The Tent at the End of the Runway

As related by Capt. Walter A. Krell, C.O. of the 823rd Squadron, 38th Bomb Group.

“Crew training was set up at Charters Towers (70 miles west of Townsville), the base commander of which was an ancient chicken colonel whose constant interference with the war effort was so much help to the Japs. Early struggles to eliminate useless procedures were blocked and impeded by the commander, and I was a constant target of his complaints. He would track me down on the line or wherever and work me over about the behavior of our men on the base, in town, in the mess hall – – I soon had enough to prompt me to ask Shanty [38th Bomb Group C.O. Brian O’Neill] to get him off my back.

“Shanty had me pick him up in Townsville. We flew back to Charters Towers, and drove out to the headquarters just off the end of and slightly to one side of the runway. For 30 minutes Shanty listened in deadpan silence while the old coot unloaded about ‘new undisciplined Air Corps flying tramps’. Shanty, just promoted to full colonel, had borrowed the eagle insignias for his shirt collar. The eagle heads face right or left, according to how they are pinned on – – Shanty’s little eagle faced the wrong way. As we were leaving, the CO spied the error, fetched an eagle facing the right way from his trinket box, proceeded to pin it on Shanty’s collar. Shanty tensed up and I backed off a couple paces, but nothing happened and we left.

“Wherever we went, Shanty always did the flying. As we taxied out, Shanty asked, ‘Which runway leads over the old b’s camp?’ I cautioned ‘The wind’s the other way.’ ‘I didn’t ask you about the wind,’ he countered. The B-25 was light – – Shanty had it off halfway down the runway, flaps and wheels up by runway’s end and still under six feet altitude. He swung over the colonel’s pyramidal tent, straddled the peak with his props and hauled up. We peeled around and looked down – – the tent was smashed flat!

“When I got back to Charters Towers, the old boy was waiting – – did I know within minutes after he had given orders to Col. O’Neill to put a stop to aircraft flying over his area, some crazy pilot demolished the colonel’s tent with him still inside? He had suffered and could have been hurt. I was to track down the pilot. There would be a court martial he raged, red-faced and shaking his swagger stick in my face.

“Then I told the old duck the pilot was CO O’Neill himself who declared anyone stupid enough to set up headquarters in such a site was asking to get hurt, that he hoped he had made his point, and that he was at that moment en route to Brisbane to ask General Kenney (Commanding General, 5th AF) to assign a new training base for these critically needed combat units where they would no longer be an inconvenience to the Colonel. Within two days the Colonel had been relieved of his command and promptly departed the base, whereupon I made it eminently clear to the base paddlefeet that O’Neill could quickly arrange for any of them to be shouldering muskets over the Owen Stanley range – – that their job was to provide the services the flyboys needed – – or else! – – and things did improve!

“It was a great privilege to work with Col. O’Neill.  His qualities of greatness earned the respect and admiration of all those who knew him.”

The Champ

This aircraft was in the first batch of B-24s assigned to the 403rd Squadron in May 1943, one of only four B-24s on hand with the 403rd at the end of the month. The 403rd was still in the transition process to the B-24 during this time, and flew missions with a mix of B-17s and B-24s. This B-24 must have made the trip overseas very early in 1943, as it was never refitted with a nose gun turret, nor was the factory-supplied Sperry ventral ball turret removed, modifications made at either the Hawaiian Air Depot or the 4th Air Depot to nearly all Fifth Air Force B-24s sent overseas from March 1943 onwards. Had THE CHAMP enjoyed a longer service life with Fifth Air Force, these modifications would certainly have been made.

