Military Life in December 1941

When the events of the early days of the U.S. entering World War II are recounted, the most often heard story is that of thousands of Americans who volunteered to fight. What about those men who were already in the military? How did their lives change? Through the diary entries of men from the Fifth Air Force, we can give you some insight into what they experienced before and after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

From Lewis “Tad” Ford of the 33rd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group

…when December 7th came, I got my first day off in a month., why it was a real boon. Days off were assigned by crew and Disbro had his own plans, so I slept late, floated into town, and went to a show to see Sgt. York in mid-afternoon. I was surprised about halfway through the picture to see my name come up on a caption underneath the movie, saying “Lieutenant Ford, report to the box office.” A driver was waiting for me with a staff car to give me a ride back to Langley field: Pearl Harbor had happened.”
We were first told to move all of our personal goods back to the field into the VOQ. Then we were told, no, don’t. Pack everything you don’t want to take with you and send it home. Then, back in the Squadron we spent three or four hours loading the bomb bays with all sorts of maintenance gear. Then we went to our quarters to get as much sleep as we could.
I lived with four other guys. At about 3:30 I took the first telephone call telling Lancaster to report out to the squadron at 4:15. Five minutes later I got one regarding Robbie, and then another for Hitchcock, and finally my own. So, we all ended up at the squadron at 4:15. At 5:am, 12/8 we were wheels up on the way west as a group, 60 airplanes in all.
The only important thing that happened between there and Muroc Dry Lake [Edwards Air Force Base in California] was that Mark Lewis got killed at El Paso, leaving us with Millard Haskins as the group commander.

Built next to a dry lake, Muroc Air Base was initially an extension of March Field in 1941, mainly used for submarine patrols off the southwestern US coast. The 22nd Bomb Group briefly flew patrols from Muroc before the unit departed the United States. (Robin Highham Collection)

Excerpt of a letter from from Gerald C. Cook of the 2nd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group

“Practice makes perfect.” This seemed to be the goal of the 22nd. We made many practice runs in order to be ready for any eventuality which might occur because of war in Europe. Then on 12/7 Pearl Harbor took place. As soon as the news reached the US, the 22nd BG officers alerted all of its personnel to return to base as soon as possible. We started the mad rush to get every plane ready for a flight to the west coast within 24 hours. This was a tremendous feat for so much to be done in so short a time! We reached the set goal, and within 24 hours the entire 22nd BG took off en mass and headed west.
It was while we were flying over the state of Mississippi that I so vividly remember hearing President Roosevelt address the Congress (as well as the American people) and give his Declaraion of War speech). Because of the limitations of the B-26 we could not fly all the way from the “East to West Coast. We made our first top near Tucson, AZ. That night there was an unusual rainstorm. Some of our planes got stuck in the mud and we had to wait a few days until we could get all the planes airborne again.

From the diary of Lt. Roland Birnn of the 27th and later 3rd Bomb Groups
12 December, 1941 Clark Field, Philippines

Very quiet morning. Low clouds and light rain. No fun living in the open. Talley and I went to enlisted man’s barracks 1/3 mile away for a shower. Now deserted—been bombed several times. Hear air raid warning—ignored it because it was too cloudy for a raid. Heard a second warning as I finished dressing. Went outside and saw nine bombers in a “V” formation. Ran for cover—ran like we had never ran before. Finally had to drop to the ground when the bombers got too close. We hugged the ground. Bombs dropped in train, straddled us. Just lucky. Ground sure shook—so did I.
Got up and moved farther away. Then nine more bombers came over. Clark is right on the edge of a mountain range. The bombers whipped around the mountains, just under the clouds, and were on us before we could do anything. We hit the ground again.
Rather nerve racking to lie in the open and wait for bombs to hit. They get closer and closer. The ground started to shake and the explosions hurt our ears. When attack had passed, we saw nine others off to the side. Walked back to HQ through tank area. Noticed that the bombs hit this area. One bomb hit a gun emplacement—killed everyone. Saw other wounded men being carried away. Bomb hit a B-17 on the field. They seem to know when we have anything on the field. Back in HQ area found a bomb had hit 50 feet away from my bunk. I am moving out. They know this is HQ. Japs strafed when they came over. AA got a couple of ships. We had no pursuit up.
Ordinance setting off duds now. They give no warning—just the explosion. When one goes off nearby, everyone hits the dirt. Gets a little nerve wracking. Japs now have an air base in the norther part of Luzon. Our bunch is getting administrative jobs since all the planes are burned. We’re doing the jobs the pursuit outfit was doing here. They moved into the hills. Shrapnel sure is mean looking—jagged edges are sharp as a knife. Hope I get to finish this diary. [Lt. Birnn was killed on a test flight in 1942.]

