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.

Attacking Clark Field

As 1945 opened in the Pacific Theater, the Allies were advancing through the Philippines. Their next major target would be a three-unit attack on the Japanese stronghold of Clark Field on January 7th. At the time, the Japanese had put more than 400 antiaircraft guns in the area, which would make the planned 120+ A-20 and B-25 raid more challenging. Three bomb groups, the 345th, 312th and 417th, would split into formations and fly an “X” pattern over Clark Field. Above them, two P-38 squadrons would keep an eye out for enemy planes.

Upon arriving at the mountain pass that stood between the crews and Clark Field, heavy clouds blocked their path. The formation split up in the thick clouds as pilots navigated through the pass, temporarily invisible to each other. Emerging on the other side of the clouds, the 312th’s flight leader, Lt. Joseph Rutter, and his wingman, Lt. Jones, arrived at Clark Field without the rest of their formation. Rutter feared that he might have arrived late and began his run on Clark Field—alone. Jones had chosen to circle back and rejoin the formation, which was about a mile behind him and Rutter.

As Rutter made his pass over the target area, he heard machine gun fire hit the tail of his A-20 and his gunner, M/Sgt. Wilfred Boyd, alerted him of the B-25s coming in from the left. One of the B-25 pilots, Capt. Floyd Fox, watched with growing alarm as Rutter, dropping parafrags, was about to cross his path. Just in time, the parafrags ran out and Fox was able to continue his run without incident. Rutter finished his run and joined several A-20s for the flight back to Tanauan. Reflecting on the events, Rutter said, “Strangely, no question was ever raised about the A-20 which got in front of the parade and the pilot responsible. Considerable wonder was expressed, however, about the interesting pictures recorded by Boyd’s camera when the series of 24 exposures were posted on the wall of the 389th Squadron’s intelligence office.”

Evasive Maneuvers

Lt. Rutter’s A-20 took this photograph of the B-25 flown by Floyd N. Fox of the 499th Bomb Squadron maneuvering to avoid the parafrags released from Rutter’s aircraft.

Finally, the first formation of the 312th began a run over Clark Field. “At the turn-in point the B-25s wound up between us,” 386th Squadron 2/Lt. Bill A. Montgomery wrote, “The result was that I came in behind several, and as I traversed the target area, I overran them en route. It was a mess.” The slower B-25s were being overshot by the A-20s and ended up on the receiving end of the parafrags being dropped from above. “…after getting ahead it was my turn to receive [the B-25’s] bouncing tracers, not to mention the parafrags and various assortment of other bombs being delivered.” In short, it was pure chaos.

Strafer Attack on Clark Field

Aircraft from the first wave are seen attacking Clark Field on January 7th. The tail of a wrecked G4M Betty bomber from 261 Kokutai is at center left. The gray wreck at lower center is a Ki-46 Dinah reconnaissance aircraft.

Not only were the bombers being shot at by the Japanese from below, Zeros were dropping phosphorus bombs on them from above. Fortunately for the bombers, the phosphorus bombs did not explode until after the planes had already flown out of harm’s way. Soon enough, it was time to leave Clark Field and turn for home. Congested air space and chaos aside, the attack was determined to be a success. A total of 19 Japanese fighters and 12 bombers were destroyed. Clark Field was no longer a major obstacle for the Allies. Between all three groups, 11 planes were lost. Two days later with little opposition, the American invasion force landed at Lingayen Gulf.

Sweet Willums II

First Lieutenant Claud C. Haisley named his P-40N SWEET WILLUMS after his wife, Margaret. A color photo of this artwork enlarged from an 8mm movie film can be found on page 194 of this book. The A-20G that he received at Port Moresby in February 1944, became SWEET WILLUMS II. Haisley flew the aircraft until his departure for the States in January 1945. By the end of his tour, he had 56 missions in this aircraft. Although there was not a specific gunner that always served on the crew with Haisley, Sgt. Albert V. Hanson often served in this capacity. Sgt. Edwin W. Peterson, was the crew chief assigned to the plane.