43rd Bomb Group B-24 The Champ
THE CHAMP, B-24D-30 #42-40060, was one of the first B-24s the 403rd Squadron received. Note the greenhouse nose, an early design feature on B-24s in the Pacific Theater that was replaced with nose turrets on new arrivals from March 1943 onward. The boxing glove nose art on THE CHAMP is a reference to the 1931 movie of the same name. (Elwyn H. Hansen Collection)


The nose of this aircraft was painted with the nickname THE CHAMP, a reference to the 1931 movie of the same name, along with a brown boxing glove outlined in yellow with lightning bolt ‘action lines’ coming from its front. A scoreboard was also painted under the pilot’s window, which had nine mission symbols by late June, although only eight of the markers carried a star on top. The ninth may have been a mission in which the pilot was forced to turn back due to weather or mechanical problems.

This aircraft had a very short career with the 403rd Squadron. During take off for a raid against Rabaul on July 11, 1943, the landing gear on THE CHAMP was damaged, allowing the hydraulic fluid to drain away. One main wheel remained extended while the other was retracted, but it could not be made to extend even with the manual crank. Captain William R. Gowdy, the pilot, salvoed the bomb load and then circled Seven Mile Drome for hours to burn off fuel before the crew bailed out. Instead of heading out to sea as intended, the pilotless aircraft circled the airdrome until it ran out of fuel, crashing into an uninhabited hillside.

Known missions flown in the 403rd, all in 1943, include: Rabaul, 6/10 (Unknown); Rabaul, 6/25 (Brecht); and Rabaul, 7/11 (Gowdy).

This profile history can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I. A color profile of THE CHAMP can be seen on page 218.

Repost: Betting Against the Weather

First published in 2015, we’re revisiting a diary entry written after a 1943 mission.


This week, we have an entry from Col. Donald P. Hall’s diary. The C.O. of the 3rd Bomb Group wrote about a particularly exciting mission on July 28, 1943.

Henebry led the 90th [Bomb Squadron] this AM and hit barges beyond Cape Gloucester in New Britain. Got 11 barges. The P-38 escort tangled with enemy fighters and shot down six. All our planes returned. Took 15 B-25s, T.O. 1300 composed of planes from 8th, 13th and 90th to go to north coast of New Britain and hunt more barges. Weather bad on route out and I received call from ground station saying something about a destroyer and transport somewhere en route. P-38s called and said they were going back because of weather. I decided to take a chance and go on without cover and use the bad weather alone. You don’t get a chance at a destroyer and a transport every day.

Buck Good decided to go as co-pilot for me as he hadn’t flown in a B-25 in a long time. He’d just came back from leave that A.M. We hit Cape Bushing on the south coast of New Britain in light rain. No barges. As we rounded the point at Cape Gloucester saw everything at once. 2 destroyers lying off shore (I thought one was transport it was so large). As we headed for them, 20 Zeros passed directly over-head but didn’t attack right then. “Oh Boy!” I thought this is going to be rough.

A Jap air transport or bomber was circling over the boats and four of the boys headed for it. They fired a long burst into it, but it didn’t go down. So all planes except mine headed for 1st destroyer which was by now throwing up lots of ack-ack. Took my flight toward enemy air transport as it landed at Cape Gloucester. 16 Japs passed out of it but we cut all of them down. “Pappy” Gunn flying No. 2 position on my wing laid a 75mm shell under it. The wing caught fire from our bullets by the time it had stopped rolling. Buck Good let go a couple or three bombs as we went over it and that finished it.

Buck Good an I then headed for large destroyer which had not been touched. Looked over my shoulder and saw enemy planes coming from about 10,000 feet, but there was too juicy a target to stop now. I could see that the boys in Henebry’s, Wilkins’, and Hawkins’ flight had the other destroyer burning and were still bombing and strafing it. We dropped down on our run for the large destroyer and it lit up like a Christmas tree as its ack-ack tried to knock us down before we bombed them. While Buck opened the bomb doors for me, I started to tap rudders and rake the deck with my 50’s [nose guns].

You could see Japs all over the decks trying to get cover someplace. We released our bombs as we pulled up to clear the mast, then dropped to the water to get out of their heavy gun fire. As we turned sharply to the left I could see we scored two direct hits as the destroyer rolled back and forth, then began to burn. Oh Boy! Buck and I shook hands on that job!