Found in the Archives: December 1942 Map of Salamaua

For each of our books, we carefully go through our various collections and pick out the best images for publication. For one reason or another, some of them simply don’t fit our criteria, but we want to share them because they’re still very interesting to look at. Recently, we ran across one such image, a map of the Japanese-occupied Salamaua area dated December 1, 1942. We believe the map’s data came from prewar sources as well as scouting commando units, as it appears to have prewar housing and military posts marked. At the time, the majority of the attention was on the brutal fighting in the Buna-Gona area, located south of Salamaua.

Map of Salamaua from December 1942
Click on the image to explore the map’s details.

A Collection of Photos

For every photo we publish in our books, there are dozens that don’t quite fit the subject matter or don’t have the necessary context information to be used. This is even true for the handful of color photos we publish in our color section. For this post, we figured it would be good to publish a few of those color photos that won’t make it into any of our books. Unfortunately, we don’t have specific information about the people or places depicted, although you might be able to recognize a few elements—for instance, that’s a B-17 coming in to land, probably at Port Moresby, New Guinea, in that last photo. The collection information has also been lost for all of these photos except for the last one, which comes from the C. Lloyd Anderson collection.

 

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge (Unknown Collection)

 

Feeding a kangaroo

Feeding a kangaroo (Unknown Collection)

 

Relaxing at the beach

Relaxing at the beach (Unknown Collection)

 

Enjoying some watermelon

Enjoying some watermelon (Unknown Collection)

 

B-17 landing

B-17 landing (C. Lloyd Anderson Collection)

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2019

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 published in 2019.

 

B-25 Impatient Virgin takes off 1. The Disappearance of Capt. Kizzire’s Crew Captain William L. Kizzire’s B-25 is shot down over Boram. The crew survived and disappeared before a rescue could be made.

 

2. Medium Bombardment Attack and Aviation A film to introduce the Pacific Theater to men being transferred from Europe.

Flight map: Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943 3. Flight map: Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943 Take a look at the flight distances between Port Moresby and important locations in February 1943.

 

408th Personnel at Nadzab 4. When Plans Go Awry: A Mission to Palau Captain John N. Barley’s B-24 is shot down after an encounter with several Japanese Zeros.

 

Death of an A-20 5. Shot Down at Kokas The story behind a fatal mission that took the lives of two men and produced one of the most dramatic photo series taken from a combat camera.

 

Taxpayer's Pride wreckage 6. Surviving in a Japanese POW Camp Shot down by Japanese fighter pilot SFPO Shigetoshi Kudo, this B-17 crewmember was turned over to the Japanese after he escaped certain death by jumping out of his plane over New Britain.

 

7. Ken’s Men, Vol. II Announcement We were so excited to share the news of this new release with you!

Letter From New Guinea

Some humor out of the Pacific Theater. The following poem was included with a diary from Robert Pickard of the 71st Squadron, 38th Bomb Group.

 

Letter From New Guinea (Australian author unknown)

Dear Joe, – – You ought to see me

In my shanty on the rise,

With the great mosquitoes buzzing

And the hordes of ants and flies.

You should see the snakes and scorpions,

And the centipedes and bugs,

And they’re not brought on by drinking

From old black quart pot mugs.

 

We’ve seen these things in Aussie

In the good old droving days,

And they often looked much bigger

Gazing through a drunken haze.

All these monsters in New Guinea

Were a curse and pest at first.

They’re now commercialised by Army,

So the Jap can do his worst.

 

You couldn’t kill these mossies

If you used a bullock yoke.

So they use them now as bombers

When they’re properly tamed and broke.

The ants are much more docile,

Rather sluggish for a hack,

But they used a mob as pack mules

On the Owen Stanley Track.

 

The flies are rather flighty

And they take some breaking in,

But send them after Zeros, and

The flies will always win.

The snakes are used by sappers

On the flooded river ground:

They use them there as bridges

For the soldiers northward-bound.

 

The scorpions, Joe, are streamlined,

They’re bullet-proof as well;

They carry eighteen-pounders

And they blow the Japs to hell.

How to get stores over the mountains

Had the ‘Big Shots’ at a loss

‘Till they used the mighty centipede

To tow the stores across.

 

The bug’s a handy scout car

And he very seldom jibs,

But be careful when you touch him

Or he’ll kick you in the ribs.

The rats are wild and snorty

Like that blooming mare you sold,

But the ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzies’ ride ’em

To deliver ‘Guinea Gold.’

A Map of Australia During World War II

One of the indirect consequences of World War II was the rapid expansion of Australian infrastructure. American, British and Australian war plans all assumed that the defensive line would be held at Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, and that the bulk of the fighting would occur in the Central and North Pacific regions. When the line was broken, thousands of troops and millions of pounds of war material had to be rerouted through Australia, which did not have the capacity to handle the sudden growth. Construction was soon underway and formerly quiet Australian cities expanded to accommodate Allied soldiers training for war. This undated map shows the extent of the projects.

