Diary Excerpt: Mathew C. Gac

Although he wasn’t a member of an aircrew, Mathew Gac of the 38th Bomb Group saw many raids through the lenses of cameras on his group’s aircraft. He frequently wrote in his diary about day-to-day life working in the photo department and we wanted to share three of them with you this week.

July 8, 1943

Still a tired fellow this morning with a lot on my mind and a lot of work to do alone. Another mission today. 405th to support the big push around Salamaua. Finished overhauling a K-17 and then had to take V.R. shots of a 499 wrecked B-25 [#41-30028 “BLUNDER-BUS,” see pp. 32-33 of Warpath Across the Pacific] at the end of the runway in the stream. Could not take off, no bombs exploded. Luckily 4 men walked out and the other was carried out hurt. In the P.M. started to make a special mount for the K-21 camera. Went down to the Service Sqdn but got no satisfaction, nothing so I am going to make a wooden model and try it out. The mission came back 1 P.M. then a lot of work again developing at printing got finished 7:30 P.M. Photos not so good on account of the bad weather. Rumours we must have 24 months overseas before going home.

Striking Lae on June 26 1943

This photo, taken on a mission to Lae on June 26, 1943, is an example of the photos that could only be taken with cameras installed in an aircraft’s belly.

July 9

Another tired feeling after yesterday’s busy day. It was very damp and cool as this A.M.s short rain was the first for a while. Another mission today 405th in the Mubo area again. Working on a new setup for the K-21. A box where the camera can be slung along underneath the camera hatch and shoot backwards. Went down to the line for parts but the tin smith was busy, so Amos and I worked on the other idea of attaching the mirror arrangement to the K-17 cone. Did not finish as it started to rain very hard. Thank goodness we have a good tent and all the equipment is dry for a change.

July 10

It was quite damp and wet this morning as it rained hard last night. Went down to the line to try the new setup of the mirror idea. Worked on it with Amos and got it fixed O.K. Though the setup looks peculiar and the mirror is half inside the plane the angle is greater and it looks O.K. in focal plane. The plane was tested and so was my setup and it turned out O.K. Almost 100% coverage. Lt Salome liked it and now I’ll have to change all the other plane setups, 14 in all. Worked for a while on the K-17 for the mirror attachments. Got new camera cones for K-17s. Will have a lot more work now.

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The Costly Mistake

By the end of 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group made a series of attacks on Cape Gloucester to soften it up for an upcoming invasion. Over 100 aircraft participated in these raids on December 22nd and 23rd, where a wide range of items from bombs to leaflets and even beer bottles (these were to scare Japanese on the ground, as they whistled like bombs) were dropped from the B-24s, B-25s and A-20s. There was nothing from the Japanese in return. No antiaircraft fire or intercepting fighters rushed to discourage the Allied forces from their mission.

While the missions themselves were relatively uneventful, taking off or landing was sometimes an entirely different story. In this case, a routine takeoff for Capt. Bryan A. Flatt on December 22nd nearly turned into a nightmare. Flatt was accelerating to takeoff speed and thought he had lifted off the runway. Instead, he was still on the ground when he applied the landing gear brakes, which caused the nose gear to fold. Quickly realizing his mistake, he retracted the the main gear to get his B-24 off the ground, but both collapsed and the plane hit the ground. It skidded for several hundred feet, made a sharp right, then went over several tree stumps, a six-foot embankment and finally came to a stop in a marsh.

B-24 #42-41221 after it crashed

On December 22, 1943, 1/Lt. Bryan A. Flatt of the 403rd Squadron was taking off from Dobodura when he mistakenly thought that his B-24D #42-41221 was airborne. In fact, the plane was still on the runway, and when Flatt applied the brakes in preparation for raising the landing gear, the right and left gear collapsed and the plane skidded off the runway. These photographs show the B-24D after it crashed. Amazingly, none of the 11 crewmembers sustained more than minor injuries. (George A. Putnam Collection)

After all was said and done, the entire crew climbed out of the wrecked aircraft with nothing more than minor injuries. It wasn’t long before rumors were spreading around the camp about nose gear collapsing on B-24s because the early reports did not cite Flatt’s error as the cause. To quell the fears of the crews, Flatt called a squadron meeting to explain that the accident was his fault and not a mechanical issue. His honesty in this situation, which could have damaged his career, was greatly admired by his squadron.

