B-26 Accident at Iron Range

After a successful strike on Lae on September 13, 1942, the 19th Squadron stopped over at Port Moresby to refuel before heading back to their base at Iron Range, Australia. It was a new camp, just hacked out of the Queensland rainforest, and very primitive, lacking many of the more comfortable aspects that the men had gotten used to at other Australian bases.


The trip from Port Moresby to Iron Range was uneventful and Capt. Walter A. Krell lined up his B-26, KANSAS COMET #2, for landing on the new runway at Iron Range. He planned on landing short, then taxiing off at the midpoint so the rest of the formation could land behind him. Without a landing threshold in place, though, he instead touched down on the overrun at the end of the strip. Unseen from the air was a large termite mound that was not cleared away by the engineers. The termite mound broke off the B-26’s right landing gear and strut, causing the plane to slide down the runway completely out of control. Abruptly veering right, it crashed into a compressor truck parked next to the runway.

Man next to termite mound
Here, a member of the 63rd Squadron inspects one of the giant termite mounds found near their camp at Mareeba. The mounds contained a veritable termite city encased in a concrete-hard structure, approximately ten feet high. This is the sort of mound Krell’s B-26 hit while trying to land at Iron Range. (Charles R. Woods Collection)


On impact, the fuselage cracked in half, then both the truck and the plane burst into flames. Krell was briefly knocked unconscious, but revived in a smoke-filled cockpit. His friend and co-pilot, F/O Graham B. Robertson, was pinned in his seat. Krell extracted himself from the plane and ran around to the other side to try and free the unresponsive Robertson. The rest of the crew was able to exit through a gaping hole in the fuselage and Krell climbed in, shifting debris in an effort to free his friend. Soon, the heat and smoke from the flames were unbearable. Ammunition from the bombardier’s compartment was also cooking off, making it took dangerous for the burned Krell to stay any longer.


He climbed out of the cockpit and everyone moved away from the burning B-26 in case of an explosion. The crew’s injuries were tended to by several flight surgeons from different units in the area. Thankfully, the plane never exploded. The wreckage was finally cool enough to go through around midnight and the dead bodies of both Robertson and the truck driver were removed. Back at a field hospital, Krell, who was recovering from his burns, was heard calling, “Hold on! I’ll get you out!” After three days in the field hospital, he was sent to Townsville for further treatment. It was months before he resumed his duties. The rest of his crew suffered permanent injuries from the accident.

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

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.

Military Life in December 1941

When the events of the early days of the U.S. entering World War II are recounted, the most often heard story is that of thousands of Americans who volunteered to fight. What about those men who were already in the military? How did their lives change? Through the diary entries of men from the Fifth Air Force, we can give you some insight into what they experienced before and after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

From Lewis “Tad” Ford of the 33rd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group

…when December 7th came, I got my first day off in a month., why it was a real boon. Days off were assigned by crew and Disbro had his own plans, so I slept late, floated into town, and went to a show to see Sgt. York in mid-afternoon. I was surprised about halfway through the picture to see my name come up on a caption underneath the movie, saying “Lieutenant Ford, report to the box office.” A driver was waiting for me with a staff car to give me a ride back to Langley field: Pearl Harbor had happened.”
We were first told to move all of our personal goods back to the field into the VOQ. Then we were told, no, don’t. Pack everything you don’t want to take with you and send it home. Then, back in the Squadron we spent three or four hours loading the bomb bays with all sorts of maintenance gear. Then we went to our quarters to get as much sleep as we could.
I lived with four other guys. At about 3:30 I took the first telephone call telling Lancaster to report out to the squadron at 4:15. Five minutes later I got one regarding Robbie, and then another for Hitchcock, and finally my own. So, we all ended up at the squadron at 4:15. At 5:am, 12/8 we were wheels up on the way west as a group, 60 airplanes in all.
The only important thing that happened between there and Muroc Dry Lake [Edwards Air Force Base in California] was that Mark Lewis got killed at El Paso, leaving us with Millard Haskins as the group commander.

