How did combat affect the capability of aircrews during World War II?

“Your assignment to the B-17 airplane means that you are no longer just a pilot. You are now an airplane commander, charged with all the duties and responsibilities of a command post.

You are now flying a 10-man weapon. It is your airplane, and your crew. You are responsible for the safety and efficiency of the crew at all times–not just when you are flying and fighting, but for the full 24 hours of every day while you are in command.

Your crew is made up of specialists. Each man — whether he is the navigator, bombardier, engineer, radio operator, or one of the gunners — is an expert in his line. But how well he does his job, and how efficiently he plays his part as a member of your combat team, will depend to a great extent on how well you play your own part as the airplane commander.

Get to know each member of your crew as an individual. Know his personal idiosyncrasies, his capabilities, his shortcomings. Take a personal interest in his problems, his ambitions, his need for specific training.”

B-17 training manual

Flying in a war is both physically and mentally exhausting. Even before a pilot climbs into his plane, he has a tremendous weight on his shoulders to make sure that he and his crew are in good shape to fly. During each mission, these men faced a slew of dangers that ranged from enemy fire to weather to mechanical problems. It’s not something that pilots or their crews could ever adapt to. After missions in the Pacific, men were given a 2 oz. ration of whiskey by the flight surgeon to help calm their nerves. Facing this danger day after day was a great strain on the pilots. Whether or not a pilot was capable of flying was not openly discussed, as pilots didn’t want to face the possibility of being grounded. They kept an eye on each other though and some would bring up the uncomfortable topic amongst a group of pilots if they felt like one pilot had been making too many mistakes and putting the lives of his crew in danger as well as the lives of the men flying around him.

Second Lieutenant Samuel W. Bennett's B-25 pulling away from its attack on the destroyer Amatsukaze. Photo from Warpath Across the Pacific.

This photo, meant only to illustrate one of the many dangerous situations faced by aircrews, shows Second Lieutenant Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 pulling away from its attack on the destroyer Amatsukaze on April 6, 1945.

Bringing up questions about a pilot’s flight ability with the C.O. was a matter of delicate maneuvering. The men didn’t want to criticize a fellow pilot, but felt that it was a matter of safety. If this man continued flying missions, there was a good chance that his actions could get others hurt or killed. In at least one instance, hushed discussions with a group of pilots and a few select individuals took place to make sure everyone was on the same page before taking it up with the C.O., who would also quietly reassign the pilot to a ground crew.

These days, the effects of war on ground troops is fairly well known. The same effects on the aircrews is not talked about as often, although stories written and told by veterans have been able to give us more perspective on how they were impacted. Below is a portion of the reflections on the war from the air written by one pilot after he rotated home in 1943.

“It may be that I am merely not so well able to ‘take it’ as are many other men, both of allies and of enemies, who must have seen far longer periods of hazard than I and carried on; for while I would have continued flying combat had it been ordered, it would have been with the sense that a trap was closing about me and that escape was hopeless. The technique of my flying might have been hurt little, but my judgment with regard to weather, mechanical difficulties, enemy opposition, etc, was already deteriorating and would surely soon have become faulty, dangerously faulty, with danger for me and my crew and my colleagues—and for my self respect: for my mind must have been nearly ready to give up on the problem of reconciling life and duty, the simple but urgent desire to keep living, and the hundred loves and prides that the sense of duty is. And this feeling was not mine alone but was common to all the ‘old ones,’ the originals of the squadron, and the terror of some was so great that they refused to fly—but though their own shame tore at them there was no harshness from the rest, for we all had the same feeling but were trying to hold out a little longer, if we could make it.”

—1/Lt. John M. Donegan


Visit this site for more information on the history of PTSD in veterans.

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.

Making History: Flying B-25s from California to Australia

Within the first year of the United States entering World War II, the country faced the task of moving airplanes and their crews to their destination of the far-off Pacific Theater. While most of the men spent about three weeks aboard a ship, some arrived in Australia by plane in August 1942. A few months earlier, the air force had decided it wasn’t practical to ship B-25s and B-26s to the Pacific Theater, and flight crews from the 71st and 405th Squadrons had to ferry their own newly built B-25s on an island-hopping route from California to Australia. This had never been done with any other unit that arrived in Australia prior to the 38th Bomb Group. It would be a nail biting experience, as the crews had little room for navigational error or mechanical trouble.

Before making the first and longest flight from Hamilton Field, California to Hickam Field, Hawaii, the B-25s had to be outfitted with two large fuel tanks installed in the top and bottom of the bomb bay, a third tank in the bombardier’s spot, and, in case those weren’t enough, a 25 gallon fuel tank was also installed on the wings of some of the B-25s. To increase fuel efficiency, each plane was also stripped of guns and armor. Bombardiers and gunners, whose spots were occupied by fuel tanks, were sent to Hawaii by a transport plane along with the guns and armor from the B-25s. After plenty of tinkering and testing, engineering crews were ready to send the B-25 crews on their way to Hawaii.