SWEET WILLUMS II almost met with disaster as Haisley was returning in it from Dagua Airdrome, New Guinea, on May 14, 1944. He had felt sick that morning, but he still decided to fly the mission with his Squadron. Their target was the antiaircraft guns at Dagua, a 90-minute flight. On the return flight, Haisley became quite ill, and struggled to bring the plane back to the base at Gusap. Shortly after touchdown, Haisley passed out in the cockpit, and then he spent ten days in the hospital being treated for malaria.

Nose art of A-20 Sweet Willums II

Capt. Claud C. Haisley flew 56 missions in SWEET WILLUMS II. He named the aircraft after his wife, Margaret. On January 31, 1945, 2/Lt. Donald J. Livengood, the aircraftʼs next pilot, was practicing strafing near Ellmore Airdrome on Mindoro Island in the Philippines. When engine failure forced him to ditch in the ocean, he and his gunner, Sgt. Morris B. Wilson escaped without injuries. (W. Stuart Fudge Collection)

Except for the occasional bullet hole, SWEET WILLUMS II experienced only minor combat damage during its career. In January 1945, 2/Lt. Donald J. Livengood took over SWEET WILLUMS II, and on the last day of the month one of the engines failed as he practiced strafing near Ellmore Airdrome on Mindoro Island in the Philippines. Livengood ditched in the ocean, and he and his gunner, Sgt. Morris B. Wilson, were rescued from the water uninjured.

The profile painting shows the aircraft as it appeared in January 1945. Sgt. Edwin W. Peterson, the crew chief used the butter-substitute in the field rations to wax the plane which he believed marginally increased the speed. Other crew chiefs also sometimes did this. Otherwise, the appearance of the unit markings on this A-20 were standard, including the tail letter “L,” but there was no skull and crossbones on the nose. “Mary” appeared on the port outboard engine cowling, probably a wife or girlfriend, or the name of one of the children, of someone on the ground crew. The plane carried a standard white crew ID panel under the cockpit, with lettering in a flowery style: Pilot – Lt. C.C. Haisley, followed by c/c – S/Sgt. Peterson. The mission scoreboard was somewhat unusual as the black bomb-style mission markers were painted on a white background. These consisted of two rows of 35 each, followed by two more rows of 20 each, giving a total of 110 missions displayed. No details of specific missions are known for this aircraft.

This aircraft profile comes from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Christmas in the Pacific Theater

This post will probably look familiar to longtime readers.

ww2 men eating Christmas dinner in 1944 at Dulag

Men from the 500th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group enjoy a turkey dinner on December 25, 1944 at Dulag.

For the men of Fifth Air Force, Christmas was not necessarily a time to take the day off to celebrate the holiday. There were still missions to be flown as the Allies tried to take back the Pacific from the Japanese. Some of these missions, like those of the 386th Squadron (312th Bomb Group) in 1943 were patrol missions. While the 386th was on patrol that year, the 345th, 43rd and 38th Bomb Groups were participating in a major raid on Cape Gloucester.

Three days before bombing Cape Gloucester on the 25th, a 345th B-25, THUMPER, was shot down on a mission over Wewak. The plane crash landed 12 miles from Dumpu, with the crew coming out of the crash uninjured. For five days, the crew trekked along the Ramu River, with a batch of P-40s spotting the men on Christmas Eve. The next day, the crew was seen by a Stinson L-5. The crew aboard the plane dropped supplies for the THUMPER crew. Later that afternoon, the crew received more supplies including ten pounds of turkey and a few other treats for Christmas. They were rescued the following day.

Whether or not any particular group was on a mission varied by year. No matter what, there were always a few hours set aside to enjoy a turkey or ham dinner, attend mass, and enjoy some music. Even though the men were so far away from home during the holidays, they always made the best of the situation.

