story in particular that continues to fascinate everyone for a couple of reasons: two men from the same mission received the Medal of Honor and the story itself has evolved into a legend. With that being the case, there are several myths of this harrowing story that we would like to set straight. First, a short recap of a B-17 mission that took place on June 16, 1943.

The Most Decorated American Air Crew, cover art for Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I. Painting by Jack Fellows

This painting depicts B-17E #41-2666, nicknamed LUCY, piloted by Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on June 16, 1943 flying a crucial photomapping mission for the invasion of Bougainville Island in the Solomons later that year. LUCY, alone, without fighter cover, was surrounded and attacked over the objective by eight Japanese Zero fighters from 251 Kokutai. The pilot refused to abort and held the plane on the required straight and level course until his assignment was finished.

During the air battle that followed, half of his crew was seriously wounded. The bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, fought back heroically throughout the engagement until he died of his injuries, earning him the Medal of Honor. Zeamer, although grievously injured himself, was also awarded the Medal of Honor for piloting the B-17 until the mission was complete, then assisting other crewmen on the long flight back to base in the severely damaged bomber, ensuring the safe return of the precious photos. The rest of the crew received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor, making them the most highly decorated American aircrew in history. Zeamer eventually recovered from his near-fatal injures.

Unfortunately, as the years have passed, this amazing story has been embellished and those embellishments have been accepted as fact in print and on the screen. We’ve compiled a list of the three worst offenders.

  1.  Capt. Zeamer and his crew were attacked by 15-21 Japanese fighters.
    False. Their plane was attacked by eight fighters. Due to the ensuing chaos, it was easy for fighters to be double counted by members of the crew in different areas on the B-17. Some would fall away, smoking as they dove, and those were also potentially double counted.
  2. The crew and pilots were a bunch of “screw-ups and misfits.”
    False. While Capt. Zeamer had a hard time getting the hang of the B-26 (it was a tricky plane to fly), he was well-liked by everyone. He was in his element after he transferred from the 22nd to 43rd Bomb Group and started flying the B-17. Zeamer handpicked his crew, looking for men who were disciplined, could keep a cool head during combat, got along well with everyone, and were willing to go the extra mile when needed.
  3. LUCY was rescued from the scrap heap.
    False. Even though this B-17 was known as a “Hard Luck Hattie” because it was so problematic during missions, it was never sent to the boneyard. Still, it wasn’t the best shape when Zeamer acquired it and he and his crew spent a considerable amount of time updating it to their specifications for mapping missions.

This is but a brief overview of an epic mission from World War II. If you want a more detailed account of the mission and LUCY (profiled in Appendix V), buy a copy of our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I. You can also head to Clint Hayes’ site for a deep dive into the mission as well as a biography of Capt. Zeamer.

Pulling the Thread of History: We’re Heading to History Camp!

As we prepare for History Camp Colorado next month, we wanted to give you some insight into how we chose our topic, the disappearance of General Walker’s aircraft on January 5, 1943. For that, we want to introduce you to our Managing Editor, Madison Jonas, who will be giving the presentation. Take it away, Madison!

You know what I like about studying history? You get to follow the consequences. Living in the present, it’s hard to ascribe a chain of causality through the actions you take and the events around you. But when we study historical events in detail and with focus, the chain can be linked together. And sometimes, you get an event that has outsize influence—small in isolation, but hugely significant to the events that follow.

Such an event occurred on January 5, 1943. There was an air raid conducted by heavy bombers—B-17s from the 43rd Bomb Group and B-24s from the 90th—based in New Guinea against Simpson Harbor, a major Japanese port in the Southwest Pacific. Going purely by the numbers, it was a small affair: 14 planes attacking, three shot down, two crews rescued, one cargo vessel sunk and three more ships damaged. But the consequences would ultimately shift the nature of the war in New Guinea over the next six months.