Sharp and Thompson

Pilots 1/Lt. Richard T. Sharp and Capt. Alden G. Thompson were part of the flight which departed New Caledonia for Australia during the afternoon of August 14, 1942. Strong headwinds delayed the flight’s arrival in Australia until after dark, and Sharp and Thompson had to crash land their airplanes. (Alden G. Thompson Collection)

Flights began on August 2nd, with four 71st Squadron crews taking off before 0600. Fourteen hours later, they successfully touched down at Hickam Field with little fuel to spare. The rest of the 71st was cleared to join the four crews in Hawaii the next morning. Among them was Capt. Alden G. “Bud” Thompson, flying his B-25 nicknamed BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS. His plane had been modified differently from some of the other B-25s. The fuel tanks in the bomb bay were half the size, with the rest of the fuel to come from tanks on the wings. Unfortunately, the crew had not been told how to transfer fuel from the wing tanks, instead relying on a “tech order” that turned out to be indecipherable. Thompson and his crew turned back for California and landed safely. The small fuel tank was exchanged for a larger one and the crew took off the next morning. They saw a B-17 formation heading in the same direction and joined up with them. Hickam Field was not expecting a B-25 with the B-17s and set off a red alert until the situation was resolved and Thompson and his crew were allowed to land.

The next leg of the trip would be to Christmas Island, followed by Canton Island, then Fiji and New Caledonia, the last stop before Australia. For Thompson, unlike some of the other pilots, the flights between each of these islands had remained relatively uneventful. Still, after two weeks of island hopping, he was eager to get to Australia and refused to spend the night in New Caledonia. Thompson would take the lead position in a flight of five B-25s from New Caledonia to Amberley Field. Crews estimated a five hour flight time, which ended up being far too optimistic. Instead of arriving over Australia before sunset, pilots spent more time battling with strong headwinds over the Coral Sea. WE’REWOLF, flown by 1/Lt. William G. Woods, disappeared. Fortunately, the lost B-25 made it to the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) strip at Evans Head with the help of a Fairey Battle escort.

Finally, they saw the Australian coastline illuminated by the moon and the navigator aboard Thompson’s plane tuned into Brisbane’s radio station, which would help them stay on course. Ideally, they would hit the eastern edge of Brisbane, then turn inland for Ipswich and land at Amberley. The problem was, they had arrived south of Brisbane and the coastline they were looking at was not at all what they had expected. Australia had also not expected to see the B-25s until the next day and was completely blacked out. And unbeknownst to the aircrews, the radio signal they were following was not coming from Brisbane, but Grafton, a small town well to the south of their destination.

Bud and His Pogmasters

Pictured here is Capt. Bud Thompson’s B-25, BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS, after a forced landing near Grafton, Australia. Leading a four-plane ferry flight from New Caledonia to Amberley Field, Brisbane, Thompson became lost and approached a blacked-out Australian coast from an uncertain location. After hours of searching for Amberley, Thompson and his wingmen were running dangerously low on fuel, and he decided to take his chances with a blind landing at Grafton. The plane came down on an auxiliary training field, then tipped forward after the nose wheel collapsed into the soft ground of an adjacent cow pasture. (Alden G. Thompson Collection)

Low on fuel, the flight of B-25s needed to land quickly. A corporal at the Australian Signal Station at Grafton’s airport identified the B-25s and tried to contact them in Morse code using the lights surrounding the base’s tennis courts. Private James T. Berry, the radio operator, was given a signal lamp to send a message that the planes needed to land immediately. With the help of the local radio station, the corporal gathered Grafton’s residents to light the airstrip with their cars. BUD AND HIS POGMASTERS made a hard landing and tore through a fence as the plane ran out of room on the short runway. After the B-25 stopped, the nose wheel collapsed in the mud. First Lieutenant Richard T. Sharp, who was very anxious to land, brought his plane down next. Dangerously low on fuel, his plane followed the same path into the mud, with the nose gear snapping off and the plane spinning to a stop.

Circling above them, the two remaining B-25s were sent 50 miles away to Evans Head. As they flew north, the pilots of both planes realized they were also very low on fuel and would not make it. Instead, they decided to bail out. One man was killed and the rest made it safely to the ground. By August 22nd, all of the 38th’s air crews were reunited and the men turned their attention to the war.