As we could see the Zeros coming in among us, I wiggled my wings to collect the formation but it was hard to do as they were still in a circle around the first destroyer. I could see that it was finished too. We finally got together and left the target with a few Zeros on our tail. The rest of my flight had been unable to release their bombs, so it was lucky that Buck and I had thrown ours into the sides of the large destroyer.

I knew some of the boys had been hit as the planes couldn’t close their bomb doors. Lt. Nuchols’ plane (13th SQ) I found out later was badly shot up by enemy fighters and rudder about gone. Radioed our report home and came straight home. After the bombing, Nuchols was still flying around and someone saw parachutes descending. Later it was found out that everyone got out except Lt. Nuchols who had lost too much altitude to make it. He crashed and burned about 15 miles from drone. Took his co-pilot two days to get back here.

Received wire from Gen. Ramey and phone calls from others [saying] congratulations in our job. The boys were really happy. We stayed up late to see the photos. Buck said he’s never seen me so happy and excited over the target, but he didn’t exactly take out his knitting either! Only two planes had 300 lb. bombs and rest had only 100 lb. Lucky for us 300 lb. were along and I was glad I had one of the planes with this load.

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.

Mission to Rabaul

Over the years, we have dedicated quite a few blog posts to some of the strikes on Rabaul, and we have another one today. The Australian War Memorial posted an old film covering the big October 12, 1943 raid on Rabaul. Before getting into that particular mission, the film explains the logistics that the Allies had to work out weeks earlier. After tracing the Allied advance northward, it’s time for the first of several major attacks on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul.

Experiencing an Air Raid

This descriptive entry comes from the diary of T/Sgt. Adrian Bottge, a member of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group ground crew.

Sunday, May 16, 1943

Smitty and Mata left on transport this morning. Loaded a plane and sat around waiting for the other transports. Didn’t show up. Then the two with the men on board came back. Had received orders to return at once because Jap planes were over Oro Bay. Made up loading list of photo supplies in afternoon. Went to show in evening. One of the fellows said there was a yellow alert. 50 Betty Bombers and 50 Zekes took off from Lae airfield 1/2 hr. before. They started the picture anyway. Had run a few minutes when the three shots sounded. We ran for our trenches but the Aussies were put out. Hollered to keep the show going. In a few minutes we heard the planes, shortly after we saw bomb flashes toward 14 mile. There were lots of planes and lots of ack-ack. Didn’t come over this far. Went back to the show “Ice Capades” and saw some more — then got the alert again. The Aussies were really disgusted this time. Hollered for everyone to sit down. We went to our trench, however and was glad to be in it. Lard and Mata hit a trench close to the movie area. We saw what seemed like hundreds of bomb flashes in the north. Was so noisy, one couldn’t hear himself think. Terribly warm and lots of mosquitoes in the trench. My knees felt like they would break in two — crouched down like we were. Those bombers left and it was quiet for about ten minutes. Then several more planes came over. Didn’t drop any bombs though they were right overhead. Dropped flares — possibly trying to photo the damage. One of our P70 nite fighters was there but hadn’t been able to gain enough altitude. Could see the Jap planes (in searchlights) shooting tracers at the P70. Went back tot he show and finally finished without interruption. Lars said the Aussies really scattered during the last raid. Tried to get into crowded trenches. Our boys told them, “Carry your a-s, this will teach you to move when the alert sounds.” They scurried around like rats looking for a hole. Shrapnel was falling like hail. Sounds like bumble bees in flight. 89ths A-20s made early morning raid on Lae yesterday. Strafed 6 bombers and 5 Zeros on ground. 90th lost another B-25 with six man crew. Poor 90th has taken it on chin. B-25 destroyed on ground at 14 Mile last night. B-24s and 17s took off before the raid. Ack-ack fire was terrific last night. Doubt its effectiveness though. Cootenac (Marval) got back from hospital this morning. Had measles.