Unlike prior air raids against Rabaul and Simpson Harbor, the attack on January 5th was a daylight mission. Rabaul was a heavily defended base complex, and beyond the reach of fighter cover, so conventional wisdom had long-range bombers flying small missions at night and doing negligible damage in a token effort to harass the base. General Kenneth Walker, head of V Bomber Command, thought that a massed formation of bombers would be able to defend itself from enemy interception and inflict severe damage on enemy operations. Walker had even flown on the lead plane to assess the battle damage as a proof-of-concept. Tragically, he was lost that day, along with the entire crew of the SAN ANTONIO ROSE. The loss nixed further daylight bombing of Rabaul for the time being. It remained the center of Japanese operations, able to send out reinforcements to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands largely undeterred. Air operations against it saw no major impact until fighter coverage could be brought into range.

An Expensive Mission by Jack Fellows

On January 5, 1943, Brig. Gen. Kenneth N. Walker planned a large daylight raid on Rabaul to disrupt an assembling convoy. Walker was flying as an observer in the lead plane, B-17F-10 SAN ANTONIO ROSE. Over Rabaul, the bomber was hit by flak and then pursued south along the coast of New Britain by a flight of Oscar fighters from 11 Sentai. The location where the B-17 went down is unknown; however, it may have gone down deep in the remote Kol Mountains of New Britain. Two crewmembers, Maj. Jack W. Bleasdale and Capt. Benton H. Daniel, bailed out and survived the shootdown, only to be taken prisoner and executed by the Japanese. General Walker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Painting by Jack Fellows.

The target of the attack on January 5th had been a convoy carrying over 4000 soldiers for a new ground offensive in the mountains of New Guinea. The convoy was scheduled to depart on the 6th, but by a stroke of luck it had been moved to nearby Jacquinot Bay the night before, dodging the strike. The near-miss, however, was shocking to Japanese higher-ups, who ordered additional fighter coverage on the convoy for the duration of its mission, which led to a fierce air battle over the convoy as it unloaded at New Guinea. Those troops were then sent to capture an outlying Allied mountain airbase called Wau, which led to the next ground engagement of the war in the Southwest Pacific. The U.S. also learned from the attempted convoy interception, developing specialized anti-shipping tactics that would lead to the overwhelming victory of Allied air power in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

The January 5th raid had significant reverberations, and I think this was partly reflected in the decision for General Walker to receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery in organizing and flying on the lead ship of the mission. The full breadth of the story, however, can only be seen in hindsight, with detailed research to piece together all the elements of the story. This is just a general summary—I’ll be delving into far more detail in my seminar at History Camp Colorado on November 12th. The story in full reaches back several days into December and forward into the present day, where the search for General Walker’s B-17 continues.

 

A Zombie that Almost Lived up to its Name

For a short time in November 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group was flying missions to Ring Ring, a coconut plantation near Gasmata. Although these weren’t the most exciting missions, the area was being prepared for a December ground invasion, which made the mission necessary. It was observed in the 43rd’s Group History that, “Our combat crews don’t seem to think much of this type of target, preferring to hit something that will blow up with a loud noise and a satisfactory amount of flame and smoke, but the Army seems quite pleased with the results of our bombing and apparently considers the destruction of these targets essential.”

Flying from Port Moresby to Ring Ring on November 24th was 1/Lt. Henry J. Domagalski and his crew in their B-24 nicknamed ZOMBIE. Their mission was an armed reconnaissance to the area, with the crew running into no trouble as ZOMBIE’s bombs were unloaded over Garove Island. As the B-24 flew over the Dampier Strait, the crew encountered a formation of nine Japanese “Lily” bombers accompanied by 12 “Oscar” fighters returning to Wewak from a mission to Finschhafen.

43rd Bomb Group B-24 Zombie

The 64th Squadron struck the Ring Ring coconut plantation near Gasmata, New Britain on November 24, 1943. On the way home, Henry J. Domagalski and crew, in the B-24D #42-40913, ZOMBIE, were attacked over the Dampier Strait by 12 Japanese Zeros.

While most of the Japanese planes continued on their way, seven Oscars attacked the lone B-24. An intense fight began as Domagalski performed evasive maneuvers while his crewmen did their best to fend off the attacking fighters. ZOMBIE’s hydraulic system was shot out, as well as trim tab wires and six cables that controlled the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. The fighter pilots also started two fires: one in the emergency radio compartment and the other in the cockpit. Both were extinguished by Lt. Cletus A. Bunsen and 2/Lt. Herbert J. Maxwell, respectively.

