Tough Day at Utarom

By August 1944, months of Allied advancement in the Southwest Pacific had forced the Japanese back to the port town of Utarom and its airdrome, Kaimana, their only major airfield left on New Guinea. On the 11th of that month, 24 A-20 crews from the 386th and 387th Squadrons were briefed by Maj. William Pagh, who told the men that there were multiple antiaircraft guns guarding Kaimana and pointed out their locations. He recommended that they stay out of the range of the guns. Targets for the mission were mainly barges just off the Utarom coastline.

Arriving over Utarom with Pagh in the lead position, the pilots spread out as they looked for targets. Pagh spotted a couple of barges off Kaimana’s shoreline, and, ignoring his own advice from earlier, made a run on them. As he pulled up and exposed the belly of his aircraft, an antiaircraft position on the north end of the runway opened up. The right engine of Pagh’s A-20 was fatally damaged, leading the plane to drop and cartwheel into the water. Pilots who watched the scene said that the “hill north of the strip looked like a solid sheet of flame from 8 to 10 M/G machine gun] positions there.”

Kaimana Drome at Utarom

By August 1944, Utarom was the last major Japanese operational airdrome in Dutch New Guinea. On August 11, 1944, Maj. William S. Pagh, the Group Operations Officer, led the 386th and 387th Squadrons in an attack against it and was shot down and killed. (Claud C. Haisley Collection)

Utarom was nothing but chaos. Pilots were flying in every direction, making it more difficult to make any sort of attack run without worrying about being hit by an antiaircraft gunner from below or accidentally damaging a fellow crew’s A-20. At some point, the A-20 flown by 1/Lt. Frank W. Wells was hit and he issued a mayday call. While 1/Lt. Frank Hogan had spotted Wells’ plane about half a mile ahead of his own, he did not note any hits. Hogan lost sight of the A-20 soon after and it is speculated that Wells crashed into the sea.

Once it was time to head back to Hollandia, Hogan looked for the other A-20s in his squadron, picking up Capt. Joseph B. Bilitzke flying in BABY BLITZ. Both pilots circled the area, looking for any sign of Wells or any other 386th aircraft that still might be in the area. BABY BLITZ was suddenly hit by flak, damaging both the rudder and vertical stabilizer, and knocking out most of Bilitzke’s instrument panel. Hogan and Bilitzke then headed for the nearest base, Owi, and Bilitzke made a hair-raising landing with four armed bombs still in his bomb bay. The bombs, three of which were secure and the fourth hanging precariously, were defused the next day.

Reflecting on the day’s losses, pilots realized that the location of the barges may have been a trap meant to lure pilots towards shore gun installations. While the briefing prior to the mission discussed the locations of the biggest antiaircraft guns, it’s possible that the locations of other nearby antiaircraft guns had not been mentioned. Pilots were also inadvertently putting their lives and the lives of their gunners at risk by exposing aircraft bellies to antiaircraft fire. Overall, the mission to Utarom was painful for the 312th.

The Death of a Leader

We have all heard the phrase “actions have consequences.” In this instance, a prank played by Capt. Harold G. De Kay may have saved his life. The 500th and 501st Squadrons were scheduled to strike Hansa Bay on January 30, 1944. During an evening of joking around in the Officers’ Club the previous night, De Kay sent a man to prank Capt. Jack Manders by putting pins through the wires of Manders’ jeep’s horn. In return, Manders demoted De Kay from his usual position in the lead plane on missions and stuck him in the last plane of the formation. Manders took his spot in his B-25 nicknamed ARKANSAS TRAVELER.

Upon arriving over Hansa Bay, the area was completely overcast, but crews were able to pick out their targets: ships, an airstrip and antiaircraft guns. As the B-25s began to make their runs over the bay, the antiaircraft batteries opened fire. An engine on ARKANSAS TRAVELER caught fire after a flak shell burst right next to it. With one engine out of commission, Manders fell behind and Lt. Symens in QUITCH took the lead position, barreling down on one of the two ships Manders was attacking. Unchecked, the fire damaged the hydraulic system, which caused the landing gear to extend and slowed the B-25 further. Still, Manders was determined to finish his run. Fifty feet above the ship, he released two of his bombs, one of which may have hit the ship directly.