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

Rabaul, New Britain

Located on the coast of a natural harbor on the eastern coast of New Britain, an island in the Southwest Pacific, Rabaul was a German colony in the 1900s that was captured by the Australians in World War I. Two nearby volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, erupted violently in 1937, destroying most of the city. After World War II started, it was captured by the Japanese in January 1942, after which it was transformed into a major stronghold with approximately 97,000 troops that would easily fend off Allied attacks until October and November 1943. While the Allies continued to advance towards Japan, they cut off Japanese supply routes to Rabaul and continued to bomb the city and surrounding area. It was officially surrendered at the end of the war. After the war was over, the city became a trading hub until Tavurvur erupted in 1994, once again destroying a large part of the city. Developments closest to the volcano were never rebuilt.

Rabaul then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Rabaul and Simpson Harbor as they appeared in September 1943. At right is Rabaul today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Langley Air Force Base

Established in 1917 near Hampton, Virginia, Langley Field (named after American aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley) remains one of the oldest air bases in continuous operation in the U.S. Its small airfield was expanded in the 1930s and continued to develop as World War II began. At the time the left image was taken, Langley was used as a training ground for new units, such as the 43rd Bomb Group, established in the U.S. military build-up before they entered the war.

Langley then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Langley Field in 1941. At right is Langley today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Boram Airdrome

On the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, Boram (referred to as East Wewak by the Japanese) was one of the four airdromes that made up the Wewak Complex built by the Japanese during World War II. The other three in the complex were Wewak, Dagua, and But. It was repeatedly attacked by the Allies between 1942 and 1945, and finally ended with the Australians securing Boram on May 22, 1945. These days Boram is the home of the Wewak Airport, also sometimes known as Boram Airport.

Boram then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Boram Airdrome after it was attacked by the 312th Bomb Group during the spring of 1944. At right is Boram today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Morotai Island

Approximately two years after the Japanese invaded Morotai Island, off Halmahera Island in east Indonesia, the 31st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army landed on Morotai on September 15, 1944. Two airstrips were built and Morotai grew into a major staging base for attacks on Japanese territory in the Philippine Islands. Almost a year later on September 9, 1945, the island became the site of the formal surrender of the 126,000 Japanese still in the Netherlands East Indies [now Indonesia]. The base became a large aircraft and vehicle graveyard after the war was over. Scrapping and smelting lasted until 1988.

Morotai then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, are the two airstrips at Morotai on October 15, 1944. At right is Morotai today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Ie Shima

Ie Shima was part of the Ryukyu Island chain, a trail of islands southwest of Japan. It was just west of Okinawa, and was captured by the Allies as part of the Battle of Okinawa. Before American units took over the base, the Japanese destroyed the runways and buried mines throughout the island to deter Allied attacks. Once it was under U.S. control, various engineer aviation battalions were hard at work to make the island habitable for units that were due to move to the island in June. In August, Ie Shima was a stop for the Japanese surrender delegation on their way to Manila. These days, the U.S. Marine Corps operates a military training facility on part of the island, while civilians reside on the rest of it.

Ie Shima then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Warpath Across the Pacific, is the 345th Bomb Group’s camp area at Ie Shima in the summer of 1945. At right is Ie Shima today, taken from Google Maps.

Buka Island
Buka Island is part of the Solomon Island chain in the southwest Pacific, on the opposite end of the chain from Guadalcanal. After being claimed by the Germans in 1885, Buka was turned over to Australia in 1920. The Japanese seized Buka on March 9, 1942 and built an air base that grabbed Allied attention in June 1943 when preparations for Operation Cartwheel were in the works. A small canal separated Buka from the island of Bougainville, which was to be the site of a major invasion, and up-to-date reconnaissance of the two islands was required beforehand. That reconnaissance mission turned into one of the most dramatic moments of the Pacific war when Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. and his crew were attacked during their photomapping mission on June 16, 1943. In the end, Zeamer and his bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, were awarded the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski’s was posthumously awarded) and the rest of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for getting those photos while under fire. Contrary to internet lore, this photo was not taken during that mission. Buka remained under Japanese control until September 1945. It later gained independence from Papua New Guinea in 2005.

Buka then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from the Naval Aviation Museum, the Buka airfield in August 1943. At right is Buka today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

Repost: The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six WWII Bases Then and Now

We’re working on another batch of then and now photos for you next week. To hold you over, head back to our previous post on the same topic. We’ll get you started with a U.S. base featured in that post.

Hunter Army Airfield
Located in Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Field was originally a municipal airport built in 1929. It was named Hunter Municipal Airfield in May 1940 after a World War I flying ace from Savannah, Lt. Col. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter. Soon afterwards, an Army Air Corps base was built and several units, the 3rd and 27th Bomb Groups as well as the 35th Air Base Group, would call it home for a short time. The 312th Bomb Group was another unit that did their aircraft training at Hunter Air Base (so renamed on February 19, 1941). Today, there are about 5000 soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield, including the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah.