Built next to a dry lake, Muroc Air Base was initially an extension of March Field in 1941, mainly used for submarine patrols off the southwestern US coast. The 22nd Bomb Group briefly flew patrols from Muroc before the unit departed the United States. (Robin Highham Collection)

Excerpt of a letter from from Gerald C. Cook of the 2nd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group

“Practice makes perfect.” This seemed to be the goal of the 22nd. We made many practice runs in order to be ready for any eventuality which might occur because of war in Europe. Then on 12/7 Pearl Harbor took place. As soon as the news reached the US, the 22nd BG officers alerted all of its personnel to return to base as soon as possible. We started the mad rush to get every plane ready for a flight to the west coast within 24 hours. This was a tremendous feat for so much to be done in so short a time! We reached the set goal, and within 24 hours the entire 22nd BG took off en mass and headed west.
It was while we were flying over the state of Mississippi that I so vividly remember hearing President Roosevelt address the Congress (as well as the American people) and give his Declaraion of War speech). Because of the limitations of the B-26 we could not fly all the way from the “East to West Coast. We made our first top near Tucson, AZ. That night there was an unusual rainstorm. Some of our planes got stuck in the mud and we had to wait a few days until we could get all the planes airborne again.

From the diary of Lt. Roland Birnn of the 27th and later 3rd Bomb Groups
12 December, 1941 Clark Field, Philippines

Very quiet morning. Low clouds and light rain. No fun living in the open. Talley and I went to enlisted man’s barracks 1/3 mile away for a shower. Now deserted—been bombed several times. Hear air raid warning—ignored it because it was too cloudy for a raid. Heard a second warning as I finished dressing. Went outside and saw nine bombers in a “V” formation. Ran for cover—ran like we had never ran before. Finally had to drop to the ground when the bombers got too close. We hugged the ground. Bombs dropped in train, straddled us. Just lucky. Ground sure shook—so did I.
Got up and moved farther away. Then nine more bombers came over. Clark is right on the edge of a mountain range. The bombers whipped around the mountains, just under the clouds, and were on us before we could do anything. We hit the ground again.
Rather nerve racking to lie in the open and wait for bombs to hit. They get closer and closer. The ground started to shake and the explosions hurt our ears. When attack had passed, we saw nine others off to the side. Walked back to HQ through tank area. Noticed that the bombs hit this area. One bomb hit a gun emplacement—killed everyone. Saw other wounded men being carried away. Bomb hit a B-17 on the field. They seem to know when we have anything on the field. Back in HQ area found a bomb had hit 50 feet away from my bunk. I am moving out. They know this is HQ. Japs strafed when they came over. AA got a couple of ships. We had no pursuit up.
Ordinance setting off duds now. They give no warning—just the explosion. When one goes off nearby, everyone hits the dirt. Gets a little nerve wracking. Japs now have an air base in the norther part of Luzon. Our bunch is getting administrative jobs since all the planes are burned. We’re doing the jobs the pursuit outfit was doing here. They moved into the hills. Shrapnel sure is mean looking—jagged edges are sharp as a knife. Hope I get to finish this diary. [Lt. Birnn was killed on a test flight in 1942.]

Intense Mission over Rabaul

Three B-26s from the 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group took off from Seven Mile for Vunakanau, Rabaul on May 24, 1942. For one pilot, 2/Lt. Harold L. Massie, this would be his first mission as a first pilot. It was co-pilot 2/Lt. Eugene Wallace’s second combat mission. The three planes flew through overcast skies as they neared New Britain, but their flight leader, Lt. Ralph L. Michaelis, spotted a hole in the clouds near Rabaul. When they reached the target area, they discovered it was still covered by clouds. Still, there was a gap a few miles away and Michaelis decided his flight could use that to their advantage. The plan was to make one north-south run at low-level and get out of the area as fast as possible. At the time, Rabaul was a Japanese stronghold and three B-26s were no match for the heavily defended airdrome.

As they made their run, Japanese antiaircraft gunners let loose with a barrage of ack-ack, and hit two of the three B-26s. As Michaelis put it, “While over the target each member of the crew had had a close call.” Only one man in his plane, the bombardier, was injured when a tracer bullet went through his seat and cushion, stopped right next to his skin and burned him. He and 1/Lt. McCutcheon, the pilot of the third B-26, made it back to base safely. Massie’s plane was not so lucky. It was hit in the starboard engine and last seen smoking badly. The final radio transmission mentioned that they reached Wide Bay. While the plane had been doing ok on one engine, it wasn’t enough power to keep it in the air and Massie ditched about a mile offshore. Two of his crewmen, Pvt. Joseph C. Dukes and Cpl. Wolenski, were not seen after the landing. The others were helped to shore by Papuans. On July 27th, they split up. Massie and bombardier 2/Lt. Arthur C. King went one way and the other four went another way.