Map of Australia during WWII

(Lex McAulay Collection)

 

Flight map: Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943

Today, we thought we’d take a step back from specific mission stories for a bigger picture of the Southwest Pacific region. Specifically, a map of the region as it was in the thick of the air war in February 1943. Many of the places involved have changed names, shifted locations or been abandoned entirely (especially emergency airfields), so a contemporary war map can be a more valuable resource than even the full extent of today’s technological mapping tools. This map shows the distance in a straight-line flight between the more important locations in the region, which was essential information for fuel conservation. Combat aircraft always had a reserve buffer of fuel, but that could be eaten away by flying through storms, flying in combat, damage to a fuel tank or engine or a broken component—so an aircrew needed to know all their options for landing short of their home base. In order for you to fully explore this map, we uploaded the full size on Flickr. Click on the map to see the larger version.

Flight map: Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943

Finding the Lost Ships

Since 2017, R/V Petrel’s team has been locating wreckage of Japanese and American ships that were sunk during World War II. To date, 23 ships have been discovered, the most recent of which is the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier from which the Doolittle Raid began. A reporter from CBS This Morning tagged along on the hunt for the USS Hornet, giving us an idea about the process behind finding one of these ships.

Part 1:

Part 2:

 

Want to read more about the work of the R/V Petrel team? Read this captivating article on the discovery of the USS Wasp.

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2018

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 2018.

 

B-24 Petty Gal 1. Remember the 15  The 65th Squadron suffers a terrible loss on a mission to Tainan Airdrome.

 

 

389th Squadron officers 2. Mickey The profile history of a 389th Squadron, 312th Bomb Group A-20, coming straight to you from our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

 

 

3. How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II After writing this post, we wanted to dive into the use of phosphorus and how it impacted air missions.

 

B-24 Crash at Lipa 4. Lady Luck’s Unlucky Day LADY LUCK‘s pilots were having an inexplicably hard time taking off from Lipa Airdrome.

 

5. Your Army in the Making: The Carolina Maneuvers 1941 This video goes into some of the Stateside training done in 1941.

 

Low Altitude Bombsight 6. Working With the Low Altitude Bombsight This technology was used by a few heavy bomber squadrons to attack shipping targets at night.

 

The Old Man’s Ordeal a B-17 painting by Jack Fellows 7. The Old Man’s Ordeal A 65th Squadron B-17 crew is in the middle of a harrowing mission in this painting by Jack Fellows from our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

Caught Offguard: Attacking the Manila Airbases

Some months prior to December 1941, Major Lester Maitland thought it would be a good idea to prepare for an enemy attack on Nichols Field in Manila, Philippines by digging trenches. Although this task was carried out, his idea was mocked and given the nickname of “Maitland’s folly.” Around the base and Manila as a whole, the idea of the Japanese attacking this island seemed to be incomprehensible.

By late November 1941, members of the 27th Bomb Group had arrived in Manila and noticed the peculiar attitude toward defense and cautionary measures. Lieutenant Harry Mangan of the 27th observed that “A strange sense of impending war was evident in small personal ways, but not in military ways that I could easily see…Dependents of military and certain civilian personnel had been sent to the United States…but there were no air raid shelters, gun emplacements, nor revetments at Fort McKinley, or at Nichols Field that I could see. There was a strange mixture of awareness, but still an attitude on the impossibility of war. Military dress was expected in the Officer’s Club after 5:00 p.m., and we actually got a lecture from the Fort McKinley Post Commander on his distaste for our airmen wearing Flight Line clothing during the day…”

News of the attack on Pearl Harbor came quickly on December 8th (the other side of the International Date Line) and Group C.O. Col. John H. Davies roused his men to give them the news. No one knew what to do, or had the planes to fly in the event of an attack, so they just went back to bed, where sleep would soon be hard to come by: several false alarms woke them up, and was eventually followed by a real attack on Nichols Field. It sent men running for the trenches. Others were given jobs as radio operators, antiaircraft gunners and whatever else was needed during the chaos. Eight hours later, Fort McKinley was attacked as well. With so few antiaircraft guns at the bases, there was very little that the U.S. troops could do to fend off the Japanese.

 

Water-cooled machine gun

Lieutenant Harry Roth sits with a .30-caliber water-cooled machine gun. With this type of light weaponry to serve as their air defenses, the Allied airfields and installations around Manila were all but helpless against the heavy Japanese attacks beginning on December 8, 1941. (Harry Mangan Collection)

 

“In morning found Japs had hit Nichols Field and destroyed hangars. Also hit the PAA radio station near McKinley. Was issued a service type gas mask. Had two more raids near us at 1045. Ibea, a small pursuit field, has been completely wiped out. Japs dropped tons of bombs on it. At noon bombs hit in officer’s mess—killed lots. Some of the men are now assigned to our group—they’re all bomb happy. Almost everyone has moved and is living in the jungle at the edge of post.” Dick Birnn wrote.

About half the available B-17s and P-40s at Manila were destroyed. Men were left reeling from the ferocity of the Japanese attacks. The 27th suffered its first casualty, PFC. Jackson P. Chitwood, who had been manning a machine gun at Nichols Field when a bomb burst nearby. These raids wound up being the first of many on the bases at Manila and Clark Field, which was located to the northwest of Manila.