General Walker’s Last Mission to Rabaul

Seventy-five years ago today, Gen. Kenneth N. Walker boarded Maj. Jack W. Bleasdale’s B-17 SAN ANTONIO ROSE, thereby ignoring a direct order from Gen. George C. Kenney not to fly on combat missions. Kenney feared losing an excellent commander and what could happen if the aircraft Walker was on was shot down and its passengers, especially Walker, were captured by the Japanese. If you’ve read our previous post on the subject, you might recall that this mission was particularly dangerous because it was a raid on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul in broad daylight. Still, it caught the Japanese by surprise and several ships sitting in Simpson Harbor were either damaged or sunk. The 43rd Bomb Group lost two B-17s that day. One was SAN ANTONIO ROSE, the other was B-17F #41-24538, piloted by 1/Lt. Jean Jack. Jack and his crew ditched their B-17 off the coast of Urasi Island and all were rescued the following day. SAN ANTONIO ROSE has never been found.

Last year, Pacific Wrecks uploaded a video taken from the January 5th mission. While it’s available to watch below, we recommend you watch it on YouTube so you can read through the excellent notes about different points of the video provided by Pacific Wrecks. For even more information on the day’s events, buy a copy of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2017

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 2017.

1. The Fight for Mindoro As a result of some great comments from a prior post (see #4 on this list), we delved into further detail about a harrowing mission on December 24, 1944.

Wreckage of B-24 Tempermental Lady2. A B-24’s Forced Retirement After the B-24 TEMPERMENTAL LADY was hit on a mission, landing the plane wasn’t going to be easy…

 

3. Book Review: They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans We review the second book of veteran stories as told to Kayleen Reusser.

B-17 MISS EM and crew(tie) Beyond the Bomb Group What happened to the B-17s that transferred out of the 43rd Bomb Group? We follow the story of one of their old Flying Fortresses, CAP’N & THE KIDS.

 

A 63rd Squadron B-24 attacks a Japanese ship near Mindoro during WWII4. Night Action Off Mindoro This dramatic painting by artist Jack Fellows illustrates a B-24 coming off an attack on a Japanese destroyer near Mindoro.

 

 

Maj. Gerrity (in the cockpit) and Sgt. Neal (standing in the B-25's nose).5. Major Tom Gerrity’s One Plane War Against the Japanese A pilot scheduled to go home wanted one more crack at the Japanese before he left the Pacific Theater.

 

Butch the German shepherd6. 9 Photos of Dogs in the Pacific Theater During World War II It’s all in the title. Go meet some of the dogs of Fifth Air Force.

 

A painting of a 38th Bomb Group B-25 over a Japanese ship during WWII7. One Minute in Hell Steve Ferguson illustrates some of the final moments of 1/Lt. James A. Hungerpiller and his crew over Simpson Harbor on November 2, 1943.

Repost: Building the Steak and Eggs Special

First appearing in May 2016, this entry was one of last year’s most popular posts. We like it so much we’re sharing it again with you this week.

 

For the men stationed in New Guinea during 1942 and 1943, a variety of fresh food was not easy to come by. There were plenty of coconuts, although the men grew tired of eating them, and the occasional banana, but no other fresh fruits or vegetables. Whatever came through was canned. By the end of 1942, they decided that they had had enough of the canned fruits and vegetables and began working on their own plane that would ferry fresh food from Australia.

This plane, an A-20, was being built from scrapped pieces by T/Sgt. Kip Hawkins and a few other mechanics from the 89th Bomb Squadron. The fuselage was taken from LITTLE HELLION, which belly-landed on November 1, 1942, and the wing sections from THE COMET, which was scrapped after the nose wheel collapsed while the plane was being towed on December 15, 1942.

Wings for THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL

An A-20 named THE COMET was scrapped after its nose gear collapsed. The wings from the aircraft were taken and propped up on barrels, ready for a new fuselage of the aircraft that would become THE “STEAK & EGG” SPECIAL.

 

THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL's new fuselage

Here, the scrapped fuselage from the A-20 formerly known as LITTLE HELLION is being slid between the waiting wings propped up on barrels.

It was a slow reconstruction that lasted all of January 1943, as the mechanics had to go through a lot of scrap piles around Port Moresby for various parts. At one point, a wing that was propped up on barrels fell right on the head of a mechanic. Luckily, he escaped without serious injury. Soon enough, the fuselage was slid between the wings and the aircraft was put together. The A-20, now named THE “STEAK & EGG” SPECIAL, was christened with eggs on February 4th.

THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL christening

T/Sgt. Clifton H. Hawkins and Cpl. Schraam sit in the A-20 after its dedication on February 4, 1943. Notice the splattered egg above the name.

Given the nature of how this A-20 came to exist, there were a few mechanical problems to work out. Once fixed though, the aircraft regularly made trips from Port Moresby to Australia. The Squadron enjoyed the fresh food and meat immensely. In August, the paint was stripped and the aircraft was renamed STEAK & EGGS, then later STEAK AND EGGS (without the ampersand). On June 11, 1944, STEAK AND EGGS was low on fuel when it flew into bad weather. Both factors led to a forced landing on an Australian beach and the subsequent end of the aircraft. No one was seriously injured in the landing. Parts of the aircraft were salvaged, with the rest still on the beach today.

Read more about the missions of this aircraft, including a stories from a veteran who flew the plane, at Australia @ War.

Attacking Wewak

Weather was interfering with Fifth Air Force’s plans in October 1943, specifically on October 16th. Instead of targeting Rabaul, the 345th Bomb Group was sent to hit the Wewak airfield complex instead after finding out that the Japanese were rebuilding their air power there. All four squadrons as well as a squadron of fighter cover were to first attack Boram Airstrip, then fly the two miles to Wewak where their main strike would occur. Four of the Group’s B-25s were unable to complete the mission for various reasons, including one unusual occurrence: a turret canopy broke and fell off.

The Japanese were ready for the 345th, filling the sky with antiaircraft fire and fighter aircraft prepared to attack their enemy. Separating into squadron formations, one flew off to release parafrags over the antiaircraft batteries dotting the shoreline. Once over the runways of Wewak, ten B-25s dropped 100-pound wire-wrapped bombs in hopes of destroying the runway, aircraft on the ground, supply dumps and more. Meanwhile, the Japanese were fiercely fighting back and some of their bullets were hitting crucial points of the B-25s. BOOM-BOOM’s nose guns were knocked out of action when the electrical connections were severed, and it received several other hits that took it out of the 500th Squadron for several weeks upon return to Port Moresby.

One B-25, #561, had fallen behind the rest of the 500th Squadron’s formation with a damaged engine. Aboard the aircraft, Lt. Donald Stookey was doing his best to keep his plane in the air. With one engine out of commission and the other losing power, it wasn’t long before he had to make a water landing ten miles down the coastline and three miles off Cape Moem. The crew escaped their B-25 and swam for the raft that they ejected before the crash. Overhead, three B-25s from the 501st Squadron and several P-38s circled the downed crew, dropping two more rafts before their fuel began to run low and they had to head home. Stookey and his crew rowed toward land, where they were eventually captured and killed by the Japanese.

Downed 345th Bomb Group B-25 near Wewak and Boram

B-25D-1 #561 of the 500th Squadron was hit in the right engine by intense AA fire a mile from Wewak on October 16, 1943. Lieutenant Donald Stookey made an excellent water landing three miles northeast of Cape Moem. The plane remained afloat for only 90 seconds. This photo was taken from a 499th Squadron aircraft just after the tail lifted and a few moments before the plane sank. This nose-down attitude was typical of ditched B-25s. The crew was later captured and all died in captivity at Wewak and Rabaul.

Back over Wewak and Boram, two B-25 pilots discovered their own unpleasant surprises when their bombs wouldn’t release because the bomb racks malfunctioned. Leaving the bombing to the other B-25s, they strafed the target area instead. STINGEROO sustained damage from bullets through the hydraulic system and gas tanks, which made for a tense flight home. The pilot made an overnight stop at Nadzab to get the damage repaired before heading back to Port Moresby. After doing extensive damage to the two airfields, the remaining 345th aircraft formed up and headed home.

Overall, the mission was deemed a success. Photography taken from the B-25s cameras helped determine 25 confirmed aircraft destroyed on the ground or in the air, with another seven probable. While a break would have been welcome news, the 345th would be back in the air on the 18th, heading for the dreaded stronghold of Rabaul.

 

Find this story in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

How to Make a Volcano Explode (or not)

In late March 1943, Rabaul was (unsurprisingly) still the top target of Allied raids. For two days, March 20th and 21st, the 65th Squadron was on alert to fly a mission to Vunakanau Airdrome, and the mission was cancelled each day because of less than optimal weather. All four of the 43rd’s squadrons were put on alert on the 22nd for another Rabaul raid, and they were able to take off from Seven Mile on the night of the 22nd, which would have them arriving over Rabaul on the 23rd.

The B-17s made their appearance known by dropping bombs on Rabaul before sunrise. Since there was no daylight, the crews could not observe their results, but searchlights were following the B-17s everywhere. While several planes were holed by antiaircraft fire, none were seriously damaged and all returned to base without issue.

Rabaul was the proverbial thorn in Fifth Air Force’s side and it’s possible that more than a few men were wishing for a quick way to shut down this Japanese stronghold. Several of them came up with a theory to test out: using Matupi Volcano to their advantage, specifically by using bombs to make it explode, thereby wiping out Rabaul. Major Carl A. Hustad took off with his bombardier on the 23rd to carry out this mission. The two 2000-pound bombs were dropped into the crater with no results. Afterwards, personnel realized how silly the idea was in the first place.

 

Rabaul Volcanos

Taken in 1941, this photo shows the topography of the Rabaul area. Matupi Volcano can be seen in the background.

This story can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire.

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

Port Moresby

The town that would later become the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, was a major staging base for the Allies during World War II. Port Moresby’s air fields, named for their distance from the city, included: 3 Mile (Kila Kila), 5 Mile (Ward), 7 Mile (Jackson), 12 Mile (Berry), 14 Mile (Schwimmer), and 17 Mile (Durand). It was crucial for the Allies to hold onto this territory, as it was the last piece of land between the Japanese to the north and Australia to the south. The city’s occupants were subject to many Japanese bombing raids until September 1943. Postwar, Port Moresby transformed from an Australian territory to the Papua New Guinea capital in 1975. Today, all that remains of World War II are artifacts and steel matting from the runways.

Port Moresby then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the Port Moresby complex as it appeared in December 1942. At right is Port Moresby today, taken from Google Maps.

Floridablanca

Translated from Spanish as “white flower,” Floridablanca was settled as a Spanish mission in 1823. Not much is known about the area’s history, but it was taken over by the Japanese during World War II, then liberated once the Allies moved that far north. The 312th Bomb Group and 348th Fighter Group both used the air base on Floridablanca for a short time. The Philippine Air Force now uses the base and it has been renamed Basa Air Base.

Floridablanca

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Floridablanca as it appeared in 1946. At right is Floridablanca today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Owi Island

Owi’s only inhabitants before World War II consisted of two families, one at each end of the small island. Shortly after the arrival of Allied forces in 1944, the natives left. It took about three weeks to build the airstrip, which consisted of coral, a difficult surface to land on when it was wet. Owi was used between June and November 1944, then abandoned as U.S. forces pushed north. Traces of the runway can still be seen today.

Owi then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo at the top, taken from an upcoming book, is Owi Island as it appeared in August 1944. Above is Owi Island today, taken from Google Maps.

Finschhafen

In 1885, Finschhafen was settled by the German New Guinea Company. About 15 years later, it was abandoned after disease spread rapidly among the settlers and resulted in the failure of two different colonization attempts. At some point before World War II started, Lutherans built a mission station on Finschhafen. The Japanese took over the area on March 10, 1942 and held it until Australian forces moved in and captured Finschhafen on October 2, 1943. Allied forces expanded the base and used it until the end of the war. After the war ended, a huge hole was dug and much of the leftover equipment was buried. These days, Finschhafen is a quiet location.

Finschhafen then and now

Click to enlarge. In the undated photo at the top is Finschhafen sometime around World War II. Above is Finschhafen today, taken from Google Maps.

Gusap

Previously uninhabited, Gusap was built up into an eight-runway airfield by U.S. Army engineers. It was used from October 1943 to July 1944 by several units that included the 49th Fighter Group and 312th Bomb Group. This location was ideal for staging missions by fighters and light bombers. After the war was over, remaining aircraft were scrapped. Today, only one of the eight strips is still being used by aircraft and is noted by the balloon in the right image. The rest of the area has been turned into a cattle ranch. With the radical transformation of Gusap, the exact location of the airfields seen in the left image has become unknowable.

Gusap then and now

Click to enlarge. In the top photo, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is part of Gusap’s airfields as they appeared in December 1943. Above is Gusap today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_port_moresby.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Port-Moresby

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/philippines/floridablanca/index.html

http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php/Floridablanca,_Pampanga

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owi_Airfield

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/owi/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_finschafen.html

http://engineersvietnam.com/engineers/WWII/owi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finschhafen

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/papua-new-guinea/morobe-and-madang-provinces/finschhafen-area/introduction

https://www.britannica.com/place/Finschhafen

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/gusap/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusap_Airport

YEAH! Goes Down

On this Memorial Day, we want to take some time to remember those who were killed in combat. Among them were several members of a B-26 crew from the 33rd Squadron. Their story is below.

On January 7, 1943, 1/Lt. Leonard T. Nicholson and his crew were flying to Lae with a couple of other B-26s to target ships in the harbor. As the three planes began their bombing run, the Japanese began sending up antiaircraft fire to discourage the American crews. The men flew on and released their bombs. As they turned, YEAH! was hit by two blasts of flak, one of which knocked out the left engine and damaged the hydraulic lines. YEAH!’s bomb bay doors fell open, causing an unsustainable amount of of strain on the only working engine.

Ground Crew Members with B-26 YEAH!

Two unidentified members of the ground crew stand beneath the Squadron insignia on the nose of YEAH!

By this point, nine Zeros had caught up to the B-26s and the pilots knew it was time to get out of there. Nicholson knew there was no way he would make it back to Port Moresby on one overheating engine and let the crew know that they should prepare to ditch the plane. The pilot landed in Hercules Bay, located north of Buna, and the crew hurried to get out of YEAH! Engineer Sgt. Jack G. Mosely and radioman S/Sgt. Joseph P. Papp unfortunately did not escape and went down with the plane. The rest of the men swam to shore, helping the severely injured navigator Lt. Norm E. DeFreese along the way. Once on the beach, gunner Cpl. Thomas A. Moffitt went off to find help for his crew. DeFreese did not live through the night.

The next day, three crewmen were walking towards Buna when they were spotted by Australian Beaufighters flying overhead. Food and a map were dropped to the men below. The relief that they must have felt was destroyed soon after by the sound of a gunshot. Bombardier S/Sgt. William M. Brown was killed by a Papuan Infantry Patrol that had mistaken the Americans for Japanese. The two remaining crewmen, the pilot and co-pilot, were separated during the chaos.