Approximately 100 yards beyond the ship, ARKANSAS TRAVELER lost all lift and bounced off the surface of the water once before exploding as it hit the water a second time. The bombs released by Symens exploded a second later, one of which may have been right against the ship. HORATIO II also had an engine damaged by gunfire, although the pilot was able to make an emergency landing at Finschhafen. QUITCH had been hit a few times, although they didn’t think there was anything more than maybe a flat tire (which turned out to be undamaged) and a six-inch hole in the right wing flap.

Explosion of the Arkansas Traveler

As Symens brought QUITCH in for landing, the damaged flap the had originally looked like it would be ok suddenly tore off, causing the plane to make a violent, vertical 90 degree rotation with a wing pointed straight down. For a few terrifying seconds, the plane flew onward as the pilot and co-pilot, 1/Lt. Paul H. Murphy, worked to bring the B-25 back in control and land safely. They were subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their skill.

De Kay, who some assumed to be dead (they didn’t know he wasn’t on the lead plane like usual), was convinced by several officers to recommend Manders for the Medal of Honor. He wrote up an admittedly exaggerated account of the events that occurred, which wasn’t believed by headquarters. Instead, Manders was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.

Mission to Babo

Jack Fellows A-20 art titled Mission to Babo

Babo Airdrome was a key base for Japanese operations on the Vogelkop Peninsula of Dutch New Guinea. Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, commander of Fifth Air Force, hoped that this attack would catch Babo’s aircraft on the ground, but with about fifty antiaircraft positions, the Japanese base was still a formidable challenge for any attacker, especially at low level. On July 9, 1944, Col. Strauss led 24 A-20s from the 388th and 389th Squadrons against Babo. The surprise attack was highly successful, but it came at a steep price to the 389th: five men and three aircraft.

One flight leader, 1/Lt. Kenneth I. Hedges, shown here in THE QUEEN OF SPADES, lost both of his wingmen on this raid. On his left wing, at the upper right in the painting, was 1/Lt. Earl G. Hill, with his gunner Sgt. Ray Glacken. Their A-20 is shown on fire before beginning a fatal descent. A short time later, the wing spar burned through and the plane plummeted into Bentoni Bay. The explosion on the ground at the upper left shows the A-20G of 1/Lt. Walter H. Van and his gunner, S/Sgt. Gilbert V. Cooper, exploding on a taxiway on the airdrome, a victim of the antiaircraft gunners. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

This print can be purchased on our website.

Big Nimbo

We are highlighting one of the 22nd Bomb Group’s B-24s this week. Its profile history, as well as those of 47 other aircraft from the unit, can be found in Appendix V of Revenge of the Red Raiders.

BIG NIMBO, named after a character from the Lil’ Abner comic strip, was flown to the Southwest Pacific out of Hamilton Field, California on orders dated January 12, 1944, with a destination of the Fifth Air Force Replacement Center at Amberley Field. It was part of a batch of 14 Liberators that had been assigned to newly trained crews at Herington and Topeka, Kansas during December 1943. BIG NIMBO’s ferry crew, led by 2/Lt. George H. Bailey, is believed to have named the aircraft and had the nose art applied before it left the States. While several of the ferry crews were forwarded to other units as replacements, all 14 of the planes in this detachment ended up forming part of the initial complement of B-24s that equipped the 22nd Bomb Group. Seven went to the 33rd, four to the 19th, two to the 2nd and one to the 408th.

The bomber initially went through theater modification before being assigned during February to the 19th Squadron at Charters Towers, Queensland, where it was undergoing transition training. It thus became one of the 13 Liberators assigned to the unit during January and February 1944,with whom it returned to combat operations out of Nadzab in March. The new B-24 was assigned to a ground maintenance crew led by T/Sgt. Jesse G. Smith, a veteran crew chief who had served with the unit from its inception.

Sometime just before the plane was flown to Nadzab, it received its new aircraft designator, a large black “P” that was AV-37 centered on the white patch on the outboard side of both vertical stabilizers. The prominent nickname and nose art appeared only on the right side of the nose. No scoreboard or mission symbols were ever applied. As was typical at the time, the prop hubs were painted in white, the Squadron color. Our profile painting represents the aircraft in these markings as it would have appeared at Nadzab about July 1944.

