Repost: That Saga-Writing Kavieng Cat Crew

Seventy-five years ago today, a PBY Catalina pilot performed a series of daring rescues. His bravery was the subject of a post back in June 2014 and is being reposted today.

Meet Lt. (J.G.) Nathan Gordon. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing three aircrews near Kavieng on February 15, 1944. His crew received  high praise for the daring rescues made that day. Admiral Halsey sent a telegram saying, “Please pass my admiration on to that saga writing Kavieng Cat crew.”

Here’s a short video of Gordon talking about how he saved the men. One of the crews that was rescued by the men on his Catalina was the subject of the previous post. Don’t forget to read their story after you watch the video.

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When Plans Go Awry: A Mission to Palau

It had been more than a month since the 22nd Bomb Group last encountered fighter opposition on a mission. With an eye on the Palau Islands, the Red Raiders were sent to disrupt the Japanese airfields and destroy installations on June 9, 1944, prior to the invasion of the Marianas island chain in the central Pacific later in the month.

The plan was for 26 B-24s to fly from Hollandia to Wakde Island, where their fuel tanks would be topped off, and then they would continue to their target of Peleliu Island. Much to the annoyance of the crews, Murphy’s Law struck several times over the course of the mission and only 11 aircraft completed the mission. Bad weather forced several crews to turn around, others made navigational errors that led them to miss the target completely (they made it back to Wakde safely) and others were unable to make it to the target due to mechanical problems.

As 1/Lt. Dwaine E. Harry of the 408th Squadron approached Peleliu with the other B-24s in his squadron, weather became enough of an issue that Harry had to separate from the formation. He was jumped by several Zeros three miles out from the island. The lone B-24, ISLAND QUEEN, went into a dive, pulling up 20 feet above the water. Aboard the lead Zero, the pilot dropped his wing tanks in hopes of hitting the B-24 below. He missed. A second Zero made a pass at ISLAND QUEEN and the the gunners promptly returned fire, severely damaging the tail section of the Zero. The fight lasted for 25 minutes, then ISLAND QUEEN turned for Hollandia, landing without further incident.

408th Personnel at Nadzab

Two survivors from the B-24 ditched by the Barley crew off the coast of New Guinea on June 9th were photographed shortly after their return to Nadzab. In front of the Squadron intelligence hut were at left, Capt. John N. Barley, pilot; center is Maj. Glenn E. Cole, 408th Squadron C.O., and at right is T/Sgt. Frederick E. Pelegrin, engineer and top turret gunner. (John N. Barley Collection)

Approaching the target area, the remaining B-24s were met by several Zeros. Along with the usual attacks on the B-24s, the Zero pilots dropped phosphorus bombs and something that looked like heavy chains in front of the 22nd’s formation. Every plane was damaged in the fight. Captain John N. Barley’s aircraft was hit in the right inboard wing tanks, the fuselage and the #3 engine. A fire that started in an ammunition box burned some crewmen but it was quickly extinguished. Both waist gunners were wounded by gunfire, and one of them was dead 30 minutes after he had been hit in the forehead and stomach. A cloud bank provided enough cover to duck into and end the fight.

The crews managed to drop their bombs and began the long trip back home through more bad weather. Barley’s plane made a startling dive toward the sea when it was caught in a downdraft, but he and his co-pilot managed to level out before they hit the water. They flew on at a lower altitude, though they were now unsure of their exact position. Keeping an eye out for familiar landmarks, the crew flew along the New Guinea coastline until the B-24’s fuel supply dwindled and daylight waned. Captain Barley made a water landing about a mile and a half from Sissano Lagoon, located about 25 miles up the coast from Tadji. The tail broke off in the ditching, and nine crewmen exited the plane with new injuries from the ditching.

It took four hours for two of Barley’s crewmen to swim to the beach. One man was pushing the other because he was too injured to swim on his own. They met up with pilot and co-pilot, but the other five men were nowhere to be found. A constable from a nearby village found the airmen stranded on the shore. Barley knew he needed to get help for his crew, and asked if there were any American units nearby. The officer was willing to lead him to the nearest Allied presence, which turned out to be about a day’s walk away. They arrived at an Australian outpost, where the American base was contacted and help was promptly dispatched. The waiting crewmembers were rescued. What happened to the other five remains a mystery, although it’s possible that they were captured by the Japanese.

