IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2020

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 2020.

 

Tanker at Tourane 1. Adrift at Sea: A Chance Encounter A downed aircrew from the 345th Bomb Group waits for rescue.

 

Color illustration in the book Rampage of the Roarin' 20's2. Alcohol Busters Highlighting one of the paintings by aviation artist Jack Fellows that appears in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

 

Feeding a kangaroo3. A Collection of Photos Here, we shared some of the photos that don’t make it in our books.

 

4. Ditch at Sea and Live in a Boeing B-17 Learn all about the procedures taken to prepare for and ditch a B-17.

B-26 Over Lae5. Takeoff Snafu A 22nd Bomb Group mission started off on the wrong wing…

 

Fisher with Topsy6. Roland Fisher’s Brush with Death This member of the 43rd Bomb Group had two close calls with Japanese aircraft. Here is one of the stories.

 

B-17 Pluto II 7. Loss of PLUTO II No one saw this 43rd Bomb Group B-17 get shot down, a mystery that wasn’t solved until 1946.

Intense Mission over Rabaul

Three B-26s from the 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group took off from Seven Mile for Vunakanau, Rabaul on May 24, 1942. For one pilot, 2/Lt. Harold L. Massie, this would be his first mission as a first pilot. It was co-pilot 2/Lt. Eugene Wallace’s second combat mission. The three planes flew through overcast skies as they neared New Britain, but their flight leader, Lt. Ralph L. Michaelis, spotted a hole in the clouds near Rabaul. When they reached the target area, they discovered it was still covered by clouds. Still, there was a gap a few miles away and Michaelis decided his flight could use that to their advantage. The plan was to make one north-south run at low-level and get out of the area as fast as possible. At the time, Rabaul was a Japanese stronghold and three B-26s were no match for the heavily defended airdrome.

As they made their run, Japanese antiaircraft gunners let loose with a barrage of ack-ack, and hit two of the three B-26s. As Michaelis put it, “While over the target each member of the crew had had a close call.” Only one man in his plane, the bombardier, was injured when a tracer bullet went through his seat and cushion, stopped right next to his skin and burned him. He and 1/Lt. McCutcheon, the pilot of the third B-26, made it back to base safely. Massie’s plane was not so lucky. It was hit in the starboard engine and last seen smoking badly. The final radio transmission mentioned that they reached Wide Bay. While the plane had been doing ok on one engine, it wasn’t enough power to keep it in the air and Massie ditched about a mile offshore. Two of his crewmen, Pvt. Joseph C. Dukes and Cpl. Wolenski, were not seen after the landing. The others were helped to shore by Papuans. On July 27th, they split up. Massie and bombardier 2/Lt. Arthur C. King went one way and the other four went another way.

The photographer, S/Sgt. Jack B. Swan, broke his shoulder in the crash and died in his sleep on August 23rd. He was buried in the abandoned village of Ubili. His surviving crewmembers were eventually located and helped by an Australian plantation owner. They were finally rescued on March 25, 1943, and that incredible story is told in full in Revenge of the Red Raiders. Massie and King were captured by Papuans who subsequently turned them over to the Japanese. They were executed at Rabaul on October 12, 1942.

A War Correspondent’s Perspective

Harold Guard, a United Press war correspondent, joined the crew of Lt. Chris Herron of the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group for a mission over the Rabaul area on April 23, 1942. Below is his account of the mission.

“I went over Rabaul in a bomber piloted by Lt. Chris Herron and co-piloted by Lt. Duncan Seffern, who fitted me with a ‘Mae West’ and parachute before we left. I had to sit between the radioman and turret gunner, [Cpl.] George McMannamy, and the navigator, Lt. Charles Smith, on the flight. Bombardier Lt. George Barnhill occupied the glass-domed nose and somewhere in the tail were rear gunners [PFC.] Fred J. Mikles and [PFC.] Harry E. Philo.