Hunter Army Airfield Then and Now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left,  taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the base where bomb groups such as the 312th were activated. At right is Hunter Army Airfield today, taken from Google Maps.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

We are taking a look back at two posts regarding the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Each one features eyewitness accounts from men who saw the mushroom clouds as they were out on their own missions on the 6th and 9th. They are fascinating glimpses into one of the most important historical events of the 20th Century. Click on the names below for the full accounts.

As we rounded the south tip of Kyushu we began to observe a strange looking white cloud over the horizon, but rising higher and higher. At first it resembled a large cumulus cloud, but soon it was apparent that it was not of natural origin. It began to appear in the shape of a huge mushroom, flattening out at the top… —Bud Lawson 8/7/45

 

Little did any of us, and I presume to speak for my crew, perhaps others as well, know that on this sunny Japanese morning, like eons of mornings before, that we would be witnesses to a slice of epochal history, a personal introduction to the nuclear age… —George B. Green 8/9/45

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

This week, we wanted to take a look at how much several World War II bases from the Pacific Theater (as well as one from the U.S.) have changed since the war ended.

 

Hunter Army Airfield
Located in Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Field was originally a municipal airport built in 1929. It was named Hunter Municipal Airfield in May 1940 after a World War I flying ace from Savannah, Lt. Col. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter. Soon afterwards, an Army Air Corps base was built and several units, the 3rd and 27th Bomb Groups as well as the 35th Air Base Group, would call it home for a short time. The 312th Bomb Group was another unit that did their aircraft training at Hunter Air Base (so renamed on February 19, 1941). Today, there are about 5000 soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield, including the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah.

Hunter Army Airfield Then and Now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left,  taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the base where bomb groups such as the 312th were activated. At right is Hunter Army Airfield today, taken from Google Maps.

 

RAAF Base Amberley
What is now the Royal Australian Air Force’s largest base was under construction during most of World War II. Amberley, located southwest of Brisbane, was named by an immigrant farmer in the 1850s after his hometown in England. Airport construction began in 1939 and continued through 1944. During the war, the base briefly housed many Australian and U.S. units, including the 22nd and 38th Bomb Groups.

RAAF Base Amberley: Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left is airfield at Amberley during the early part of WWII, taken from Revenge of the Red Raiders. The image on the right is a current view of RAAF Base Amberley, taken from Google Maps.

 

Corregidor Island
Originally Spanish territory, the island of Corregidor was incorporated into U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War. It stayed that way until Japanese forces invaded the island in 1942, leading to the unconditional surrender of the Allies in the Philippines on May 6, 1942. Finally, in early 1945, the Allies took back the island. These days, Corregidor is part of the Philippines National Park, with several historic landmarks scattered about the island.

Corregidor Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. (Left) A 43rd Bomb Group strike photo of Corregidor after it was bombed by the Group, taken from the IHRA archives. (Right) This satellite image of the island shows how it has changed since World War II. Image taken from Google Maps.

 

Manila, Philippines
Manila was also a Spanish territory that was given to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War. From 1935-1941, it was Gen. MacArthur’s base during his time as a military advisor. The city was attacked by Japanese on December 8, 1941, and, after repeated bombings, it fell into Japanese hands in January 1942. Three years later, the U.S. returned to Manila and fought a bloody month-long battle to recapture it, destroying much of the city in the process. This picture was taken at the tail end of the conflict. The city has since recovered and is now a major urban center in the Pacific, the capital of the Philippines, and has a population of over 1.5 million people.

Manila Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left, taken from the IHRA archives, shows the destruction after Manila was bombed. At right is a satellite image of a rebuilt Manila taken from Google Earth.

 

Wakde Island
Before the Japanese set foot on Wakde Island in April 1942, it may have been inhabited by a small native population. Over the next year, much of the foliage on the island was cut down to make space for a runway that was 5400 feet long and 390 feet wide. The Japanese leveled more of the island to build 100 pillboxes, bunkers and other defenses. On May 15, 1944, the fight over Wakde began. All but four Japanese soldiers stationed there fought to the death. Wakde was further expanded by the Allies, almost completely clearing the island of vegetation in the process.  Today, the island is uninhabited.

Wakde Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left,  from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, shows Wakde Island after its development as an Allied base. The image on the right is from Google Earth.

 

Nadzab
This base, located north of Lae, started out as a tiny native village that was eventually populated by German Lutherans of the Gabmatzung Mission in 1910. A small airfield was later established. The Japanese captured Nadzab in 1942 and occupied it until early September 1943 when Gen. MacArthur ordered Operation Postern to be carried out. Once Nadzab was in Allied hands, it was expanded into a huge airbase with five airstrips. As the war wound down, Nadzab was redesigned as an aircraft boneyard. Today, it serves as a small regional airport.

Nadzab Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left, four of Nadzab’s five airstrips can be seen in this photo from IHRA. Today, the only sign of this former base is the single runway seen slightly left of center. The satellite image is from Google Earth.

 

 

Sources and additional information about these WWII sites: