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.

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2019

This week, we’re listing our most popular posts published this year as determined by the number of views. Did your favorite post make the list?

Thank you for your continued support by subscribing, reading and sharing our work, and buying our books. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, let us know in the comments. We’ll be back next year with more great content. And now, without further ado, our most popular posts published in 2019.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Repost: Knocking Out the 403rd

During the war, there were times when a squadron wound up out of commission for one reason or another. This story, first published in February 2014, covers an event that led to a squadron’s temporary removal from combat.

 

On January 17, 1943, four B-17s from the 43rd Bomb Group’s 403rd Squadron had taken off from Milne Bay for a mission to Rabaul. When the crews returned home later that day, they found smoke, a partially destroyed camp, and that the other three B-17s belonging to their squadron had been destroyed as well.

While the four crews were gone, the air raid sirens went off around midday. This was fairly common at Milne Bay and some of the personnel didn’t take it too seriously. For ten minutes men waited in nearby slit trenches. Nothing happened. The crew of FIRE BALL MAIL was getting ready to take the plane up before the alarm, scattered when it went off, then started going back to the plane. They soon heard what sounded like twin-engine bombers and looked up to see 23 Japanese bombers with 48 fighters flying over the base. The crew quickly ran for cover.

B-17 #540 Burns

The 403rd Squadron’s B-17F #41‑24540 smolders after it was hit during the raid at Milne Bay.

C. E. O’Connor, the co-pilot for that crew, later recalled the raid: “After the first bombs hit the rest followed in unison, working up to us like an avalanche and then pounding on past. This seemed like an eternity between the time the first bombs hit and the last—actually it must have been about 35 seconds … When those first bombs hit I started what might be my last act of contrition. I have never felt so close to death. At the same time realizing that I would never know what hit me.” Thankfully, no one at Milne Bay was killed or seriously injured that day.

Camp at Milne Bay after raid

What was left of the 403rd Squadron’s camp after the raid.

The damage from this raid put the 403rd Squadron out of commission. For several weeks, V Bomber Command had been monitoring the 403rd’s situation as it was continually weakening due to combat losses and disease. Approximately a third of the 403rd’s personnel were being treated for malaria at the time. With three more of their B-17s in ruins, the remainder of the Squadron was sent to Mareeba, Australia to regroup and reequip with B-24s.

 

Read this story in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

Surviving in a Japanese POW Camp

Early on June 26, 1943, 13 planes from the 65th and 403rd Squadrons were sent on a night mission to bomb Vunakanau. Aircrews saw several explosions and fires as a result of their strike and considered their mission successful. It wasn’t until they returned to base that they discovered they were short two B-17 crews, one from each squadron. Both of the B-17s, TAXPAYER’S PRIDE and NAUGHTY BUT NICE, had been shot down by a night fighter piloted by SFPO Shigetoshi Kudo.

That night, on the way to Vunakanau, 1/Lt. Donald D. McEachran was the pilot aboard TAXPAYER’S PRIDE. He reminded his crew that there could be night fighters patrolling the skies over Rabaul and to keep an eye out for them as best as possible. After dropping their bombs without incident, they turned toward home. It wasn’t long before waist gunner Cpl. Joel W. Griffin spotted a plane near the tail and reported the sighting to McEachran. Shortly afterwards, TAXPAYER’S PRIDE was under attack by Kudo. Griffin heard what sounded like gravel being thrown against the fuselage, but was actually shell fragments from 20mm cannon rounds. A wing was set on fire, which was brought under control a few minutes later.

The B-17 then went into an uncontrollable dive. Griffin couldn’t make contact with the cockpit, so he decided it was time to bail out. After he jumped out of the aircraft, he looked for other parachutes and saw none. TAXPAYER’S PRIDE crash into the jungle, presumably killing the rest of the crew. As Griffin continued his descent, his chute got snagged in the branches of the tall trees. He managed to unbuckle himself and work his way to the ground, walked several hundred yards away from the parachute, then settled down and fell asleep.

B-17 Taxpayer's Pride wreckage

Piloting an Irving night fighter, Petty Officer Shigetoshi Kudo shot down B-17F #41-24448, TAXPAYER’S PRIDE, over New Britain on the same night he shot down NAUGHTY BUT NICE. Japanese army personnel were soon guided to the crash site by local natives and investigated the wreckage of the plane. Photographs of the smashed bomber, seen here, were soon published in the Japanese magazine Ashaigraph. The only survivor of the B-17, Cpl. Joel W. Griffin, was taken prisoner and sent to Japan, where he survived until the end of the war. (Justin Taylan Collection)

When he woke up, he checked himself over and discovered a couple of head wounds as well as an injured ankle that could still take a little weight on it. Limping into a clearing, he was found by some local residents, one of whom spoke English and asked if he was an American. At that point, he knew he would be turned over to the Japanese. After he was captured, he was taken by car to an Army hospital, where Japanese soldiers tortured Griffin by aggravating his injuries. Then a nurse stitched up his head without cleaning out his wounds.

He was interrogated in Japanese and beaten when he didn’t understand their questions and responded with his name, rank and serial number. So he started making up a story. Each day he was interrogated, he made up a story, leading to shorter interrogations that were no less painful than the first. After several days, he was transferred to Rabaul, where he shared a cell with seven other POWs. That number soon increased by one when Lt. Jose Holguin, the only survivor from NAUGHTY BUT NICE, was brought in. The men were prohibited from speaking to each other, survived on meager rations and were not given medical treatment. They were put to work building bomb shelters out of coconut trees, but could not use these shelters during air raids.

On November 13th, Griffin and eight other POWs were put on a hospital ship headed for Japan. Also in this group was Maj. Williston M. Cox, whose B-25 was shot down in August. They were sent to Omori Prison Camp, and Griffin was officially declared a prisoner of war. While the prisoners were fed better than when they were in Rabaul, the camp was infested with lice, among other things. He was put to work at a rail yard, where he loaded and unloaded train cars. There, he befriended Otis Black, who had survived the Bataan Death March.

At the rail yards, it was possible to divert some of the food from its intended destination to their bellies. Between Black, a Navy electrician and a few others, they managed to steal an electric iron, rice, copper plates and insulators, and a bucket. This contraption became a rice cooker that could make about a gallon and a half of rice in 30 minutes. It was so powerful that the camp’s lights would dim anytime they turned it on. Soon, they started trading rice with other prisoners for items from the Red Cross packages. This kept up through the end of the war.

As combat operations ceased in August 1945, the prisoners noticed more U.S. planes flying in the direction of Tokyo. They were not informed of the cessation by the Japanese. This may have also given some prisoners the courage to sneak up to the roof of a nearby building and write “POW” in large letters for the aircrews to note and drop supplies. On the 26th, the prisoners woke up and found that the guards had left the camp. After getting picked up by a U.S. barge nine days later, they were truly free once again.

 

Read this story in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.