“We arrived over Rabaul Harbor suddenly from a bank of clouds. I counted seven large ships and there were several smaller vessels. Someone behind U.S. will attend to them. We crossed the harbor, swooping low. I noticed the altitude meter registered 1,000 ft. Simultaneously I saw ground gun flashes and black smoke balls bursting above and around us. I hear the sound like cracking walnuts. The altitude was 700 ft.

“Herron croaks through the throat microphone. I can see the target—long parallel, drab colored buildings. The bomb bay doors open. Barnhill lets go—and fascinated, I see the incendiary sticks spread and actually reach the target. They got what they were supposed to get.

“We start to climb and the turret gunner reports a Zero on the starboard side. I saw him racing ahead of us. The gunner reports two more. I spot a fourth on the port side. The Zeros climb higher. They’re a pretty picture, with the light putty-colored wings against the golden sunshine.

Recon photo of the Rabaul area

Reconnaissance photo of the Rabaul area taken in 1941.

“Then one swoops down towards us. I think he’s sure that he got us, but we dive steeply towards the sea and our after-guns clatter. Barnhill doesn’t waste time during the dive. He pours tracers into the barges now only 75 ft. below us. They are carrying uniformed figures and Barney’s tracers find their target. We straighten out and I see, as I look backwards, billowing clouds of black smoke and sheets of vivid red flame.

“Meanwhile, three more Zeros are pressing us. We remain low over the sea and they can’t dive below us. The tail gunner reports two Zeros hovering on our tail. Suddenly another one hurtles down out of the clouds. Guns chatter again and once more I hear a sound like cracking walnuts and there are bursting puffballs all around us. The gunner’s language over the intercommunication radiophone becomes unprintable as his gun momentarily jams, but he soon gets it into action again and fires a burst which sends the Zeros on our tail zooming away.

“Only one Zero is coming our way now. Herron anticipates perfectly. With a skillful turn of the wrist we are suddenly up and under the Zero. Our turret guns blaze, and McMannnamy’s interphone croaks ‘We got that so-and-so!’

“Barney’s singing over the interphone like a fool—’I don’t want to set the world on fire!’…Suddenly I realize it’s all over. I start grinning and everybody laughed at me. I realize I must have been scared all the time. We turn for home and race in for a perfect landing. Down at Allied HQs, a brief communique says: ‘Our air force attacked shipping, barracks and warehouses, and machine-gunned enemy personnel.’”

Read more about this mission in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Bataan: A 70th Anniversary Commemoration | New Mexico PBS

Nearly eight years ago, New Mexico PBS uploaded a video where three World War II veterans spoke of their experiences relating to Bataan. One of these veterans, Pete Gonzalez, was a member of the 19th Bomb Group. In this video, he talks about some of what he experienced and witnessed during the Bataan Death March and as a POW.

Senator Udall reintroduced his bill in 2019, and it has not yet moved forward.

Takeoff Snafu

Prior to a mission on September 2, 1942 to Lae, Capt. Walter A. Krell went through his customary visit with each aircrew to make sure they were prepared and understood what they were about to do. He did this for each mission he led, and this event was no different than any other. Until, that is, one pilot started up the engines on his B-26 and headed for the runway. Misinterpreting this pilot’s actions as the signal to start their engines, more pilots started their engines and followed the first pilot toward the runway. Krell was both livid and flabbergasted by the sudden change and he quickly ran to his plane to get in line for takeoff.

Unsurprisingly, Krell did not end up in the first spot for takeoff. This caused confusion among some of the pilots, even leading one to break radio silence and say he wasn’t going to continue the flight. He was later reprimanded. Since Krell was stuck in the middle of the pack, no one was able to find him and form up properly. One pilot in the air before Krell waited for a bit, then decided to head across the Owen Stanley Mountains to Lae on his own. His navigator got lost and they ended up over Salamaua, about 20 miles south of their intended target.

The rest of the crews stayed behind and waited for Krell, which helped alleviate the earlier disorganization. One turned back because of mechanical issues. The rest continued on to Lae with Krell in the lead. As they approached the target area from 9300 feet, they had yet to meet a single fighter. It was too quiet. P/O Graham B. Robertson, Krell’s co-pilot was feeling uneasy about the situation. Krell suddenly veered left before reaching the target. The rest of the formation followed him, then the sky erupted in antiaircraft fire where the formation was only seconds before.

B-26 Over Lae

This photo, showing a 2nd Squadron B-26 over Lae, was taken nearly a month before the September 2nd mission to Lae. (William H. Wise Collection)

Half the bombardiers’ bombs hit the target, while the other half harmlessly fell into the sea because of the maneuver the crews performed. Heading home, the B-26 crew was accompanied by a fighter escort that met them over Cape Waria. Upon returning to Port Moresby, Krell found the pilot who caused the earlier mix-up. As the pilot tried to give Krell an explanation for his actions, he was quickly silenced as a .45 automatic was drawn and pointed at his face. If he pulled a stunt like that ever again, Krell threatened, he would be dead.

The rest of the day didn’t go so well either. The B-26s had landed to refuel before continuing on to Cairns in Northern Australia. After landing a second time, everyone deserted their planes and headed to town. Much to Krell’s chagrin, no one had stayed behind to guard the aircraft. It took a few hours before he was able to find enough men to watch the B-26s overnight.

 

This story can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Firefight at Dili

In early November 1942, the 22nd Bomb Group was ordered to fly a couple of missions to Dili, located on Timor Island. Australian ground troops had reported that the Japanese were using a Catholic cathedral as a supply dump, and that building was the primary target on the November 3rd mission. Shortly before noon, eight B-26s approached the island’s south shore. Aboard Lt. Harry O. Patteson’s B-26, co-pilot John Marcus noticed a very smoky fire on the shore. As the crews flew toward Dili, they noticed other smoky fires along the way, a basic signal to let the Japanese know that trouble was approaching.

By the time they arrived over Dili, any hopes of surprising the Japanese were dashed and Oscars from 59 Sentai were already taking off to engage the B-26s starting their bombing runs from 7500 to 8500 feet. The crews managed to score some direct hits on the first run, but then regrouped before going around for another run. At this point, 1/Lt. Charles I. Hitchcock’s B-26, #41-17593, was hit by two flak bursts that took out the landing gear and started a fire in the engine after tearing through the starboard nacelle. Noticing the stricken plane, the Oscar pilots took the opportunity to go after #593. Hitchcock activated the engine’s fire extinguisher and his co-pilot, Lt. Albert J. Pilkington used a hand fire extinguisher to put out the flames licking the instrument panel in the cockpit, then Hitchcock feathered the propeller.

Bombing Timor

The 2nd, 19th and 408th Squadrons of the 22nd Bomb Group ended their period of stand-down on October 31st by sending a total of 12 B-26 Marauders to the norther coast of Australia to stage out of Darwin for a short series of missions against Dili, the capital of the Portuguese island of Timor. On the second Timor mission, November 3rd, 1/Lt. Charles C. Eberly, Jr., a 19th Squadron bombardier, placed a 2000-pound bomb on the cathedral, which was being used as a storage dump for ammunition. A large secondary explosion can be seen, as can less well-placed bombs that fell into the sea. (Jesse G. Homen Collection)

Down an engine, there was barely enough electricity to power the guns to fend off the attacking Oscars. Still, gunners reported shooting down two of the fighters. Below, an Australian guerrilla patrol watched the fight. The B-26 was falling far behind the rest of the formation and the Australians weren’t sure if it would even make it back to base. There was at least one hole in each propeller blade of the starboard wing and a substantial portion of the wing skin between the fuselage and the engine that had died. After a pilot in another B-26 noticed the plight of the Hitchcock crew, the rest of the B-26 formation turned around to fend off the Oscars and make sure #593 got home safely.