 

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

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the Southwest Pacific

As the men in the Southwest Pacific fought the Japanese during World War II, they spent major holidays and birthdays far away from their families and friends. These holidays weren’t always a break from routine missions, but they were a brief respite from the bland food typically served in the mess hall. We’ve gathered some diary entries from Thanksgiving Day in 1943 and 1944. Happy Thanksgiving!

Harry E. Terrell, 405/38
11/23/44, Morotai, clear.
“Today is Thanksgiving! I got up at 9:00 and Stanley, Shrout, Zombie and I started laying the rest of the floor. We put up the uprights and knocked off for chow. We finished the tent in the afternoon and cleaned up in time for Thanksgiving dinner! We had turkey, spuds, peas, buns, fruit salad, pumpkin pie and coffee – it was “The nuts” with a white table-cloth, candles and ferns! We’re observing blackouts at sunset now. The 71st lost a ship and we had two shot up with one man injured today.”

11/24/44 John “Hank” Henry, 405/38
“…November 24…I’m writing this on our way home from a strike [mission].

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, we flew all day and it was a rough one. When we landed, I tossed down my two jiggers of bourbon, then went to the mess hall for turkey, dehydrated potatoes, green peas, and pumpkin pie. I loaded up my plate, but couldn’t eat a thing. I hope some of the bastards met their honorable ancestors today.

Well — Land Ho — I’d best get to work…

Upon our return to Morotai, we learned the Bombardier in the first element had left his extended vision knob rolled out after he used it to search for the target through his sight, and consequently his bombs had released prematurely. The Bombardier cried like a baby as he caught hell from our C.O. When the photos came back from group, I was highly congratulated on my run over the target.

It was also on this date the first strikes were made against Japan from the S.W.P.A. This was the start of the devastating B-29 attacks on Tokio from the Marianas.”

 

408th Thanksgiving

It was a little late, but the units back at Reid River were treated to a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings on December 3, 1942. This photo layout shows various aspects of the 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group’s celebration. (Samuel Schifren Collection)

 

11/25/43
Joseph C. Cox, 64/43
“Thanksgiving chow.”

11/25/43
Francis G. Sickinger, 64/43
“We were put on alert today and would have taken off except that the news got to town, and so the mission was called off. We’ll probably go out tomorrow afternoon. The 30th ground echelon is still around. Thanksgiving today and I guess I’m plenty thankful to be alive yet.”

11/25/43
Robert W. White, 65/43
“Had detail today. We had a good dinner – turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, string beans, yaws (native food), gravy potatoes and pumpkin pie. Eddie Rickenbach sent some Camels down to us. We went up the club and then down to Bryan’s tent. I got a card from Mom that read: ‘To Robert W. White – My Xmas gift to you is part of my self. I have given a pint of my blood at the Red Cross Blood Donation Center. May it prove a real gift to bring someone back home…’ That’s about the best thing I ever received.”

Piecing Together An Air Battle: Balikpapan October 10, 1944

We found a couple of interesting diagrams in our archives that we wanted to share with our readers. These were done after the 65th Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group returned from a raid on Balikpapan in October 1944. This was a significant moment in the 43rd’s history, as it was one of several Fifth Air Force units participating in the raid that day. For a quick refresher on Balikpapan, read this post.

Sorting out the chaos of an air battle with only one side of the evidence was no mean feat. Here, we see one of the tools Intelligence Officers used to make sense of it all. These diagrams of the air interception during the October 10, 1944 raid on Balikpapan, Borneo were drawn after debriefing each returning aircrew of their own experience. The composite sketch still leaves some details uncertain—and elements such as the two fighters with bailing pilots might have been one bailing pilot, seen from different aircrews’ perspectives. Note that both sketches depict the same moment in time. We believe the black splotches represent white phosphorus bombs, dropped from J1N1 “Irving” fighters (labelled in the diagram as a “Nick”). We know from Japanese records obtained after the war that the Japanese planes were Navy aircraft: thus the Oscars and Tonys (Army aircraft) listed in the diagram must have actually been A6M5 Model 52s—an advanced variation of the classic “Zero” fighter.

65/43 Balikpapan Interception side view

65/43 Balikpapan Interception top view

Camp Life: Gusap to Nadzab to Hollandia

After a rough start at Gusap in late 1943/early 1944, the men of the 312th Bomb Group had adapted to life in their muddy, temporary home by May. For the most part, their meals consisted of canned meat and dehydrated vegetables or potatoes. The occasional shipment of fresh food from Australia was heartily welcomed by everyone. At times, men would trade items such as razors and cigarettes for bananas, papayas, or coconuts from the villagers. If they weren’t looking for something to eat, they would trade for bows and arrows to keep as souvenirs. Somehow, the 312th acquired a Coke machine with the help of Lt. Harold Friedman of the Special Services section.