Co-pilot Lt. Jack I. Childers spent a couple of unbearable nights fending off mosquitoes in the open air and three days looking for someone who would help him get back to base. On the second day, Beaufighters espied him once again and dropped supplies. Childers’ situation changed on the third day when he spotted natives on the far side of the river and was able to flag them down. They took him to their village, where he spent a more comfortable night, then was taken to an Australian camp the following day. He soon learned that both Moffitt and Nicholson were alive and had been flown back to camp within the last couple of days. Childers would soon follow them and rejoin the rest of his unit.

This story can be found on p. 166 of our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Repost: The Ordeal of the Herry Crew

While looking through our blog archives, we rediscovered a post about Capt. Robert Herry, Maj. Williston M. Cox, and the rest of a 71st Squadron B-25 crew that went down on August 5, 1943. Today, we’re reposting the dramatic story.

 


When Maj. Williston Cox, C.O. of the 38th Bomb Group’s 71st Squadron, took off aboard MISS AMERICA on August 5, 1943, he had no idea it would be the last mission he would fly.

That day, his squadron was assigned to attack shipping targets near Alexishafen, New Guinea. Cox was riding along as the mission commander. After meeting up with their P-38 fighter cover at Mt. Yule, the crews flew on towards the target area, where they were greeted with heavy antiaircraft fire from Madang Township. Capt. Robert Herry, the pilot of MISS AMERICA, was nearing Madang when his B-25’s right engine was hit and severely damaged. While Herry managed to keep the plane under control, there was no way it would make it back to Allied territory. He set the plane down near Wongat Island, about three-quarters of a mile away from Madang.

Sinking 38th Bomb Group B-25

MISS AMERICA sinks after pilot Capt. Herry was forced to ditch the B-25 near Madang.

Herry’s tail gunner, S/Sgt. Raymond J. Zimmerman, died in the crash. The rest of the crew fared better with only superficial wounds and headed towards the island. Unfortunately, the crew was discovered on Wongat Island by natives who turned all but one crewmember over to the Japanese. The navigator, Lt. Louis J. Ritacco, was hiding in a tree at the time and wasn’t discovered for four more days, but would join the rest of his crew in prison. Herry, Cox, co-pilot 1/Lt. Robert J. “Moose” Koscelnak, and radio operator T/Sgt. Hugh W. Anderson were taken to Madang, where they were held for about 12 days.

Before Cox was locked in prison, he was separated from the rest of his crew and interrogated. He was beaten for not answering any questions, and only then allowed to join the rest of his crew in prison. On their third day as captives, a Japanese interpreter was brought in to interrogate the men. Cox asked if the Japanese would take him to speak to the commander at Madang, but was told the commander wasn’t there at the time. Once the commander returned, Cox’s request was granted.

The Japanese commander tried to question Cox regarding base locations, the number of U.S. planes in New Guinea and which unit Cox was from. He did not provide the commander with answers and cited international law that protected soldiers from disclosing such information. Prior to the war, Maj. Cox had completed three years of pre-law and was well-versed in these matters. He asked the commander to give his crew food and water, as they had only been given sustenance once in the last four days. They were fed, and later questioned as well.

Over the next five days, the crew was questioned by a Japanese intelligence unit and endured beatings when they refused to answer. Afterwards, they were left alone for two days. The next day, Cox and Herry were separated and told they would be taken to Rabaul for more questioning. On the way, they were stopped by a group of Japanese soldiers who took Herry back to prison. Completely separated from the rest of his crew, Cox was taken to an Alexishafen airstrip, tied to a coconut tree for three days and beaten. In that time, he was never given food and water only twice. Following this ordeal, Cox was taken to Rabaul, where he would stay until November 11, 1943.

Maj. Williston Cox

Major Cox before he was taken captive in August 1943.

From there, he was sent to Omori Prison on Tokyo Bay, where he managed to survive for the rest of the war. Maj. Cox weighed only 115 pounds when the POW camp was liberated on August 29, 1945. The rest of the crew was executed on August 17, 1943.