For the next two-and-a-half hours, Hitchcock and an escort flew back at much slower speed of 135 mph and at an altitude of 1000 feet. Then the working engine quit. The crew quickly got ready for a water landing and exited either by the force of the aircraft hitting the water or by swimming out of it. All but one man were bobbing on the water’s surface and Hitchcock made two trips back into the B-26. The first was to find the missing man, which he did, and the second was to release the life raft. Then the plane sunk. Sgt. Glenn A. Campbell, the severely injured crewman who Hitchcock rescued from the aircraft, died of a broken neck. He was buried at sea. Circling above them was Patteson’s B-26. His crew dropped a first aid kid and life raft, which were damaged in the fall. Low on fuel, he headed back to base.

A couple of hours later, the downed crew was visited by three more friendly aircraft dropping supplies and a note that a rescue boat would pick them up at 0600 hours. The men spent a sleepless night in the ocean and were overjoyed to see an Australian Navy tugboat coming to their aid the next morning.

 

Read this story in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Repost: The Royce Raid: The 3rd Bomb Group Wins Its Spurs

We’re wrapping up our Royce Raid trilogy today with the exciting finale. This post was first published in May 2014.

 

The morning of April 12th brought a raid by the 3rd Bomb Group on Davao, located on the southeast coast of Mindanao. This base became a primary target for the 3rd Bomb Group’s raids, as it had been under Japanese control since war was declared. Three P-40s from the Del Monte base made strafing runs, while two others flew on to Luzon to find shipping targets. A group of B-17s caught the Japanese by surprise when they destroyed runways, hangars, gasoline storage and warehouses at Nichols Field. The Japanese Army Air Force at Clark Field was taken by surprise and they were not able to mount a response until after the U.S. bombers were already back in Australia.

That same morning, the 3rd Bomb Group split up into two flights, led by Capt. Robert Strickland and Capt. Lowery, for their morning missions. They flew out separately to Cebu City, approximately 140 miles to the northwest of Del Monte. On the way over, the flight led by Lowery spotted a Japanese transport and Col. Davies decided that each plane should drop a single bomb on the ship. While they claimed it as sunk, Japanese records do not indicate any ships lost.

When Lowery’s flight arrived over Cebu City, the crews discovered Strickland’s flight had already bombed the airfield so it was decided that the five crews would split up: three B-25s would attack two large ships while the other two B-25s would bomb warehouses and onshore docks. They recorded a direct hit on a 7000-ton transport ship, which was probably the transport India Maru. Japanese anti-aircraft gunners shot at the B-25s and one bursting shell sent a piece of shrapnel into Lt. Petersen’s bomber where it failed to penetrate the armor plate behind the seat of Lt. Harry Managan. The B-25 gunners defended their bombers from attacks by four Japanese seaplanes, two of which were claimed shot down. The B-25 flight left for Del Monte with the Cebu docks and nearby buildings on fire.

Royce and Davies

Brigadier General Ralph Royce (left) and Col. John Davies, two commanders of the Royce Raid (April 11–16, 1942), pictured in Melbourne soon after their return from the Philippines.

Both flights got back to the dispersal fields at Valencia and Maramag without incident and the planes were quickly hidden in the jungle to keep them from being spotted by Japanese planes. The 5th Air Base Group’s efficiency refueling and reloading the planes for the afternoon mission greatly impressed the men of the 3rd Bomb Group. Everyone wanted to help wherever possible, and thanks to the cooperative efforts, the B-25s were back in the air at 1330 hours for a second strike.

Not long after takeoff, the single flight was intercepted by two Japanese seaplanes. One of the seaplanes was hit, while the B-25s flew on unscathed. The crews also attacked a large transport on their way to Cebu Harbor and left it listing. When the crews arrived over Cebu the second time around, the Japanese were ready to greet the B-25s with heavier antiaircraft fire. The 3rd Bomb Group persisted in their attack, dropping 25 500-pound bombs on various targets and strafing buildings.