New equipment and crews were filtering into the unit when they were needed, which also made life in the Pacific easier. So, too, did plumbing and wooden floors as well as a laundry service. At this point, the 312th got to watch American movies on a regular basis and visit Australia for some rest and relaxation more often. There was also less disease in camp, and all these things contributed to a higher morale among the men in the unit.

It wasn’t long after the Hollandia raids of April 1944 that rumors of moving to Hollandia began to fly. Because that base required more development before it could accommodate the 312th, the air echelon of the Group was temporarily moved to Nadzab on June 11th. The move came with a few perks, namely newer movies and treats such as cookies, candy and juice. Meanwhile, the remainder of the unit had received orders on May 30th to head to Hollandia. Their move was staggered over June and July, as there was a shortage of C-47s to transport larger groups of men.

Upon arrival at Hollandia, it looked like the Japanese had left the base in a hurry. Aside from aircraft, vehicles and equipment strewn about, they had left behind clothing and blankets. Those and the huts they lived in were burned and the equipment was stripped of anything that might prove to be valuable
for trade with infantrymen. There were instances of hungry Japanese soldiers going through camp to scavenge for food, but none of them were captured or shot by the 312th. Around the end of June, the air echelon began trickling in and got to experience the most annoying thing about Hollandia: the dust. It was everywhere and got into everything.

A-20s at Hollandia

The 388th Squadronʼs parked A-20s can be seen at Hollandia with dust rising from a road in the background. Depending on the amount of rainfall, dust was a recurrent problem for operations from the base. (Martin P. DeNicola Collection)

Aircraft were covered as much as possible to keep the dust from getting into engines, turrets and cockpits. Taxiing around Hollandia was a tense experience because dust clouds created by A-20s greatly reduced visibility and planes seemed to come out of nowhere all of a sudden. To combat these issues, engines were kept at idling speed and line chiefs in jeeps were often used to guide pilots to the busy airstrips.

The men began to long for Gusap. It was much quieter, there was less dust, the recreation facilities were better and they got to enjoy cool breezes through their campsite. Food quality hadn’t improved and they were still waiting for more regular mail deliveries. Still, morale remained high and they knew it was a step forward in the war.

 

Read more about the 312th Bomb Group in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

War Weary

War Weary B-25 painting by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 28.5″ x 24″

Paper Size: 34.5″ x 24″

Combat aircraft are a little like racehorses…they can only go around the track a certain amount of times before they are worn out. An airplane that has attained an advanced state of decrepitude, such that it is no longer considered safe for combat missions is considered to be “war weary.” In the Southwest Pacific Theater of operations, consignment of worn out aircraft to the boneyard was an unaffordable luxury in 1944. For utility was still to be squeezed out of an airplane which could still wheeze down the runway and struggle into the air, and enough optimists could be found to fly her.

In the painting, a war weary B-25D with over 100 combat missions to its credit, WOLF PACK, retired to utility flights by the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group, drops into the Ramu River valley in the jungles of western New Guinea, September 11, 1944, after losing an engine. The B-25 was unable to maintain level flight on the remaining engine, so a controlled crash-landing in the valley, an area known to be inhabited by cannibals, became a necessity. Pilot Lt. John Fabale, and co-pilot Lt. Harrison Beardsley managed to land in a swamp without any injuries to themselves or the crew.

After a five-day odyssey through the jungle, the crew arrived at an Allied jungle outpost, whereupon they were airlifted the rest of the way out by L-5 Stinson liaison aircraft. Many aircraft and their crew simply vanished into the jungle of New Guinea, never to be seen again, as the weather and the uncertainties of flight in aircraft which have mechanical failure as a recurring theme, took their toll on optimist and pessimist alike.

 

Read more of this story here. This print is available for purchase on our website.

A Training Mission Goes Awry

Shortly after a tense flight on August 15, 1944, the co-pilot of QUITCH, 2/Lt. Edward L. Bina, was promoted to first pilot and offered some rest and relaxation in Sydney. He declined and returned to flying duty with the 501st Squadron, 345th Bomb Group on August 28th for a training mission. This was a routine strafing mission against Japanese positions on Biak, an island in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). The attack went off without any major issues. After Bina completed his runs, he formed up with the other B-25s about 20 miles off the island, but as he did, a cylinder in the left engine of THE EAGER BEAVER blew, which ripped an 18-inch hole in the engine cowling.