Tense Moments Over Finschhafen

At the end of March 1943, the Japanese had a base at Finschhafen, located on the eastern tip of the Huon Peninsula. The Allies had been monitoring Japanese military movement and thought the Japanese were planning a small landing. To prevent this, a variety of aircraft, including two 43rd Bomb Group B-17s, were sent out to harass the Japanese on the night of March 30th. Captain Frederick F. Wesche was flying the B-17 TAXPAYER’S PRIDE. He and the other pilot took for from Seven Mile in search of ships near the Finschhafen area.

Over the target area, both pilots dropped flares before setting up for their bombing runs. It looked like three destroyers were sitting near the coastline and Wesche picked one of them as his first target. Two bombs were dropped from low altitude, both missing the target. After three more runs, Wesche had one bomb left. A report of light antiaircraft fire didn’t deter the crew from making one final run, and TAXPAYER’S PRIDE was lined up once again. Right before the bomb was released, the B-17’s fuselage was hit by a 40mm shell.

Wesche crew

Captain Frederick F. Wesche (kneeling, left) was making his fifth bombing run on a destroyer off Finschhafen on March 30, 1943 when his B-17, #41-24448, was struck by a 40mm antiaircraft shell, which seriously damaged the plane and forced Wesche to later crash-land at Dobodura. The attack also injured the co-pilot and the tail gunner, who were sent to the hospital. This crew photo was taken in April 1943, after the two injured crewmen had recovered from the incident. The men pictured are, kneeling from left to right: Wesche, 1/Lt. Leslie W. Neumann, co-pilot; 2/Lt. Clement O. Kinkaid, navigator; 2/Lt. Joseph D. Howard, bombardier, and standing: Sgt. Joseph H. Mazaferro, engineer; Sgt. Paul N. Capen, gunner; Cpl. Donald J. Raher, radio operator; S/Sgt. Earl M. Rosengarton, gunner; and S/Sgt. Guy W. Clary, gunner. (Down Under)

Two engines were damaged and four vital systems, radio, electrical, oxygen and hydraulic, were knocked out. The #1 engine began to run away and the prop was feathered. Sparks from the damaged electrical system ignited the leaking hydraulic fluid, and the flames were also fed by the escaping oxygen. On top of all that, the 500-pound bomb that hadn’t been dropped was stuck in the bomb bay racks. First Lieutenant Francis G. Sickinger, the navigator, rushed to the bomb bay to help however he could. There, he found S/Sgt. Guy W. Clary, one of the waist gunners, using a fire extinguisher on the flames. He had been injured by shrapnel, but was still able to fight the fire, giving the bombardier the opportunity to shove the bomb out of the rack.

Sickinger helped Clary to the front of the plane, then the two of them had to put out a second fire that sparked. Once that was accomplished, the crew took stock of the situation. While TAXPAYER’S PRIDE was flying smoothly on three engines, the controls were not functioning. Co-pilot 1/Lt. Leslie W. Neumann had also been injured by shrapnel, and his injuries were also not life-threatening. Wesche headed for Dobodura.

Nearing Buna, the B-17 was greeted by Allied antiaircraft fire from the base at Oro Bay. After being attacked twice in four days, the men on the base were cautious about letting any uncommunicative aircraft fly overhead, let alone make an emergency landing. Since it was still dark, Wesche had to circle for two hours until sunrise, when he could see the runway and not risk getting shot at again during his landing. The crew manually lowered the landing gear, then discovered that the flaps were inoperable and the engines wouldn’t shut off. Once the B-17 was back on the ground, it rolled beyond the airstrip boundary and finally stopped in the grass. Both injured men were sent to the hospital and TAXPAYER’S PRIDE was sent to the 481st Service Squadron for repairs.