A Fiery Landing

Nine planes took off for Utarom, a Japanese air base on the west coast of Dutch New Guinea, on the morning of September 28, 1944. The mission was soon cancelled due to bad weather over their target and the A-20 crews headed back to base. Shortly into the return journey, 2/Lt. Kenneth S. DuFour lost oil pressure in one engine of his plane. He shut it down, jettisoned his bombs and told his gunner, S/Sgt. Thomas E. Smith, to bail out if the other engine quit. For the time being, things were stable, and DuFour continued flying back to Hollandia. Above him, 2/Lt. Walter F. Hill kept a watchful eye on DuFour’s A-20.

As DuFour approached Tanahmerah Bay, he followed the common landing procedure of switching from the bomb bay tanks to the wing tanks, only to have vapor lock shut down the remaining working engine. His A-20 went into a spiral dive and DuFour worked furiously to regain control of his plane by easing off the rudder trim and switching on the booster pumps. The engine restarted and the pilot got his plane back in control. For a short time, Hill thought DuFour’s A-20 would plunge into the water and was relieved after he pulled out of the dive. During the chaos, Smith bailed out with Hill watching him float towards the cliffs on the west side of the bay.

DuFour slowly took his aircraft up to 3000 feet in order to clear the mountains that stood between him and Hollandia. When he could not contact the tower, he decided to land on a dirt strip next to the runway. As he attempted to lower his landing gear, only the nose wheel came down. DuFour aborted the landing, determining that he would be better off ditching in nearby Sentani Lake. The descent to the lake was too difficult to control, leading the A-20 to crash into nearby trees instead. During the landing, the pilot was knocked unconscious.

When he woke up, he was surrounded by fuel and fire. DuFour attempted to escape the inferno through the canopy, but it wouldn’t open. Instead, he used a pistol to break the Plexiglas and climbed out of the plane. Soon after getting out, he heard the ammunition exploding. This worried the pilot, as he was unaware that his gunner had bailed out and thought Smith was still trapped.

Meanwhile, Hill landed at Hollandia and headed for a PT boat where he and others would search for Smith. A member of the 25th Liaison Squadron, T/Sgt. James D. Nichols, would help him with the search from the air. As they began looking, they saw a native canoe with Smith sitting in it. Other than minor cuts and bruises, he was uninjured after landing at Cape Korongwabb.

Back in the jungle, DuFour was certain that he landed near Hollandia and walked back in the direction of the base, which happened to be five miles away. After a six hour walk that included several stream crossings, the pilot heard an engine and began walking towards the sound for about 25 yards before he emerged from the jungle surrounding the base. DuFour walked into the closest tent, waking the occupant from a sound slumber.

The soldier drove the pilot to the hospital where he was treated for first, second and third degree burns over 30% of his body. All of his hair and part of his ears were burned off, as well as half the skin on his forehead. His hands and arms were also badly burned. At the hospital, skin grafts failed and he was transferred to the plastic surgery center at Northington Hospital in Alabama, where he stayed for six months. Once he recovered, he returned to flying status near the end of the war.

This story can be found in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

What’s in a Name?

From Ken’s Men to the Air Apaches, units of Fifth Air Force had thought of a wide variety of nicknames for themselves. This week, we thought we’d cover the origins of the sobriquets for the 312th, 22nd, 43rd, 38th and 345th Bomb Groups.

The Roarin’ 20’s: The 312th Bomb Group gave themselves this nickname in late March or early April 1944. For the most part, their insignia of a lion jumping through the zero in 20’s wasn’t added as nose art. The men usually used their group logo for signage and patches.

Ken’s Men: Over their years of service during WWII, the 43rd Bomb Group looked up to three men in particular: Gen. George C. Kenney, Brig. Gen. Kenneth Walker and Maj. Kenneth McCullar. Walker and McCullar were killed in action, but the stories of their leadership stuck with the Group for the rest of their war. To honor them as well as Kenney, they adopted the nickname of Ken’s Men sometime in 1943. The noses of the Group’s B-24s were adorned with Ken’s Men in big block letters.

