Flying the A-24

In late December 1941, 40 graduates from the 41-H Flight Class arrived in Australia after being diverted from their planned destination in the Philippines. They were soon enrolled in the 27th Bomb Group’s A-24 Dive Bomber School. The core of experienced 27th BG pilots trained the fledgling pilots on the basics of flying the Douglas dive bomber and how to make a dive bombing attack. The aircraft was not a favorite of the 27th’s pilots, who complained that the aircraft handled like a truck compared to their preferred plane, the speedy twin-engined A-20 Havoc low level attack bomber. A silver lining of the A-24 was that its low speed kept the number of crashes amongst the new pilots to a minimum. Despite the plane’s poor reputation with the Army Air Force pilots, the plane would be used by the Navy to sink more Japanese ships than any other U.S. aircraft.

The new pilots learned how to fly the A-24 at “Little Randolph,” (so named after Randolph Field, TX) located at Archerfield, Brisbane. After four or five weeks of training, the graduates of the school were assigned to the three 27th Bomb Group Squadrons, the 16th, 17th and 91st. They were promptly ordered to fly their bombers from Brisbane to Darwin, which would be the starting point for a move to Java. While they were initially supposed to fly up to the Philippines, the rapid Japanese advance forced a change in plans.

A-24

This photo, taken while the 27th Bomb Group A-24s were being assembled in the Brisbane area, shows an A-24 from behind with a clear view of the perforated dive brakes. (27th Bomb Group Collection)

One of the A-24 instructors was 2/Lt. James H. “Harry” Mangan of the 27th Bomb Group, who wrote about his time as a flight school instructor in his personal diary.

January 1, 1942
Our school starts tomorrow or the next day. Harry Galusha is C.O., Zeke Summers, Asst off., J.R. Smith operations, Tubb – Supply and myself Engineering off. We will also act as flight instructors. I don’t know how it’s going to be flying from the rear seat of an A-24 with just a throttle stick and rudder but I’ll soon find out.

January 2, 1942
School has started and “Tim” [2/Lt. Francis E. Timlin] and “Gus” [1/Lt. Gustave H. Heiss] are to be added to the instructors here. . . . My students aren’t bad. I rode ‘em around today and let ‘em feel the ship out from the rear. Tomorrow or so will try to solo ‘em.

January 3, 1942
I shot a few landings with my students and then soloed ‘em. Meant to mention their names: Hayden, Anderson, and Wilkins. All of whom are not bad. Hayden’s the hottest to date – Wilkins the weakest. [Note that Wilkins later became commander of the 8th Bomb Squadron and would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions over Rabaul Harbor on November 2, 1943.]
I’ve enjoyed the last few days of instruction. I wanted it back in the States but they wouldn’t listen to me. Instead I went to a hell-bent-for-leather outfit of attack and perhaps I’d not be sorry. Instructing I guess does get terribly “old”.

January 10, 1942
The days have become pretty much of a routine now. We’ve a few spare men of the 8th Material [Squadron] for a ground crew and our school’s going great. It’s the first decent deal we’ve pulled since we left Manila and I’m enjoying it. So far we work on the school during the day, assemble ships as we train then clean up for dinner and occasionally grab a Jeep or car & go into Brisbane.

January 23, 1942
We moved from Archerfield today to Amberly field and I hated to move. Good bye to freedom and order, hello wheel-spin. Good bye to the decent mess the Aussies shared with us, good bye to table cloths, waitresses (WAAF), cold beer and cokes before dinner. Oh well I’m used to that stuff. Have some pleasant memories of lifting gas for our Southport trip, going out with Les Jackson, Hill, and others.

The 91st has formed now at Archerfield with Harry Galusha, Zeke, J.R. Smith, Tubbs and some of the trainees. “Gus”, “Tim” and myself are joining our 17th here at Amberly. Oh yes, add Salvatore and Ed Backus to the 91st. Think Ed Backus got tired of the flub dubbing here and the Lennon’s Hotel life so took over the 91st Squadron. I personally believe they now have more spirit than in 17th but – we shall see how they fare. They are due to go to Java within a few days. The P.I. deal is out and we are now destined to help the Dutch. Right now I’m trying to sort out ships and get them equipped with the better jobs.