The photographer, S/Sgt. Jack B. Swan, broke his shoulder in the crash and died in his sleep on August 23rd. He was buried in the abandoned village of Ubili. His surviving crewmembers were eventually located and helped by an Australian plantation owner. They were finally rescued on March 25, 1943, and that incredible story is told in full in Revenge of the Red Raiders. Massie and King were captured by Papuans who subsequently turned them over to the Japanese. They were executed at Rabaul on October 12, 1942.

A War Correspondent’s Perspective

Harold Guard, a United Press war correspondent, joined the crew of Lt. Chris Herron of the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group for a mission over the Rabaul area on April 23, 1942. Below is his account of the mission.

“I went over Rabaul in a bomber piloted by Lt. Chris Herron and co-piloted by Lt. Duncan Seffern, who fitted me with a ‘Mae West’ and parachute before we left. I had to sit between the radioman and turret gunner, [Cpl.] George McMannamy, and the navigator, Lt. Charles Smith, on the flight. Bombardier Lt. George Barnhill occupied the glass-domed nose and somewhere in the tail were rear gunners [PFC.] Fred J. Mikles and [PFC.] Harry E. Philo.

“We arrived over Rabaul Harbor suddenly from a bank of clouds. I counted seven large ships and there were several smaller vessels. Someone behind U.S. will attend to them. We crossed the harbor, swooping low. I noticed the altitude meter registered 1,000 ft. Simultaneously I saw ground gun flashes and black smoke balls bursting above and around us. I hear the sound like cracking walnuts. The altitude was 700 ft.

“Herron croaks through the throat microphone. I can see the target—long parallel, drab colored buildings. The bomb bay doors open. Barnhill lets go—and fascinated, I see the incendiary sticks spread and actually reach the target. They got what they were supposed to get.

“We start to climb and the turret gunner reports a Zero on the starboard side. I saw him racing ahead of us. The gunner reports two more. I spot a fourth on the port side. The Zeros climb higher. They’re a pretty picture, with the light putty-colored wings against the golden sunshine.

Recon photo of the Rabaul area

Reconnaissance photo of the Rabaul area taken in 1941.

“Then one swoops down towards us. I think he’s sure that he got us, but we dive steeply towards the sea and our after-guns clatter. Barnhill doesn’t waste time during the dive. He pours tracers into the barges now only 75 ft. below us. They are carrying uniformed figures and Barney’s tracers find their target. We straighten out and I see, as I look backwards, billowing clouds of black smoke and sheets of vivid red flame.

“Meanwhile, three more Zeros are pressing us. We remain low over the sea and they can’t dive below us. The tail gunner reports two Zeros hovering on our tail. Suddenly another one hurtles down out of the clouds. Guns chatter again and once more I hear a sound like cracking walnuts and there are bursting puffballs all around us. The gunner’s language over the intercommunication radiophone becomes unprintable as his gun momentarily jams, but he soon gets it into action again and fires a burst which sends the Zeros on our tail zooming away.

“Only one Zero is coming our way now. Herron anticipates perfectly. With a skillful turn of the wrist we are suddenly up and under the Zero. Our turret guns blaze, and McMannnamy’s interphone croaks ‘We got that so-and-so!’

“Barney’s singing over the interphone like a fool—’I don’t want to set the world on fire!’…Suddenly I realize it’s all over. I start grinning and everybody laughed at me. I realize I must have been scared all the time. We turn for home and race in for a perfect landing. Down at Allied HQs, a brief communique says: ‘Our air force attacked shipping, barracks and warehouses, and machine-gunned enemy personnel.’”

Read more about this mission in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Takeoff Snafu

Prior to a mission on September 2, 1942 to Lae, Capt. Walter A. Krell went through his customary visit with each aircrew to make sure they were prepared and understood what they were about to do. He did this for each mission he led, and this event was no different than any other. Until, that is, one pilot started up the engines on his B-26 and headed for the runway. Misinterpreting this pilot’s actions as the signal to start their engines, more pilots started their engines and followed the first pilot toward the runway. Krell was both livid and flabbergasted by the sudden change and he quickly ran to his plane to get in line for takeoff.

