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

Port Moresby

The town that would later become the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, was a major staging base for the Allies during World War II. Port Moresby’s air fields, named for their distance from the city, included: 3 Mile (Kila Kila), 5 Mile (Ward), 7 Mile (Jackson), 12 Mile (Berry), 14 Mile (Schwimmer), and 17 Mile (Durand). It was crucial for the Allies to hold onto this territory, as it was the last piece of land between the Japanese to the north and Australia to the south. The city’s occupants were subject to many Japanese bombing raids until September 1943. Postwar, Port Moresby transformed from an Australian territory to the Papua New Guinea capital in 1975. Today, all that remains of World War II are artifacts and steel matting from the runways.

Port Moresby then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the Port Moresby complex as it appeared in December 1942. At right is Port Moresby today, taken from Google Maps.

Floridablanca

Translated from Spanish as “white flower,” Floridablanca was settled as a Spanish mission in 1823. Not much is known about the area’s history, but it was taken over by the Japanese during World War II, then liberated once the Allies moved that far north. The 312th Bomb Group and 348th Fighter Group both used the air base on Floridablanca for a short time. The Philippine Air Force now uses the base and it has been renamed Basa Air Base.

Floridablanca

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Floridablanca as it appeared in 1946. At right is Floridablanca today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Owi Island

Owi’s only inhabitants before World War II consisted of two families, one at each end of the small island. Shortly after the arrival of Allied forces in 1944, the natives left. It took about three weeks to build the airstrip, which consisted of coral, a difficult surface to land on when it was wet. Owi was used between June and November 1944, then abandoned as U.S. forces pushed north. Traces of the runway can still be seen today.

Owi then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo at the top, taken from an upcoming book, is Owi Island as it appeared in August 1944. Above is Owi Island today, taken from Google Maps.

Finschhafen

In 1885, Finschhafen was settled by the German New Guinea Company. About 15 years later, it was abandoned after disease spread rapidly among the settlers and resulted in the failure of two different colonization attempts. At some point before World War II started, Lutherans built a mission station on Finschhafen. The Japanese took over the area on March 10, 1942 and held it until Australian forces moved in and captured Finschhafen on October 2, 1943. Allied forces expanded the base and used it until the end of the war. After the war ended, a huge hole was dug and much of the leftover equipment was buried. These days, Finschhafen is a quiet location.

Finschhafen then and now

Click to enlarge. In the undated photo at the top is Finschhafen sometime around World War II. Above is Finschhafen today, taken from Google Maps.

Gusap

Previously uninhabited, Gusap was built up into an eight-runway airfield by U.S. Army engineers. It was used from October 1943 to July 1944 by several units that included the 49th Fighter Group and 312th Bomb Group. This location was ideal for staging missions by fighters and light bombers. After the war was over, remaining aircraft were scrapped. Today, only one of the eight strips is still being used by aircraft and is noted by the balloon in the right image. The rest of the area has been turned into a cattle ranch. With the radical transformation of Gusap, the exact location of the airfields seen in the left image has become unknowable.

Gusap then and now

Click to enlarge. In the top photo, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is part of Gusap’s airfields as they appeared in December 1943. Above is Gusap today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_port_moresby.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Port-Moresby

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

http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php/Floridablanca,_Pampanga

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owi_Airfield

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

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_finschafen.html

http://engineersvietnam.com/engineers/WWII/owi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finschhafen

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/papua-new-guinea/morobe-and-madang-provinces/finschhafen-area/introduction

https://www.britannica.com/place/Finschhafen

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/gusap/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusap_Airport

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.

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.