While our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s doesn’t have as many long stories as some of our other books, there are a lot of great short stories sprinkled throughout the 312th Bomb Group’s history. We picked out three of them to help you get to know the 312th better.
A Bronze Star for a Creative Mind
Theodore R. Tanner, a pilot in the 386th Squadron, flew more than 70 missions during his service in the Pacific Theater. Oddly enough, none of them were the reason behind him being awarded the Bronze Star in 1944. Instead, the award came out of an idea that changed combat photography. There were problems with combat photography on an A-20: it took about half a day to install the combat camera in the tail, which meant crews could only load film during the day (potentially degrading the film’s quality) and the alternate camera location of the engine nacelle was too shaky to allow for decent photography.
Tanner designed a new mount in the lower tunnel hatch of the A-20 that had a bracket which could clear the lower gunner’s door and fold in place during a flight. This mount allowed ground crews to install or remove cameras in five seconds and remove the camera film at night. Once V Bomber Command heard about Tanner’s innovative design, he was awarded his Bronze Star and his new mount became part of the light bomber’s standard equipment.
First Lieutenant Larry Folmar was flying a mission at But on April 26, 1944, when he had an unusual close call during a bombing run. The bombs used by the A-20s on this day were 500 pounds each and set with one-second delay fuses. Given the short delay, pilots had to be very careful to maintain their distance from each other so they wouldn’t end up flying into a bomb blast. This time, Folmar got caught by a blast of mud from a bomb dropped by the preceding aircraft. The mud coated Folmar’s windshield, making it impossible for him to see what was ahead of him.
1/Lt. Larry Folmar of the 386th Squadron (shown here as a captain with his aircraft, CALAMITY JANE), had an unusual experience at But Airdrome on April 26, 1944. Mud from an exploding bomb covered Folmarʼs windshield, obscuring his view. He turned for the coast, hoping that “one of the planes ahead might skip a bomb off into the water, causing a blast of sea water that I might fly through.” That was what happened, clearing the windshield enough for Folmar to return to Gusap. (Mack E. Austin Collection)
While wondering how he was going to land when he returned home, Folmar had an idea. He wrote, “I then remembered that the far end of the landing strip we were hitting was at the coastline. It occurred to me that one of the planes ahead might, just might, skip a bomb off into the water, causing a blast of sea water that I might fly through. As I live and breathe that is what happened.” While the spray wasn’t enough to completely clear his windshield, it was enough to get home and land safely.
The Lighter Side of Missions
Once in a while, members of the ground crews were granted permission to fly with pilots on their missions. One day in June 1944, T/Sgt. George K. Hanks, Jr. rode along with 1/Lt. Robert C. Smith on a mission to a Japanese escape route behind Madang. Hanks decided to bring along his own bomb, a large rock, for Smith to release once they were over the target area. Hanks’ contribution wasn’t the only odd object dropped on the Japanese. Captain Peter J. Horan, an Australian Liaison Officer from the 389th Squadron, took his own “Bring Your Own Bomb” approach by unloading nails, grenades, books and rocks, among other things, on the targets below.
A tongue-in-cheek entry from the 312th’s Group history for June 1944 noted that the repeated missions southeast of Tadji had a strange effect on the A-20s. They “gradually acquired the ability to fly the course to Wewak, sans human control.” One pilot also reported that “his plane automatically buzzed down over Wewak and he couldn’t get control of the craft again until 3 strafing passes had been made.”