 

Read more about the 43rd Bomb Group’s B-17 era in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

Target: Submarine

In March 1943, crews from the 90th Squadron were sent on a mission with an unusual target. This excerpt from the 90th Squadron diary describes it in detail.

Mar 19— At noon mess rumors of a mission circulated….Captain Henebry would not say anything and we were all in the dark…a meeting at the line at 1:30….Lt Commander Menucci, USN, briefed us on submarines…….at 2:30 a list was posted of 6 ships to take off for Dobodura to await an early evening mission from there……..

The boys arrived at Dobodura and spent the afternoon swimming and having a good look at what had been a Japanese stronghold two months ago…At 5:30 the crews were briefed by Capt Henebry at Lt Commander Menucci…..The target was a large submarine that was supposed to unload supplies at Lae around sundown…this news had been deciphered by our men at Port Moresby….We took off at 6:45 just as the sun was setting behind the Owen Stanley Range…..Henebry led the first flight of Howe and MacLellan…Chat led the second element of Ingram….”Snuffy” Hughes did not get off due to engine trouble….Capt Henebry had to slow his formation down as it looked as though he might get to Lae too early…..Near Salamaua the two flights swept inland and came down on the trees….they flew this way until they were about 5 miles South of Lae when they swung out onto the water and flew up the coastline…..approaching Lae, a rocket was shot into the sky (this was the Jap’s air raid warning)…..2000 yards from Lae, on a heading of 90 degrees, the 5 ships came in abreast….airspeed 250 mph….suddenly the rising moon outlined a gigantic submarine tied up against the Lae dock…at the end of the runway…..Henebry, Howe and MacLelland who were heading over the sub let go with their guns…from the runway and from the flanking hills intense and accurate ack ack was fired by the Nips…at about 100 yards the co-pilots began to toggle the bombs loose….11 bombs hit directly while one went over…the explosion was terrific and for a moment Henebry and Howe thought their plane was out of control…..The on suing fire lit up the wreck at Malahang….[As they made their attack, the B-25s were fired upon by Japanese antiaircraft gunners and after the Americans left the target area it was discovered that Sgt. Timberlake had been killed.]

On this run Captain Chatt was unable to fly over the submarine so after Henebry’s flight had passed by, Chatt swung over and made another run….Ingram followed closely on his wing…seeing that the submarine had exploded and sunk, Chatt made a run over some dispersal area and dropped his bombs….Ingram did likewise….There were many near misses with ack ack, but miraculously none took effect…..Henebry, Chatt and MacLellon made it back over the mountains to 17 Mile Field…..Ingram and Howe landed at Dobodura…..Howe tried to get home but went into a dense cloud formation which put him into a violent spin and he was able to bring his ship out after losing 8 thousand feet and hitting an airspeed of 450 mph…his escape hatch flew off and it had Captain John White, Observer, a bit worried for a moment or two…Sgt Hume in the upper turret said he could feel water dripping on him from the rear of the plane…..

Repost: One Last Bomb

Going back through the archives, we rediscovered a post from January 2015 about an unexpected discovery one crew made when the men returned to base after a mission. Read on for the rest of the story.

 

The last mission for YE OLD NANCE, a 38th Bomb Group B-25, was supposed to be a milk run. The bomber, flown by Capt. Bud Thompson and his crew, attacked Malahang Drome, Lae on January 21, 1943. As bombardier 1/Lt. Walter G. Beck dropped his bombs, he and the rest of the crew heard the B-25 rattle violently. They thought they had been hit by antiaircraft fire, but none of the instruments showed that anything was amiss. With that, the crew headed home.