The next day, the crews flew two more missions, this time to Davao, where they targeted floatplanes and ships in the harbor. After the missions on April 13th wound down, it was time to get the B-25s back to Australia before the Japanese were able to locate the base and launch a strike against them. Upon their return to Australia, Royce, Col. John Davies and Lt. Jim McAfee flew to Melbourne for interviews and to report to Gen. MacArthur. All the B-25 crews received medals for their participation in the raids and the media pounced on their success.

“The raids obviously threw the Japanese into a terrific panic,” Royce told reporters. “You can imagine their bewilderment when suddenly out of the sky appeared a bunch of bombers that let loose everything on them. They didn’t know where the bombers came from.” A few days later, the Doolittle Raids would reduce the Royce Raid to a brief moment in the Pacific war, but morale was still high. After all, the members of the Royce Raid participated in the longest mission to date without a single death and Australia was proven to be a good point to launch offensive attacks. “We have won our spurs,” wrote McAfee. “We can do a job no matter how much politics there is to it!”

Repost: The Royce Raid: Journey to Del Monte

Continuing with our revisit of the Royce Raid. This post was first published in May 2014.

 

After they heard the news of the surrender of Bataan, the 3rd Bomb Group was told the details of their secret mission. They would be staging out of Del Monte, Mindanao, over 3000 miles away from their current location. The men knew the lengthy flight would be risky for the medium B-25 bomber. Only the most experienced pilots were selected for this mission, with eight of the 11 crews coming from the 13th Squadron. Five of them had flown on the mission to Gasmata earlier that month. Out of the 11 crews, 16 of the pilots and co-pilots had been evacuated from the Philippines. The B-25 crews lacked trained navigators, however, which were vital for the 1000-mile flight to Darwin and 2000-mile flight over the ocean to Mindanao. To remedy the situation, they were assigned experienced B-17 navigators from the large pool of planeless flight crews from the 7th and 19th Bomb Groups. Finding an adequate supply of maps was another issue.

The overnight trip from Charters Towers to Darwin was an adventure for a few of the air crews. After Lt. Hal Maull had left Charters Towers, his navigator, 2/Lt. William K. Culp, realized that their map to Darwin was missing. They would either have to circle until dawn or figure out a route on their own. Lt. Culp decided to chart a course by using a small reference map of Asia to determine the latitude and longitude of Charters Towers that way. His method was successful and the crew made it to Darwin around dawn the next morning. Lt. Al Heyman, the navigator in Lt. David Feltham’s B-25, plotted his course by taking celestial fixes of the night sky and mapping them. Col. Davies, Capt. Lowery and Lt. Wilson arrived later that morning after getting lost over the Timor Sea. Lt. Schmidt flew with Lt. Maull’s B-25 after he couldn’t find Davies’ plane, and after they landed, was surprised to learn they flew without a map of Australia.

Upon landing, Lt. Schmidt and his co-pilot, Sgt. Nichols discovered a gash in their tire that would keep them grounded until a new one could be delivered. With all the supplies on board the planes, there was no room for extra tires and other spare parts. Schmidt would have fly to Mindanao alone. The other crews stuck around Darwin only long enough to refuel and attend another briefing. This time, they were told that if Del Monte was socked in, they would have to fly low enough to find it or to crash land. There was no alternate airfield to land at if they could not find the complex at Del Monte. Everyone then got back in their planes and settled in for the seven hour flight to Mindanao.