Bina asked the engineer for advice, who recommended he climb to 3000 feet and then fly back to Mokmer Airdrome. After leveling off, Bina throttled back the engines and the rest of the upper cylinders in the left engine blew, taking off the rest of the cowling and severing the fuel lines. What remained of the engine caught fire, and fuel began leaking into the navigator’s compartment. They were only 12 miles southeast of the airdrome, but that wasn’t close enough to reach Mokmer. The crew prepared to ditch.

The Eager Beaver B-25

This photo shows the 71 mission markers on B-25D #41-30078, THE EAGER BEAVER, sometime before the aircraft was ditched on August 28, 1944 near Mokmer Airdrome by pilot 2/Lt. Edward L. Bina. Cylinders on the B-25’s left engine blew, causing major damage to the wing. The crew survived and later returned to Mokmer. (Howard J. Dean Collection)

Right before making contact with the water, the co-pilot jettisoned the overhead escape hatch, which created a wind tunnel that sucked the flames into the cockpit and scorched the three men in that section of the aircraft. After the landing, Bina sat in the cockpit questioning whether or not he was still alive, then concluded he was and quickly exited the plane. He helped the radio operator out and both cleared THE EAGER BEAVER as it started to sink.

Within 30 minutes of the water landing, the Navy cruiser USS Long Beach had rescued the whole crew. Bina was treated to a dinner that was far better than anything he had eaten in awhile. After he returned to his unit, Bina told his fellow officers about the pastries, fresh salad and roast turkey that he consumed while sitting at a table with linens, etched crystal glasses and silverware with the ship’s crest. In a way, the ditching was almost worth the meal.

 

Find this week’s story on page 181 of Warpath Across the Pacific.

Moving Day

Throughout the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific, units had to pick up and move from one base to another as they drove the Japanese northward. Just like a household move, it was organized chaos. Personal items and equipment used by the different sections were packed up into crates, hauled down to a beach and loaded into a waiting Landing Ship Tank (LST). Vehicles were driven on board and tarps were placed over stacks of crates.

Loading LSTs

Airmen of the 312th load Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) in preparation for the voyage to Leyte in November 1944. (Russell L. Sturzebecker Collection)

After a day or two of getting everything and everyone not flying a plane to the next base on board, the men settled in for their sea journey, which could last a week or more. Sleeping quarters might be somewhere below deck or up top, under a tarp. Navy food was typically much better than what the airmen were used to, and on one trip, Adrian Bottge of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group noticed how the sailors “look much healthier than we do. Never realized before how beat up, underfed and jaundiced looking we are.”

On a good trip, the men were able to move to their new location without Japanese interference. There was one terrifying trip when the 345th Bomb Group was attacked by kamikaze pilots on the way to Leyte in November 1944. Tragically, 111 members of that group were killed in that attack.

Upon arrival at the new base, it was time to unload and set up camp. Unloading was always a frenzy. The shipcrews were on a strict schedule, rain or shine, and anything left on board would be taken away when the LST departed. The 312th Bomb Group was also subject to Japanese raids the night the men arrived on Leyte on November 19th. This particular move was not easy for the 312th. Besides the raid, they expected to stay at their temporary camp for a few days, not seven weeks in the rain. Twenty-three inches of rain fell that month, the food was terrible and there was no mail delivery. It took until the end of December for the 312th’s base at Tanauan to be ready for the men.

Unloading LSTs

A section of the 43rd Bomb Group unloads their cargo. Judging by the muddy conditions, this was probably taken at Leyte. (Leon D. Brown Jr. Collection)

Bombing Clark Field

After a successful day of bombing Clark Field on December 22, 1944, the 22nd Bomb Group returned to the area on December 24th. There, they were going to target Japanese aircraft located in revetments and parking areas. Several miles outside of Clark Field, the B-24s and their P-47 fighter cover were jumped by 20-40 Japanese fighters. Two Zeros dropped air-to-air bombs, which did not damage any of the B-24s, and neither did the phosphorus bombs that were dropped by the Japanese fighters. Above the 22nd flew a lone Betty bomber, which was most likely radioing airspeed and altitude information to the antiaircraft batteries at Clark Field. This proved to be a problem for the B-24s, as they were greeted with heavy, accurate antiaircraft fire from the Japanese.