22BG B-24 Big Nimbo nose art

The artwork for BIG NIMBO was almost certainly put on the aircraft back in the States by the crew that ferried it overseas. The cartoon character was from the Lil’ Abner comic series in the newspapers of the time. This plane was one of the original B-24Js assigned to the 19th Squadron at Charters Towers, Queensland, during February, 1944, and was one of the few in that unit to carry nose art. It was written off in a landing accident at Owi Island on July 25, 1944, with 2/Lt. James H. Shipler at the controls. (Claude V. Burnett Collection)

The 19th Squadron’s Air Echelon, including BIG NIMBO, moved from Charters Towers to the new Squadron base at Nadzab, New Guinea, on February 28th, and within a few days was ready to get back into action. Captain George I. Moleski piloted the Liberator on the Group’s first B-24 combat mission on March 10th, a strike against Lugos Plantation on Manus Island. A few days later on March 16th, Capt. Jesse G. Homan was at the controls over Wewak when a burst of flak exploded between the number one and two engines. One of the shrapnel fragments penetrated the fuselage and damaged the hydraulic system, which began leaking badly. After using all the spare hydraulic fluid aboard, the engineer collected urine from the crewmembers and added it to the fluid reservoir. This kept the hydraulic system working until Homan could bring it down to an emergency landing at the forward fighter base at Gusap. During the next three weeks a maintenance crew repaired the plane and the B-24 was flown back to Nadzab, where it returned to combat on April 8th. The crew never mentioned having added urine to the reservoir.

The plane served with the Squadron throughout the Nadzab era, but as was the general practice at the time, it had no specific crew assigned. During the 23 combat missions completed and two more from which it aborted, this B-24 it was piloted by crews led by 16 different pilots; only one flew it more than twice. That crew, led by Capt. Ferdinand R. Schmidt, put six of the last 14 missions on the bomber.

BIG NIMBO’s last combat mission was on July 1, 1944, when Capt. Schmidt flew the plane on a strike against personnel and supply dumps at Kamiri Village on Noemfoor Island. Because of the lack of suitable targets within range, and preparations for a move to Owi Island, the unit flew few missions during the month of July. During this time the B-24s were heavily committed to shuttling equipment and supplies to the new base. The 19th’s Air Echelon moved to Owi on July 24th, but BIG NIMBO, carrying a large amount of equipment and a full load of frag bombs, experienced a partial brake failure while taxiing for departure. The pilot, 2/Lt. James H. Shipler, brought the plane back to its hardstand and a corroded valve in the hydraulic system was replaced. The next day, Shipler took off and had an uneventful flight to Owi. However, when the plane touched down, he had trouble with the left brake. The pilot immediately applied full throttle to the number four engine to compensate, but the right wing of the Liberator hit and badly damaged the nose and cockpit of a B-25 parked along the runway, tearing away several feet of its own wing in the process. Upon inspection it was found that the entire hydraulic system on BIG NIMBO had been badly corroded, undoubtedly as a result of the acidic urine put in it back on March 16th. The aircraft was deemed unfit for repair, and both it and the B-25 were subsequently salvaged for parts. Four months later the Liberator was officially removed from the Government’s inventory on December 8th.

BIG NIMBO flew the following combat missions, all from Nadzab: Lugos Plantation, 3/10 (Moleski); Boram Airdrome, 3/12 (Dorfler) and 3/13 (Parker); Hansa Bay, 3/14 (Clarey); Wewak, 3/15 (Moleski) and 3/16 (Homen); Hollandia and Marienburg, 4/8 (Nicholson); Dagua, 4/9 (Paffenroth); Hansa Bay, 4/10 and 4/11 (Smith); Boram Airdrome (abort), 4/23 (Thunander); Sarmi, 5/7 (Schmidt); Wadke, 5/11 (Harvey); Sawar, 5/13 (Schmidt); Wakde, 5/16 (Schmidt); Biak, 5/22 (Schmidt); Hansa Bay, 5/23 (Clarey); Biak (weather abort), 5/27 (Homen); Kamiri Airdrome, 5/28 (Finley); Biak, 5/29 (Almon); Peleliu Airdrome (takeoff abort), 6/13 (Shipler); Kamiri Airdrome, 6/20 (Haines) and 6/25 (Schmidt); Cape Kornasoren, 6/26 (Markey); and Kamiri, 7/1 (Schmidt).