Unsurprisingly, Krell did not end up in the first spot for takeoff. This caused confusion among some of the pilots, even leading one to break radio silence and say he wasn’t going to continue the flight. He was later reprimanded. Since Krell was stuck in the middle of the pack, no one was able to find him and form up properly. One pilot in the air before Krell waited for a bit, then decided to head across the Owen Stanley Mountains to Lae on his own. His navigator got lost and they ended up over Salamaua, about 20 miles south of their intended target.

The rest of the crews stayed behind and waited for Krell, which helped alleviate the earlier disorganization. One turned back because of mechanical issues. The rest continued on to Lae with Krell in the lead. As they approached the target area from 9300 feet, they had yet to meet a single fighter. It was too quiet. P/O Graham B. Robertson, Krell’s co-pilot was feeling uneasy about the situation. Krell suddenly veered left before reaching the target. The rest of the formation followed him, then the sky erupted in antiaircraft fire where the formation was only seconds before.

B-26 Over Lae

This photo, showing a 2nd Squadron B-26 over Lae, was taken nearly a month before the September 2nd mission to Lae. (William H. Wise Collection)

Half the bombardiers’ bombs hit the target, while the other half harmlessly fell into the sea because of the maneuver the crews performed. Heading home, the B-26 crew was accompanied by a fighter escort that met them over Cape Waria. Upon returning to Port Moresby, Krell found the pilot who caused the earlier mix-up. As the pilot tried to give Krell an explanation for his actions, he was quickly silenced as a .45 automatic was drawn and pointed at his face. If he pulled a stunt like that ever again, Krell threatened, he would be dead.

The rest of the day didn’t go so well either. The B-26s had landed to refuel before continuing on to Cairns in Northern Australia. After landing a second time, everyone deserted their planes and headed to town. Much to Krell’s chagrin, no one had stayed behind to guard the aircraft. It took a few hours before he was able to find enough men to watch the B-26s overnight.

 

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

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!

Firefight at Dili

In early November 1942, the 22nd Bomb Group was ordered to fly a couple of missions to Dili, located on Timor Island. Australian ground troops had reported that the Japanese were using a Catholic cathedral as a supply dump, and that building was the primary target on the November 3rd mission. Shortly before noon, eight B-26s approached the island’s south shore. Aboard Lt. Harry O. Patteson’s B-26, co-pilot John Marcus noticed a very smoky fire on the shore. As the crews flew toward Dili, they noticed other smoky fires along the way, a basic signal to let the Japanese know that trouble was approaching.

By the time they arrived over Dili, any hopes of surprising the Japanese were dashed and Oscars from 59 Sentai were already taking off to engage the B-26s starting their bombing runs from 7500 to 8500 feet. The crews managed to score some direct hits on the first run, but then regrouped before going around for another run. At this point, 1/Lt. Charles I. Hitchcock’s B-26, #41-17593, was hit by two flak bursts that took out the landing gear and started a fire in the engine after tearing through the starboard nacelle. Noticing the stricken plane, the Oscar pilots took the opportunity to go after #593. Hitchcock activated the engine’s fire extinguisher and his co-pilot, Lt. Albert J. Pilkington used a hand fire extinguisher to put out the flames licking the instrument panel in the cockpit, then Hitchcock feathered the propeller.

Bombing Timor

The 2nd, 19th and 408th Squadrons of the 22nd Bomb Group ended their period of stand-down on October 31st by sending a total of 12 B-26 Marauders to the norther coast of Australia to stage out of Darwin for a short series of missions against Dili, the capital of the Portuguese island of Timor. On the second Timor mission, November 3rd, 1/Lt. Charles C. Eberly, Jr., a 19th Squadron bombardier, placed a 2000-pound bomb on the cathedral, which was being used as a storage dump for ammunition. A large secondary explosion can be seen, as can less well-placed bombs that fell into the sea. (Jesse G. Homen Collection)

Down an engine, there was barely enough electricity to power the guns to fend off the attacking Oscars. Still, gunners reported shooting down two of the fighters. Below, an Australian guerrilla patrol watched the fight. The B-26 was falling far behind the rest of the formation and the Australians weren’t sure if it would even make it back to base. There was at least one hole in each propeller blade of the starboard wing and a substantial portion of the wing skin between the fuselage and the engine that had died. After a pilot in another B-26 noticed the plight of the Hitchcock crew, the rest of the B-26 formation turned around to fend off the Oscars and make sure #593 got home safely.