The flight itself did not go without a hitch for some of the pilots. On Capt. Bob Strickland’s B-25, the navigator did not know how to use the type of sextant on the plane in order to get a line of position and was using a map taken from a National Geographic magazine. Luckily, Strickland recognized an island chain north of Australia, flew parallel to them, and made it to Del Monte without further incident. Lt. Bennet Wilson’s crew had a very tense moment when they were flying through a thunderstorm and both engines cut out. Col. Davies and Lt. McAfee briefly got lost over the ocean, and Lt. Smith flew within view of Davao, a Japanese base. Eventually, all the crews made it to Mindanao, where they were able to rest and catch up with old friends.

Continue to part 3, The Royce Raid: The 3rd Bomb Group Wins Its Spurs

Repost: The 3rd Bomb Group’s Combat Debut: Prelude to the Royce Raid

This month marks the 77th anniversary of the Royce Raid, an early attack on the Japanese that is not very well known because it was overshadowed by the Doolittle Raid a short time later. Due to the target’s distant location, the mission required careful planning and staging to pull it off. First, the 3rd Bomb Group needed a little combat experience. This post was originally published in April 2014.

 

By April 1942, the 3rd Bomb Group was about two weeks into training on the B-25. This training was suddenly put to the test when an order came through for any operational 3rd Bomb Group B-25s to fly to Port Moresby for a raid on the Japanese airfield at Gasmata on April 6th. These planes and crews came from the 13th Squadron, since they already had their new bombers. Six B-25s took off from Charters Towers, Australia on April 5th for a night’s stay in Port Moresby, prepared to hit Gasmata on the 6th. The 13th Squadron C.O., Capt. Herman Lowery, would lead the strike.

The next day, five of the B-25s took off (the sixth was unable to) without a fighter escort due to the distance to the target. This was the official combat debut of the B-25. The 350-mile flight from Port Moresby to Gasmata was pushing the operational range of the B-25. Any delay over or near the target area would mean the crew(s) would not be able to make it back to Port Moresby without running out of fuel. The planes made their runs on Gasmata between 4500 and 5000 feet, and the three crews that decided to hit the southeast portion of the runway came in under heavy antiaircraft fire. Some of the planes suffered minor damage, but none of the crews were injured. All returned to Port Moresby and later to Charters Towers without incident.

Gasmata Airdrome 1942

Gasmata Airdrome in March 1942

Not long after this mission, rumors about a bigger raid started floating around camp. General Jonathan Wainwright wanted to see the Allies take out the Japanese blockade around Manila Harbor so troops on Bataan could receive badly needed supplies. General Brett was reluctant to put MacArthur’s idea into action, as he felt that the limited resources of the Allies would be better used to build up air power in Australia. Brigadier General Ralph Royce was more enthusiastic about the prospect, and decided to write up a mission estimate for a possible raid on “Miami,” the code name for the Philippines. He quietly urged Gen. Brett to supervise the raid, pointing out that it would enhance Brett’s position with MacArthur. When Brett declined, Royce said that since no one else had the experience for this sort of mission, he would oversee it. Brett agreed to let him lead the raids.

The mission was offered to to the 3rd Bomb Group and accepted by Col. John Davies. With that, the Group’s B-25s were sent to Archerfield at Brisbane, Australia where they were outfitted with 1200-gallon tanks in the bomb bays in order to safely make such a long flight. Originally, there were plans to add smaller fuel tanks to the bombardier’s compartment in the nose as well, but those were scratched. Just as they had done when they ferried planes from Hawaii to Australia, the crews would rely on the auxiliary bomb bay fuel tanks. Afterwards, they flew back to Charters Towers, where the planes were loaded with food, medicine, and other long-awaited supplies for then men on Bataan.

On April 8th, MacArthur wired Gen. Wainwright about his desperately-needed support finally being on its way. Unfortunately, that day also marked the surrender of Bataan to the Japanese. Even with the shock the news generated, the men were more determined than ever to do what they could to help out their friends and colleagues. “We’re all sick over Bataan,” wrote 1/Lt. Jim McAfee in his diary.

Continue to part 2, The Royce Raid: Journey to Del Monte

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.