Right after 1/Lt. Cameron B. Benson released his bombs over the airfield, his B-24 was rocked by an explosion in the rear fuselage that also damaged the tail section and the hydraulic lines. The explosion nearly broke the aircraft apart, instantly killing the radio operator, T/Sgt. Paul Deis, who had been manning the right waist gun. At the left waist gun, T/Sgt. Vernon J. Farup, an assistant engineer, sustained injuries to his legs from shell fragments. Ammunition aboard the plane began going off and members of the crew rushed to toss the boxes of ammo out the windows.

B-24 flak damage

On December 24, 1944, this 2nd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group B-24 was damaged over Clark Field after an exploding 75mm antiaircraft shell blew out the side of the plane, killing T/Sgt. Paul Deis, the radio operator, and badly injuring T/Sgt. Vernon J. Farup, the assistant engineer. Both men were manning the waist guns. Despite the instability caused by the damage, 1/Lt. Cameron B. Benson, the pilot, brought the plane in for a successful emergency landing at Tacloban Strip on Leyte Island. (Robert W. Hulme Collection)

None of the 2nd Squadron’s six aircraft escaped Clark Field unscathed. Lieutenant Scott’s aircraft was hit multiple times by flak, one of which damaged the gears for the bomb bay doors. Once Scott made it back to base, he had to land with the bomb bay doors open. Lieutenant Barron left Clark Field with a hole in the right wing between the two engines that punctured the fuel tanks and leaked 600-700 gallons. Both Benson and Barron were able to land safely at Tacloban.

Back at Clark Field, the 19th Squadron was attacked by about two dozen Japanese fighters before they began their bombing run. They were able to fend off the attackers and make their runs. Only two out of the five B-24s from the 19th made it through unscathed. Captain Hume and his crew managed to escape serious injury and aircraft damage when a shell went through their plane, then exploded above it. Two of the 33rd Squadron’s B-24s were damaged, though none of it was severe. Gunners managed to pick off three attacking Zeros with a fourth probable. Three of the 408th Squadron’s aircraft were holed, but also without any serious damage.

In spite of the heavy opposition from the Japanese, the 22nd left Clark Field knowing that their attack was a success. Many of the Japanese planes on the ground were damaged and at least 15 were destroyed. A total of four Japanese fighters were shot down, with a few more probables. The 22nd refueled at Tacloban, with Benson’s, Barron’s and a third crew distributing themselves among the rest of the B-24s that were capable of flying back to Angaur. Farup stayed behind in the hospital at Tacloban. That night and the next day, the 22nd rested and celebrated Christmas. They would return to Clark Field the following day.

 

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

The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Another Six WWII Bases Then and Now

We’re back with more comparisons of bases then and now. It’s fascinating seeing what has changed in a particular area affected by World War II. For those of you who haven’t seen the previous installments of this series, read here and here. Today, let’s take a look at a few of the lesser known bases in the Pacific Theater.

Kaoe II

Built by the Japanese during World War II, Kaoe consisted of two runways, Kaoe I and Kaoe II. Today, Kaoe II is still in use as an airstrip.

Kaoe Then and Now

 

 

Miti Airfield

This airfield was used by the Japanese during the war. It has since been converted into a road with houses lining the former runway.
Miti Then and Now

 

Guiuan Airfield

A crushed coral runway constructed by the Seabees, this airfield was used heavily by U.S. fighters and bombers. Today, the coral has been replaced by asphalt and the runway is occasionally used.

Guiuan Then and Now

 

Nabire Airport

Also built by the Japanese during World War II when Nabire was part of Dutch New Guinea, this runway is still being used today. Due to the conditions of the land, the runway can’t be extended and there is a bigger airport under construction nearby.

Nabire Then and Now

 

Haroekoe Airdrome

This airfield was built by prisoners of war from the Haroekoe and Tantoei POW Camps. After the war, it was abandoned, leaving hardly any trace of its existence today.

Haroekoe Then and Now

 

Garbutt Field

Located in Townsville, Australia, Garbutt Field was built prior to World War II and owned by the Townsville city council. It became a major airfield during the war that was used by the RAAF, U.S. and Dutch. Now known as Townsville Airport, it is used for civilian flights as well as an RAAF base.

Garbutt Then and Now

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

https://centreforaviation.com/data/profiles/newairports/new-nabire-airport

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

http://www.ozatwar.com/garbutt.htm

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/australia/garbutt/index.html