For the next two-and-a-half hours, Hitchcock and an escort flew back at much slower speed of 135 mph and at an altitude of 1000 feet. Then the working engine quit. The crew quickly got ready for a water landing and exited either by the force of the aircraft hitting the water or by swimming out of it. All but one man were bobbing on the water’s surface and Hitchcock made two trips back into the B-26. The first was to find the missing man, which he did, and the second was to release the life raft. Then the plane sunk. Sgt. Glenn A. Campbell, the severely injured crewman who Hitchcock rescued from the aircraft, died of a broken neck. He was buried at sea. Circling above them was Patteson’s B-26. His crew dropped a first aid kid and life raft, which were damaged in the fall. Low on fuel, he headed back to base.

A couple of hours later, the downed crew was visited by three more friendly aircraft dropping supplies and a note that a rescue boat would pick them up at 0600 hours. The men spent a sleepless night in the ocean and were overjoyed to see an Australian Navy tugboat coming to their aid the next morning.

 

Read this story in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Project Sunset: Home Alive in 45

After World War II ended, the United States initiated Project Sunset, a program to bring as many crews and airworthy airplanes as possible back to the States for salvage, storage and smelting. Just like the days of ferrying aircraft to the Pacific Theater, crews would island-hop across the Pacific Ocean to their destination: home.

Each bomb group chose a crew to fly a plane back, and each crew spent several days getting ready for the flight ahead of them. They packed up, went on test flights with their planes, checked equipment and plotted courses. After Typhoon Louise roared through Okinawa from October 8th through 10th, some men discovered that their B-24s were damaged and would need to be repaired before they could go anywhere.

Captain Charles “Chuck” Fogo was one of the pilots whose assigned B-24 was in need of some repairs. His plane had been renamed HOME ALIVE IN 45 and the whole crew was determined to get back. As Fogo and some of his crew surveyed the B-24, they found signs of stress and a dangling aileron, among other things. A new aileron was procured under the cover of darkness and put in place soon after. The crew was ready for a test flight by October 18th.

Much to Fogo’s chagrin, the test flight of HOME ALIVE IN 45 was not as easy as he expected it to be. It took nearly the entire length of the runway before the B-24 could be coaxed into the air, hung low when cruising, didn’t fly straight and consumed roughly 25% more fuel than the average B-24. The crew figured that the typhoon had warped the fuselage structure, which would account for the rough ride. Still, they were going to bring it home, and began the journey two days later.

Capt Chuck Fogo Heading Home

A smiling Capt. Charles “Chuck” Fogo has the Golden Gate Bridge in sight. The crew and passengers collectively breathed a sigh of relief. In a short time they would land in the good old United States. HOME ALIVE IN 45 had lived up to its name. (Don L. Evans Collection)

Just like the test flight, the B-24 didn’t lift off until the last second and the flight to Guam wasn’t any easier. From there, they flew to Johnston Island, five or six hundred miles away from Hickam Field, Hawaii. If the fuel consumption rate hadn’t been so dire, they would have skipped Johnston Island and gone directly to Hickam Field. After landing in Hawaii, they hung around for several days in hopes of flying with a good tailwind to boost their chances of getting home. Captain Fogo didn’t think HOME ALIVE IN 45 would make it back without running out of fuel. The Base Operations Officer wasn’t happy with their delay and forced them to move on.

Before the flight on October 25th, the crew got to remove the ball turret, lightening and streamlining their plane. About six hours away from Mather Field, California, the fuel situation was looking uncertain. With 1000 gallons left and 200 gallons being consumed per hour, the math was not in their favor. Fogo reduced the RPMs as much as he could and put the B-24 into a shallow descent to conserve the remaining fuel.

Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, the crew felt like they could make it to Mather Field instead of making an emergency landing at Hamilton Field. Upon landing, Capt. Fogo recommended that HOME ALIVE IN 45 be salvaged at Mather Field instead of continuing on to Kingman, Arizona. He and his crew celebrated their return home with a steak dinner and cold milk, then fell asleep on real mattresses.

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.