By this time, the Oscars broke off their attack and turned for Wewak. ZOMBIE was in bad shape and the pilot was unsure whether or not they would even make it back to base. After an examination of the parachutes, three were determined to be unusable and it was decided that instead of ditching the plane, they would try to make an emergency landing at Lae.

Somehow, the B-24 appeared over Lae and circled five times as the crew manually lowered the landing gear. It touched down, going 160mph, and without hydraulic breaks that worked, the crew hurried to stop the plane before it crashed into the trees at the end of the runway. While Domagalski used the auxiliary hand pump to work fluid into the brakes, the rest of the crew was piled in the back of the plane to keep the tail down. ZOMBIE stopped and the crew tumbled out to assess the damage. Fifty holes were counted and two crewmembers were injured. The next day, ZOMBIE was flown home to Port Moresby. This story quickly spread across the United States and each crew member was awarded the Air Medal for their actions during the mission.

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

Books ready for shipping

Behind the Scenes at IHRA

From Warpath Across the Pacific to the first volume of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, our books have become the standard for World War II unit histories as well as a go-to for the history of the air war in the Pacific Theater. How did we get here? We’ll take you through part of the process of how we turn piles of photos and information into the next great installment of the Eagles Over the Pacific series.

It starts with gathering as much primary source material as possible: photos, personal diaries, letters, interviews, squadron and unit reports, medal citations, missing aircraft crew reports, and so on. Material borrowed from individual veterans was processed first, so it could be returned in a somewhat timely fashion. Before the days of scanners, photos of the photos were taken, printed out, and organized into reference binders by month. The original photos were then returned to the veterans who graciously loaned them to us. Several copies were printed so they could be added to designated binders such as: date binders, bases and targets, squadron, appendix and color photos, general unit information, and miscellaneous. These days, any new photos we receive are scanned at a high resolution, digitally repaired to get rid of scratches or stains, and added to our database. We are also in the midst of a mass digitization of the reference binders—although keeping the digital database organized is a difficult task unto itself!

Some of our many photo binders. 38th Bomb Group binders in green, 3rd Bomb Group binders in red.

Some of our many photo binders. 38th Bomb Group binders in green, 3rd Bomb Group binders in red.

Diaries were also scanned and usually transcribed to make it easier for later referencing, and then returned, if we had received the original copy. Squadron and unit reports are also transcribed. These reports were obtained on trips to the National Archives, Maxwell Air Force Base, and other places. All the paper material is copied, then organized into monthly folders, which we call date files. The size of these files depends on how much happened in a given month. Any new information we receive, which happens often, is immediately added to a chapter or filed for adding later.

43BG date files at IHRA

Here are some of our 43rd Bomb Group date files.

Everything in these file folders has been typed up into documents divided by month, which we call our research drafts. These files are incredibly important to our co-authors as they begin the process of writing each chapter. Over the years, we have also built up a large reference library, which is also available to our co-authors looking for additional information to fill out a unit’s history. While writing the chapter, the co-author always has an eye on the photo binders. Photos are selected and added to the draft in tandem with the manuscript itself, as the two are tied so close together. This is also when the captions are written—and sometimes, they’re the trickiest part of the chapter.

After the photos and text have been (mostly) finalized, it’s time for the first layout that brings them together on the page. This process is similar to scrapbooking, except that it’s on a computer and not as colorful. Each chapter is laid out, later followed by the front matter, appendices, color section, and end matter. Chapters always go through at least five rounds of editing. Beyond editing the text for factual and grammatical errors, photos are resized, added, moved, or deleted. Chapters might be combined or broken up for better flow.

IHRA screen shot of work in progress

This image is taken from the layout file of Appendix IV in our next book. This appendix focuses on markings and insignia of the 43rd Bomb Group during the B-24 era.

The process is repeated for the appendices and the color section, but with a few differences. Come back next week as we tackle the rest of the process from layout to printing. Questions or comments so far? We’d love to answer them below.