Sgt. Robert Pickard picks up the rest of the story in his diary:

“Day before yesterday we had quite a bit of excitement most of which happened while I was asleep…736 [YE OLD NANCE] carrying one 300 lb. demo bomb in the bomb bay, arming wires loose and all ready to go off. It taxied into the revetment about 75 feet from our tent. Then a gas truck pulled up and started filling it up with gas. About that time Lt. Beck, Bombardier, saw the live bomb and told everyone to clear out, that it would go off in 45 seconds. So everybody left, but fast. The guy who was putting gas in the plane just dropped the hose and left. The gas ran all over the plane and down on the ground and over to a fire where they were boiling clothes. Poof – and the whole plane was in flames.

Remains of B-25 Ye Old Nance

Men look at the burning wreckage of YE OLD NANCE.

 

About that time – Kudelka woke up and took off in such a hurry that he hit the tent pole and darn near broke his skull, but didn’t bother to take time enough to holler at me. Pretty soon the ammunition in the plane started going off, and singing around…and that is what woke me. I lay for a full minute trying to figure out what it was, and then rolled over and saw the plane a mass of flames. Still did not quite realize what the score was. Looked around and didn’t see another soul around a usually busy place so figured I had better move out. I dressed and ambled over toward a slit trench. Heard a particularly close bullet whiz by so jumped in the trench. No sooner did I get in it than the bomb exploded along with a 2000 gal tank truck full of 100 octane gas, which was sitting in front of the plane. Parts of the plane were found 200 yards away. Our tent had several holes punched in it and other tents in the area were completely burned up. The concussion from the explosion was terrific. I was closer to it than any one else. The pay off is this – Kudelka came back yelling his head off to Jim Eshleman for not waking him up – that he might have been killed and etc. [He] kept carrying on something fierce. I asked him why he didn’t wake me up and he didn’t say any more.”

Incredibly, no one was injured by the explosion. The B-25, on the other hand, was a total loss.

Loss of PLUTO II

In the very early hours of June 30, 1943, a mix of heavy bombers from the 43rd, 90th and 380th Bomb Groups took off for a raid on Vunakanau Airdrome. The plan was to approach the target from 18,000 feet to avoid any Japanese night fighters, then make their runs between 9000 and 17,000 feet. For the most part, the stratification also provided extra protection from the antiaircraft gunners. Only the 403rd Squadron reported damage from antiaircraft fire, which hit the B-17 nicknamed STUD DUCK.

After the 63rd Squadron planes finished their bombing runs, a highly skilled J1N1 Irving night fighter pilot, SFPO Shigetoshi Kudo targeted B-17 #41-24543 PLUTO II. The B-17 was raked with gunfire, then Kudo watched it descend and crash into the mountains southeast of Cape Lambert, located west of Rabaul. Killed in the crash were Lt. Harold S. Barnett, pilot; 2/Lt. Sidney S. Bossuk, co-pilot; 2/Lt. Warren V. Seybert, navigator; 2/Lt. James G. Burke, bombardier; Sgt. James B. Candy, engineer; T/Sgt. Anthony H. Woillard, radio operator; Sgts. Robert A. Burtis and Donald W. Carlson, waist gunners; Sgt. Philip J. Lohnes, tail gunner; and Sgt. William A. MacKay, a radar operator from the RAAF.

B-17 Pluto II

B-17F #41-24543, PLUTO II, was the last B-17 to go down from the guns of an Irving night fighter over Rabaul. The bomber saw service initially with the 403rd Squadron before being transferred to the 53rd sometime in early February 1943, where it acquired its nose art. The solid stripe of paint at left was applied to cover up the bomber’s previous name, I DOOD IT. (Charles R. Woods Collection)

Back at Seven Mile, the men were worrying over the disappearance of the crew of PLUTO II. None of the American crews saw the B-17 get shot down. Captain Charles L. Anderson flew over the Owen Stanleys on a five hour search for the missing crew, and returned without any new information. It wasn’t until 1946 when the B-17’s wreckage was discovered at Madres Plantation on New Britain. Remains were subsequently recovered and investigators determined that the entire crew died in the crash.

 

Read more about the early part of the 43rd Bomb Group’s history in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.