Looking them over today I had to smile disgustedly at the way the planes were originally shipped and how much additional work we’ve had to put on them to make them somewhere near fit for combat. We are using truck tires for the wheels – we’ve no replacements. We lacked hand triggers for the guns until frantic wires to General Marshall brought a B-24 out with electric solenoids etc(?) Oh yes, and even then brought the wrong stuff and not enough!

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Your Army in the Making: The Carolina Maneuvers 1941

Between August and November 1941, the U.S. Army scheduled a series of war games for military forces to prepare for combat. The Carolina Maneuvers took place in November 1941. This interesting video from the U.S. National Archives contains footage of setting up for the maneuvers as well as some of the action in the field.

Preparing for War in the Pacific Theater

Although the 22nd Bomb Group had been formed up in December 1939, they saw next to no activity until only a few short weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor sent everyone into a flurry of activity. “The first change of station after the attack on Pearl Harbor was stunningly sudden,” wrote Lt. Maiersperger. “At 1700 hours, Sunday, 7 December 1941, the members of the 22nd BG were engaged in individual pursuits. By 0730 Monday morning, the air echelon was taking off. For half of us, the immediate route was Memphis, Albuquerque and to Muroc Dry Lake…The other half went a more southern route by way of El Paso. The ground echelon was furiously packing all ground equipment to follow us by rail. We had overnight to load our airplanes with such spares as we could carry — hydraulic fluid, brake seals, starter solenoids and spark plugs — which we knew we would need. About 0300, those of us who lived off the base were allowed to repair our respective quarters, divide our possessions as to those that we’d take with us and the remainder to be loaded into our autos for future disposition, according to the arrangements we could make with our landlords, friends or relatives at that hour in the morning. We wrote out checks to meet our obligations to our creditors and tried to answer the excited questions of our landlords. All we could tell them was that we were leaving that day and had to be back on base by 0600. My landlord drove me back to the base and later delivered my car to my parents in New York City.”

B-26s Flying West

On December 8th, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the air echelon of the 22nd was airborne en route to the West Coast, where it was needed to protect against a possible Japanese attack on California. Most of the planes arrived at Muroc Dry Lake within a couple of days following overnight stops at bases along the way for servicing, crew rest and routine maintenance. This photo shows a flight of three 19th Squadron B-26s flying cross country in typical formation at about this time. (George H. Wilson Collection)

All the B-26 crews in the 22nd Bomb Group were ordered to fly from their former airbase at Langley, Virginia to Muroc Dry Lake, California on December 8th at 0715. The ground echelon was loaded up on a train and sent across the country, arriving on the 12th. Muroc was never intended to be a major airbase, but in the wake of Pearl Harbor the primary concern was moving the units to the west quickly, with the details to be sorted out later.

The ground echelon called Muroc “The Pits”. Living conditions were awful, it was very isolated and subject to extreme temperature changes (as it was located in the Mojave Desert). Several lucky crews from the 33rd Squadron, soon followed by the rest of the air echelon, were sent to on March Field, a much more comfortable base, at the end of December. The ground echelon remained at Muroc until the end of January, at which point the decision to mobilize the 22nd Bomb Group was finalized. Only a week later, the 22nd was leaving the States and heading off to fight the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

 

Read more about the 22nd Bomb Group’s journey in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

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.

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:

A Veteran Recalls the Bombing of Pearl Harbor

With the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Sunday, we thought it would be a good time to let a veteran talk about his experience. There is an abundance of these kind of videos on YouTube, but this one grabbed our interest. Not only does Jim Hardwick talk about his time at Pearl Harbor, he also outlines some of his other experiences in the military during World War II.

This video was made by Erik Johnston. If you’re interested in watching more videos by him, he has posted several interviews with other veterans on his YouTube channel.

Pearl Harbor Day

The words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt found on this website.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched as attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. . .”


The USS Arizona on December 7, 1941.


The USS Arizona Memorial.

Photos from this site.