Housing, Hygiene, Laundry, and Food

This excerpt comes from a memoir written by 1/Lt. Robert Mosely of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group. Given the mention of the Philippines, the events below would have taken place in late 1944 or 1945.

 

As described earlier, our tent, up on a wooden floor, was a great improvement over out “housing” in New Guinea. I mentioned it earlier but when I got that air mattress in the Philippines it made a world of difference in my sleeping routine. Those Army cots, where I hung over at each end, made sleeping very tough. I must say, as stated earlier though, that I never had trouble sleeping the night before a mission, even on those Army cots; it was uncomfortable but I slept. I do not quite know how to explain it because I do not think of myself as being all that brave but that was the way it was in that war … You would think that knowing you might get killed the next day would make your heart beat a little faster.

While on the subject of housing, we had a happening one night in our area that was quite exciting. It involved centipedes; lots of them. It happened about 3 am one morning. I was awakened almost simultaneously with a sharp pain in my head and the noise of the other guys howling and lamps coming on throughout the area (we had lamps, no electric lights). It was raining and it was the first real hard rain at the start of the monsoon season and it probably flooded those big 4-inch long centipedes out of their ground nests. They then crawled the foundations of our wooden floored tents and into out bunks. They then started stinging the first thing that disturbed them. That was a real live nightmare. It was strange that it happened to all of us at almost exactly the same time. There must have been at least six of us that got stung. There was not much sleep the remainder of the night and there were all sorts of centipede stories the next day.

With regard to hygiene, in the Philippines, we showered in a makeshift thing that was made out of an old 50-gallon oil drum. It was mounted up on a scaffold like thing a little higher than our heads. A spout came out of the bottom of it. Somehow water was pumped up and into the barrel and stored there. You then would simply open the spout to take you shower. It sounds crude but I am almost ashamed to mention it when I think about those poor Army ground guys fighting those Japs in those nearby islands. I remember one period we were giving close air support to them when they were fighting on the island of Negros. They were all dug in there in their trenches which we could plainly see as we flew over. They would even wave at us. They would shoot artillery shells over into the area where the Japs were, to show us where they wanted us to attack. We would then set up sort of a traffic pattern going in at tree top level over them and then on over to the area they marked for us to attack. We would shoot and bomb anything that moved and if it did not move we bombed and strafed anyhow … after one of these missions I would go back to my tent and could have a drink of combat whiskey they would give us to steady our nerves if we thought we needed it (which I didn’t), take a shower, eat some kind of a meal, and then sleep on my air mattress with a clean sheet. Then the next day we might go back to the same target to help them out again and there would be those same guys down there in that trench waving at us again but you can only imagine what had happened to them in the meantime. You can bet that they had no whiskey, shower, food served on a plate, or a bed to sleep in. Additionally they were probably scared stiff that they might be overrun by Japs that night or that one might sneak into their area under cover of darkness and cut a few throats.

Squadron Shower

Dated February 1943, this photo shows the shower area that was built for one of the 3rd Bomb Group’s squadrons while they were in New Guinea.

 

With regard to laundry, we could get little Filipino girls, that were always around where there were troops, to do the laundry for a very small charge. (The native girls in New Guinea had done the same thing for us while we were in New Guinea). It was cute to watch the little Filipino girls doing the laundry. They would take the clothes down to a nearby stream and they would beat the bejeazers out of them over the rocks at the edge of the stream. I guess the rock was the equivalent of the old washboard. I do not think that they had any soap but the clothes always felt better when you put them back on than they did when you took them off.

With regard to food — It was always bad to awful and it got worse in the Philippines than it had been in New Guinea. But, it was likely a lot better than what that Army guy was getting in that trench down on the island of Negros. He was probably getting some of those K-rations that I saw the mountains of on the beach the day we landed on Leyte back in November. I often wondered why we never got any of those things because they would have been better than some of the stuff they were feeding us. They only time we ever got a decent meal was when our cooks would get some whiskey and go down to the docks, there by the airstrip, and exchange the whiskey and some of our bad food for some of that good Navy food. I cannot impress on you enough just how much better the Navy food was than ours. The deal on this whiskey swap thing (I was told) was that the Navy cooks could sluff off some of our bad food on their guys every so often and end up with a bunch of booze (that seemingly the Navy couldn’t get otherwise) and we would get one good meal every now and then, thanks to the cooks coming up with the booze for the swap.

One time the food not only got worse; there was hardly any of it (even bad food). Something must have gone wrong because we were basically out of food and that is not supposed to happen to us Air Corps guys. One day during this period I was down at the flight line and a Sailor walked into our area and said he would sure like to take a ride in one of our airplanes. In so many words I told him I would take him for a ride if he could get us some food. He said that was a deal and told me that if we would come down to his ship at a certain time that night we could come aboard and take all of the food, from down in the hold of his ship, that we wanted. Now, he was going to get his airplane ride but I had no guarantee that I was going to get any food. In fact it sounded like a fishy deal but we needed food so I put him up in that area where you could lay down behind the pilot in a A-20 and gave him a ride he probably never forgot and sent him happily on his way. That night Morgan, Smith and I got a Jeep and went down to the docks and found his ship and so help me there was no one around. It is hard to believe that in wartime such a thing was possible but that was the way it was. We went aboard and I went down in the hold of the ship and there were boxes and boxes of food. I started throwing boxes up out of the hold to Morgan who was on the deck and Smith was taking them off of the ship down to the jeep. I must have tossed 6 or more boxes to Morgan but suddenly Morgan was no longer there. I called for him and there was no answer.

After a bit I decided that something must have happened so I climbed out of the hold and found that I was the only person around; there was no Morgan, no Smith, and no Jeep. It was kind of like a bad dream. I was wondering what I was doing there. I knew what I went there for but suddenly being all alone I was beginning to wonder if what appeared to be happening was in fact really happening. I just stood there for awhile not knowing what to do. I had no transportation (and certainly had no business being on that boat) and wondered how I could get back to my camp, which was several miles away. So I just sat down on the barrier like thing, around the hold, and tried to think how to get out of that bad dream. I must have sat there for 5 or 10 minutes (still no one around) when I saw the lights of a vehicle approaching the dock. I could soon tell that it was a Jeep and shortly I could tell that it was Morgan and Smith. I hurried off of the ship and ran down to meet them and immediately started giving them hell for running off and leaving me.

They did have a half ass excuse, when Smith explained that on one of his trips to the Jeep, with a box of food, he saw the Shore Patrol coming. He in turn told Morgan and, without saying a word to me, they panicked and jumped in the Jeep and headed out down the road. The Shore Patrol saw them and started chasing them. They tried to turn off on a little side road and turning their lights off but the Shore Patorl was not fooled and caught them. The funny part was that the Shore Patrol somehow had the idea that they had whiskey in those boxes. When they found out it was just food they let them go without asking any further questions. So once they were free, they came back to pick up their old buddy who they had left down in the hold of that ship without so much as a word of warning. Well, I certainly got a glimpse of the true character of those two “buddies”. But I might have done the same thing (I really don’t think I would have) so I forgave them. For about a week we did not go near the mess hall. We ate off of our loot.

That completes Housing, Hygiene, and Food.

Lost at Sea

As November 1944 began, the 345th Bomb Group was flying to the staging base of Morotai, where they would then take part in missions that targeted islands in the Philippines. Morotai was three hours away from their base at Biak Island. While this hop could be considered routine, weather once again thwarted plans of landing at Morotai on November 6th. As the B-25 pilots attempted to fly through the stormy weather, Morotai went on red alert and the control tower went off the air. It became extremely difficult for the crews to find their way to Morotai without a radio signal, not to mention a way out of the storm. Several pilots turned around. One, Lt. Edward Reel, remained in the area, hoping to catch a station. Aboard his B-25 were six crewmen and passengers.

Hours passed. Reel had descended to find the bottom of the clouds, but he was unsuccessful. A little while later, the radio operator found a station for them to follow, however, no one responded to the distress calls. The plane’s fuel supply was running low and everyone on board decided Reel should ditch in the turbulent water below. After turning on the landing lights, the B-25 descended to wave-top height and hit a wave well at more than 100 miles per hour. The tail cracked upon impact, and the rough waters snapped it off shortly thereafter. Five men made it out of the aircraft alive and spent an uncomfortable night in a raft on the stormy seas. Reel and and radio operator T/Sgt. William A. Butts went down with the plane.

When the sun rose on November 7th, the sea was calm and the sky was clear. The survivors saw that they were surrounded by nothing but water. For three days, they floated in the ocean. They managed to signal a C-47, which circled the raft, then dropped a five gallon can of water and a life raft with a note that said, “Help on way. Land 120 miles south.” The can of fresh water, unfortunately, exploded on impact, but the raft was in good shape and three of the men climbed into it. Help had not arrived by nightfall. An argument broke out about whether or not to hoist small sails on one of the rafts and head for land or stay put. In the end, they split up. Staff Sergeant Alton F. Joyner, T/Sgt. Henry A. Jepeson and Cpl. Robert J. Schoonmaker set sail for land.

On November 12th, planes spotted the two men, S/Sgt. Douglas C. Osborne and 2/Lt. George W. Harding, in their raft. They were rescued by a Catalina a little later. It wasn’t until the following day when the trio in the other raft was spotted and finally rescued. After recovering from exposure and injuries at the 17th Station Hospital at Owi, the men spent a month in Australia to rest and recuperate.


For more stories about the 345th Bomb Group, check out our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

Repost: Friendship After Bombing Davao

This story is one of our favorites and we thought it was time to reblog it. Without further ado, here is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two veteran World War II pilots.

 

Two 63rd Squadron B-24 Snoopers took off from Owi Island on the night of September 4, 1944 to bomb Matina Airdome at Davao, Mindinao. One of the B-24s soon turned back due to radar failure. Captain Roland T. Fisher, pilot of the other B-24, “MISS LIBERTY,” continued on alone. Fisher had flown night missions with the Royal Air Force in 1941 and would soon be needing every ounce of skill he had acquired over the last few years.

Twenty-one years after this mission, Fisher recounted his experience: “I could see again the bright moon in the clear night sky and the green shadow of Cape San Agustin below. I had entered Davao Gulf by crossing from the Pacific over the peninsula into the head of the gulf and made nearly a straight-on approach over Samal Isle to Matina air strip. I remember thinking perhaps this would allow me to enter the gulf undetected. On previous occasions I had entered the gulf at the mouth and flew north, and it seemed like [Japanese] defenses always spotted me.

Miss Liberty's Nose Art

“But this evening my plan didn’t work…I recall vividly being in the searchlights and how, just after I had made the bomb run over the air base, I made a sharp turn to the left with the intent of flying south out of the bay.” Back on the Japanese-held base, a man who had been ordered to reconnoiter the area in his Irving night fighter spotted the interloper. That man was Yoshimasa Nakagawa. “Some minutes after my plane took off,” wrote Nakagawa, “I found that the bomb which had fallen off [the B-24] seemed to have been exploded somewhere in the air-base. My plane had caught sight of [the B-24] which was flying about 1500 meters high above mine…my plane had been kept waiting for [him] to start on [his] way home. My plane was drawing nearer and nearer to [his] B-24 which was circling over the little island in Davao Bay.”

While Fisher was still in the middle of his turn out of the bay, Nakagawa flew straight at “MISS LIBERTY” with guns blazing. A collision between the two planes was imminent and Fisher pulled up a wing, narrowly avoiding the Japanese fighter. Nakagawa turned again to make another attack on Fisher’s B-24, this time for the death. “My plane could not help colliding with [the B-24] owing to the disorder of the machine gun. I hope you can understand we Japanese pilots of those days felt as if their heart were broken when we were forced by the General Headquarters to do such a thing as collision,” he later wrote. As Nakagawa rammed his plane into the B-24, his fighter’s propellers severely damaged the belly of the B-24.

When the planes broke apart, Nakagawa watched Fisher’s plane plunge towards the sea and flew to base thinking about the skill of the American pilot, who probably wouldn’t make it home. Fortunately, Fisher was able to limp back to Owi after a long, tense 7 hour flight. Years later, Nakagawa contributed to a book called The Divine Wind, which is about experiences of kamikaze pilots. In that book was the story of his encounter with that B-24. Fisher received a copy of the book from a former tentmate, telling him to look on page 29, where he found the mission described above. He then composed the following letter:

Letter to Yoshimasa Nakagawa

Even though Nakagawa had tried to kill Fisher and his crew years ago, the two men put the past behind them and struck up a friendship 20 years after their first encounter. The men met in 1972, both of them thankful that the other was still alive, and appeared on the Dick Cavett television show together. “Imagining how bravely you could survive the World War 2 that had made the horrible marks in the history of the slaughter of human race,” Nakagawa wrote to Fisher. “I am inclined to heartily express my joy that you are still living all right. I am very grateful to you, who hope I am in good health and fortune, for the fact that you have no antipathy against me, who had once been an enemy of you. I am also very much delighted to be able to exchange correspondence with you. I hope you are in good health and happy for ever.”