The Red Raiders: In March 1944, the 22nd Bomb Group began transitioning to the B-24 Liberator. Along with this transition, they moved to Nadzab and soon thereafter decided to name their unit after their redheaded Group Commander, Lt. Col. Richard W. “Robbie” Robinson. The Group also adopted an insignia consisting of a bust of Viking warrior Erik the Red. As with the 43rd, the men of the 22nd also painted their logo on their B-24s.

The Sun Setters: Japan, also known as the Land of the Rising Sun, invaded many countries in the Pacific during WWII. In response, the 38th Bomb Group nicknamed themselves the Sun Setters as they flew missions to keep the Japanese at bay. Between 1941 and 1946, their logo consisted of an eagle sitting on the Japanese Rising Sun symbol, with four bombs converging over the sun. As far as we can tell, there doesn’t seem to be a clear date regarding the adoption of this sobriquet. Similar to the 312th, the men of the 38th Bomb Group didn’t usually add the group logo to their B-25s. The photo below shows one plane that did.

The Air Apaches: The 345th Bomb Group moved to Biak in early July 1944. A few weeks before their move, they had been debating on a new nickname for the Group after the “T.T.T.’s” (Tree Top Terrors) didn’t hold much interest. Major John “Cliff” Hanna suggested the “Air Apaches” and the men quickly warmed up to it. They organized a contest to design an insignia, which was won by a Native American member of the unit, Sgt. Charles Pushetonequa of the 498th Squadron. His winning entry showed the head of a Native American dressed in a full war bonnet. Men added the logo to their B-25s tails.

B-25 Air Apache_03

The Joker

312th Bomb Group A-20s over Clark Field on Jan 14, 1945On the Philippine island of Luzon, elements of the 312th Bombardment Group, nicknamed the Roarin’ 20’s, sweep across Japanese-occupied Clark Field near Manila on January 14, 1945. The attack was executed in a line abreast formation at 100 feet or less above the airfield complex. First lieutenant Wilbur L. Cleveland of the 387th Bomb Squadron, flying an A-20G sporting a winning poker hand with the face of Batman’s nemesis, “the Joker,” narrowly avoids colliding with the squadron commanding officer, Capt. John C. Alsup, in his fatally damaged A-20. A burst of flak had just exploded in the bomb bay of Alsup’s A-20, causing it to nose up and burst into flames. It then crashed into the target, killing him and his gunner, Cpl. Oscar C. Rush. The third plane was flown by 1/Lt. Ormonde J. Frison of the 386th Squadron. Clark Field was the most important and heavily defended Japanese airfield on Luzon, and the low-level attacks were key to neutralizing Japanese airpower on the island during the critical week of the American amphibious landing at nearby Lingayen Gulf. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s. You can also purchase this piece through our website.

 

Also, don’t forget to check out our new ebook, Stories from Fifth Air Force, on Amazon!

Tempest Over Boela: July 14, 1944

Rampage of the Roarin 20s cover

This painting portrays two aircraft from the 386th Bomb Squadron, 312th Bomb Group, during a highly successful attack by 75 A-20s on the Boela oil fields on the northeast coast of the island of Ceram, Netherlands East Indies, on July 14, 1944. The aircraft visible on this image is GLORIA C II, A-20G-25 #43-9114, the Havoc of 1/Lt. Paul F. Teague. On the left, his wingman, 1/Lt. Edgar A. Hambleton, can be seen in his aircraft JE REVIENS, A-20G-30 #43-9458. They are bombing and strafing their way across the target with exploding oil tanks and installations below, and offshore oil derricks and pumps visible in the background. This artwork is published on the cover of our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s and can be purchased on our website as a giclee or canvas print.