In his response to Nakagawa, Fisher wrote, “Then you and I were young and conducted ourselves as young men should for our countries. Now we are older an wiser and our countries are wiser and I feel that we have attained a lasting friendship between our countries that is not only honorable but sensible and good for their futures. Still those dark moments we spent as young men in the night tropic skies of twenty years ago, I am sure, always will be glistening memories no matter how old we grow.”

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

Rabaul, New Britain

Located on the coast of a natural harbor on the eastern coast of New Britain, an island in the Southwest Pacific, Rabaul was a German colony in the 1900s that was captured by the Australians in World War I. Two nearby volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, erupted violently in 1937, destroying most of the city. After World War II started, it was captured by the Japanese in January 1942, after which it was transformed into a major stronghold with approximately 97,000 troops that would easily fend off Allied attacks until October and November 1943. While the Allies continued to advance towards Japan, they cut off Japanese supply routes to Rabaul and continued to bomb the city and surrounding area. It was officially surrendered at the end of the war. After the war was over, the city became a trading hub until Tavurvur erupted in 1994, once again destroying a large part of the city. Developments closest to the volcano were never rebuilt.

Rabaul then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Rabaul and Simpson Harbor as they appeared in September 1943. At right is Rabaul today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Langley Air Force Base

Established in 1917 near Hampton, Virginia, Langley Field (named after American aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley) remains one of the oldest air bases in continuous operation in the U.S. Its small airfield was expanded in the 1930s and continued to develop as World War II began. At the time the left image was taken, Langley was used as a training ground for new units, such as the 43rd Bomb Group, established in the U.S. military build-up before they entered the war.

Langley then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Langley Field in 1941. At right is Langley today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Boram Airdrome

On the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, Boram (referred to as East Wewak by the Japanese) was one of the four airdromes that made up the Wewak Complex built by the Japanese during World War II. The other three in the complex were Wewak, Dagua, and But. It was repeatedly attacked by the Allies between 1942 and 1945, and finally ended with the Australians securing Boram on May 22, 1945. These days Boram is the home of the Wewak Airport, also sometimes known as Boram Airport.

Boram then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Boram Airdrome after it was attacked by the 312th Bomb Group during the spring of 1944. At right is Boram today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Morotai Island

Approximately two years after the Japanese invaded Morotai Island, off Halmahera Island in east Indonesia, the 31st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army landed on Morotai on September 15, 1944. Two airstrips were built and Morotai grew into a major staging base for attacks on Japanese territory in the Philippine Islands. Almost a year later on September 9, 1945, the island became the site of the formal surrender of the 126,000 Japanese still in the Netherlands East Indies [now Indonesia]. The base became a large aircraft and vehicle graveyard after the war was over. Scrapping and smelting lasted until 1988.

Morotai then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, are the two airstrips at Morotai on October 15, 1944. At right is Morotai today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Ie Shima

Ie Shima was part of the Ryukyu Island chain, a trail of islands southwest of Japan. It was just west of Okinawa, and was captured by the Allies as part of the Battle of Okinawa. Before American units took over the base, the Japanese destroyed the runways and buried mines throughout the island to deter Allied attacks. Once it was under U.S. control, various engineer aviation battalions were hard at work to make the island habitable for units that were due to move to the island in June. In August, Ie Shima was a stop for the Japanese surrender delegation on their way to Manila. These days, the U.S. Marine Corps operates a military training facility on part of the island, while civilians reside on the rest of it.

Ie Shima then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Warpath Across the Pacific, is the 345th Bomb Group’s camp area at Ie Shima in the summer of 1945. At right is Ie Shima today, taken from Google Maps.