Attacking Babo

Back in April 1942, the Japanese landed at Babo, in what was then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), on the southern section of the McCluer Gulf. At the time, Babo’s airfield had a single runway, which had previously been used by the Dutch airline KLM. The Japanese built a second runway and Babo became a stronghold for its army and navy missions on the Vogelkop Peninsula—the west end of the island of New Guinea. After Japanese planes from Babo attacked an American amphibious landing at Biak in May 1944, Gen. Kenney hoped to get rid of the nuisance once and for all. With the 388th and 389th Squadrons recently having moved westward to Hollandia, Babo was in range of their low-level bombers. Even so, there were approximately 50 antiaircraft positions on the base, which would present quite a challenge to the squadrons.

Two dozen A-20s were led to Babo by the 312th’s C.O., Col. Strauss, on July 9, 1944. They flew along the Kasira River, six abreast, and were met with what was later described by Sgt. Charles H. Fessler as a “wall of fire” consisting of antiaircraft, machine gun, and possibly mortar fire. While the antiaircraft fire was intense, it was not well aimed, and probably hadn’t been set for enemy aircraft coming in at a low altitude. Col. Strauss’ plane, OLD S, still ended up with damage from ground fire.

The 388th Squadron flew over Babo first. Lt. Wayne C. Hoblit in 2/Lt. Lowell H. Morrow’s A-20, MISCHIEVOUS MARY II, had promised Morrow he would bring the plane back in one piece. Hoblit and his gunner, Fessler, heard several dull, thunking noises against the plane, which then jerked down to the left. Morrow’s A-20 was returned to him with a hole in the starboard wing, several holes in the fuselage, and piece of flak six inches long that landed very close to Fessler’s right foot. The 388th got away with damage to four A-20s and successfully took out three machine gun positions, a radio tower (hit by the right wing of an A-20), blew up a fuel tank, and damaged two Japanese fighters on the ground.

After the 388th’s runs, the Japanese readjusted the aim of their antiaircraft guns and were unfortunately prepared for the second wave of A-20s belonging to the 389th Squadron. 1/Lt. Earl G. Hill’s aircraft received a direct hit over the target, erupted into a ball of flame, lost its right wing and plunged into Bentoni Bay, killing him and his gunner, Sgt. Ray Glacken. A second A-20 flown by 1/Lt. Walter H. Van was hit by ground fire. His A-20 crashed and exploded. He and his gunner, S/Sgt. Gilbert V. Cooper did not survive.

312th Bomb Group A-20s flying over Babo Airdrome during WWII

1/Lt. Kenneth I. Hedges is flying THE QUEEN OF SPADES. He lost both of his wingmen (Hill and Van) on this raid.

The Squadron lost a third plane that day when 1/Lt. Walter S. Sparks’ A-20 was hit in both engines, forcing him to land in Bentoni Bay. Just before the aircraft touched the water, Sparks released the canopy. The plane hit the water, throwing Sparks 50 feet away from his plane. It is unknown whether his safety belt and shoulder harness had come undone or if they even fit correctly in the first place. Both of Sparks arms were broken, leaving him unable to inflate his life jacket. He yelled to his gunner, Sgt. Howard F. Williams, for help. Williams was also injured and fought his way over to Sparks, but it was too late. Sparks slipped beneath the surface. Williams took off his life jacket and dove several times to retrieve Sparks, but could not find him. He was soon rescued by a Catalina and relieved to be away from the sharks circling nearby. Sparks’ body was never found.

From a military standpoint, the attack on Babo was successful. The two squadrons severely damaged the airdrome and dispersal areas, started several fires, hit two fighters on the ground, and destroyed a radio tower, machine gun positions and a fuel tank. The raid also cost the Group five men and three aircraft, which were the heaviest losses to enemy fire at that time. “…however lucrative a target it might be, [Babo] was not yet a suitable target for two squadrons of A-20’s,” observed 312th historian Lt. Nathaniel Rothstein.