Buka Island
Buka Island is part of the Solomon Island chain in the southwest Pacific, on the opposite end of the chain from Guadalcanal. After being claimed by the Germans in 1885, Buka was turned over to Australia in 1920. The Japanese seized Buka on March 9, 1942 and built an air base that grabbed Allied attention in June 1943 when preparations for Operation Cartwheel were in the works. A small canal separated Buka from the island of Bougainville, which was to be the site of a major invasion, and up-to-date reconnaissance of the two islands was required beforehand. That reconnaissance mission turned into one of the most dramatic moments of the Pacific war when Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. and his crew were attacked during their photomapping mission on June 16, 1943. In the end, Zeamer and his bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, were awarded the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski’s was posthumously awarded) and the rest of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for getting those photos while under fire. Contrary to internet lore, this photo was not taken during that mission. Buka remained under Japanese control until September 1945. It later gained independence from Papua New Guinea in 2005.

Buka then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from the Naval Aviation Museum, the Buka airfield in August 1943. At right is Buka today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

A Night at Sea

Shortly after half of the 22nd Bomb Group finished moving to Owi Island, the Group began flying missions to the Vogelkop Peninsula. For reasons unknown, the 2nd and 33rd Squadron were flying from Wakde Island instead. Crowded revetment and parking spaces on Owi may have been a factor in this decision. On July 26, 1944, the 33rd and 2nd were sent on a mission to Ransiki, an airfield on the eastern side of the peninsula. While releasing their bombs, crews faced moderate antiaircraft fire over the target area. The B-24 flown by 1/Lt. Amos was hit once in the #1 engine and once in the #4 engine right after the bombs were dropped on Ransiki, starting a fire in the #1 engine.

While most of the crew escaped injury during the explosions, bombardier, 2/Lt. James K. Bishop was mortally wounded after flak tore open his abdominal area. The co-pilot treated Bishop as best as he could, then returned to help fly the damaged plane. With 200 miles to go on two functioning engines and an inability to maintain altitude, Amos knew that he and his crew would have to ditch the plane soon. After throwing extra equipment overboard and making distress calls, the two working engines, which had been at full power, began to overheat. It wasn’t long before the #2 engine quit and the plane subsequently landed in the water.

The B-24, which was notorious for breaking apart upon ditching, did not fare well in this landing. After the tail sheered off, the plane cracked in half from the nose to the fuselage. Amos, who was on the left side of the plane, was under water when the plane stopped and hurriedly surfaced, only to find his co-pilot still sitting in his seat with a cigar still in his mouth. He went to release the raft and was soon joined by the radio operator and co-pilot. They picked up the navigator, bombardier and engineer, who were in the water.

As they got the raft situated, the plane sank, taking the assistant engineer, two gunners and assistant radio operator with it. The remaining men fished a “Gibson Girl” radio  and a parachute pack out of the water and did their best to reach someone who might be searching for them. Bishop, who had by then regained consciousness, spoke of his wife who was soon to give birth. Just after the crews took off for their mission that day, a message was received that his wife had a baby girl and they were both doing well. Unfortunately, Bishop would never receive this message. He died in the raft that afternoon and was buried at sea by his crew mates.

While the men floated, a storm blew through during the afternoon, thoroughly soaking the raft’s occupants. Amos and the co-pilot, 2/Lt. William A. Rush, decided to try some purple fish they saw swimming around. The other two men refused to try them. Some hours later, daylight faded and the men spent an uncomfortable night at sea. They huddled under a parachute to shelter them from passing storms as well as the rain in the morning.

Later that morning, they saw a B-25 flying a search pattern and waved a parachute in hopes of catching someone’s eye. Unfortunately, no one on the plane saw them. Determined to be rescued, the men in the raft broke out the dye markers for the next aircrew to hopefully spot. Three hours later, a PBY Catalina began flying a search pattern and the men watched the plane, hoping it would see them. An hour later, the again men waved parachutes, as it looked like the Catalina would probably pass close by the raft. The plane flew overhead, circled, and landed nearby. One man aboard the flying boat poked his head out and yelled, “Hey, you guys! Wanna ride?” Rush, Amos, 2/Lt. Louis Moore (navigator), S/Sgt. Harold W. Talley (engineer), and S/Sgt. Benjamin M. Gonzales (radio operator) were finally rescued.

This story can be found on p. 261 of Revenge of the Red Raiders.