An Impromptu Mission

It was 0930 on April 25, 1942 when Captain Ronald D. Hubbard and his crew were attempting to start their B-25. Three starter fuses in the left engine had blown and a Japanese air raid on Port Moresby was imminent. Hubbard’s crew was supposed to be heading to Horn Island, but they had to get off the ground first. The gunners and flight engineer, S/Sgt. Fred Bumgardner, then began to hand-crank the inertia starter, hoping that would get the engine going. Still, the stubborn engine refused to start up. Bumgardner had another idea. He filled a quart can with fuel and, after disengaging the crank, flung the fuel down the air intake and ran. “I hit the switches and thought the plane had blown up,” Hubbard recalled. “Flames shot eight or ten feet out of the air intake and out of the exhaust stacks. The engine coughed a couple of times and then caught with a roar as I pushed the throttle forward. The right engine started easily.”

The crew hurried aboard and Hubbard took off from Port Moresby. Once they were safely away from the area, Hubbard said that they would be making a detour to Lae in order to not waste their bomb load. This idea was met with approval and the lone B-25 flew on towards the Japanese-held Lae. Given the approximate 30 aircraft at Lae, the crew was prepared to be intercepted by the Japanese as they flew over the base. The surprise visit by the B-25 went fairly well for Hubbard and his men. Antiaircraft fire was inaccurate and one bomb was noted to hit the runway. Others landed in the dispersal area and headquarters buildings.

Three Japanese fighters that had already taken off intercepted Hubbard’s B-25, with one on the let and two on the right. He rolled to the left, then to the right in hopes of throwing off some of the gunfire from the Zeros. It worked and, in turn, hits on one of the Zero were claimed. The remaining two fighters came in for a second pass, with the gunners hitting one of them and sending it back to Lae. Hubbard headed for the clouds as the last Zero made a third pass. As the B-25 reached the clouds, its right vertical stabilizer took a hit and the fighter was also hit, then fell away.

Once it was determined that they wouldn’t be attacked by any further Japanese aircraft, the navigator plotted a course for Horn Island. The rest of the trip was uneventful and the men landed safely, spent the night, then flew on to Charters Towers the next morning. For the mission, Hubbard was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second one that month, the first for the Royce Raid) and the rest of the crewmen were given the Silver Star. All were decorated by Lt. Gen. George Brett.

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Preparing for the Battle of the Coral Sea

This week is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, so we thought we’d discuss this unusual engagement of World War II.

As of May 1942, the Japanese expansion of territory in the Pacific had nearly reached its peak. The biggest danger was in the south: the last significant Allied base on New Guinea, Port Moresby, was under continual air assault and vulnerable to a sea-borne invasion force. If the Japanese were to capture Port Moresby, they would be able to launch air raids on Australia itself, which would threaten invasion of a nation that was already reeling from a series of losses over the prior six months.

To that end, a large strike force composed of three aircraft carriers, more than a dozen escort warships, and transports carrying over 5000 soldiers were sent to the Coral Sea, where they were to sail west to Port Moresby. Fortunately, the Allies had intercepted signals conveying the attack, and positioned a task force of similar strength in the Coral Sea.

By May 3rd, both forces were in position, but neither had yet spotted the other. Scout planes were sent up, from the Japanese carriers, American carriers and also from Port Moresby. The crew of Lt. Roland “Dick” Birnn, from the 3rd Bomb Group, were flying a B-25 medium bomber on May 4th when they spotted the Japanese carrier Shoho near the island of Guadalcanal. Three Zero fighters took off from the deck of the carrier, but Birnn had immediately turned around and escaped before they could engage.

By this point, word had spread at Port Moresby about the imminent threat, and the air was tense. The administrative officers of the base were preparing to destroy everything valuable in the event of a successful landing. Eighth Bomb Squadron, of 3rd Bomb Group, was preparing to fight to the last man. Their C.O., Floyd Rogers, gave a mission briefing that was more like a pep talk, encouraging them to hit the Japanese with everything they had as soon as it was in range. The airmen started wearing their parachutes when on alert for a mission.

A map showing the movements of naval forces during the Battle of the Bismark Sea. (United States Army Center of Military History via Wikipedia)

On the 6th, with the Japanese maneuvering closer to New Guinea, scout ships were flying missions on a constant rotation. An RAAF Hudson spotted Japanese ships at 8:25 AM, the 19th Bomb Group’s B-17s flew an unsuccessful bombing run at 10:30, and at 12:10, Lt. Gus Heiss, of the 3rd, spotted the convoy again. He was sent directly to the head of the intelligence department to report his findings, and between them all, it was clear the two forces would be within striking distance that evening.

Interestingly enough, that’s actually where the story ends, at least for Port Moresby. The actual fighting was conducted almost exclusively by carrier aircraft over the 7th and 8th. The land-based groups held back their planes for when the Japanese were about to land, an event which never occurred. The Japanese forces were driven off in a costly engagement for both navies, but they were never able to engage New Guinea proper. In fact, most of the men at Port Moresby weren’t even given any information about the battle deciding their fates. They were stuck listening to broadcast radio or even reading the paper.

9 Photos of Dogs in the Pacific Theater during World War II

We thought we’d do something a little different this week and show you some of the furry, four-legged friends that were adopted by various men as pets during their stay in the Pacific Theater.

Lt. Robert L. Mosely at Hollandia with dog

In 1944, 1/Lt. Robert L. Mosely of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group stands in front of his A-20G, RAPID ROBERT, in Hollandia. The name of the dog is unknown. (Robert L. Mosely Collection)

 

Ralph Cheli with a Puppy

Sometime during the 38th Bomb Group’s stay in New Guinea in 1943, this picture of Ralph Cheli sitting in a Jeep with a puppy was taken. We do not know to whom the puppy belonged. (Garrett Middlebrook Collection)

 

Taking a Breather

1/Lt. John D. Cooper, Jr., pilot, 1/Lt. Raymond Bringle, navigator, and Capt. Franklin S. Allen, Jr., pilot–all from the 19th Squadron–and Blondie, the Squadron bulldog who flew many missions. The men are resting on a gas tank after a mission to Buna on August 27, 1942.

 

The 13th Squadron Mascot

At some point during the war, the 3rd Bomb Group’s 13th Squadron adopted this dog as their mascot. (Joseph Brown Jr. Collection)

 

Lt. Phillip B. Baldwin and Duffy

Lieutenant Phillip Baldwin poses with his dog Duffy for a picture in October 1945 at Fukuoka, the 38th Bomb Group’s final base in Japan. (Phillip Baldwin Collection)

 

B-17 Ground Crewmen with Dog

These men in front of the 43rd Bomb Group B-17 nicknamed BLACK JACK/JOKER’S WILD have a cute addition to their ground crew sitting on someone’s shoulders. The names of all four are unknown. (Charles R. Woods Collection)

 

Col. Davies and Pappy Gunn with a dog

Colonel Jim Davies and “Pappy” Gunn give this happy dog some attention at Charters Towers in early 1942. (Alexander Evanoff Collection)

 

Maj Marzolf and Ack Ack

Here, Major George Marzolf sits in a 38th Bomb Group B-25 at Lae with his dog Ack Ack in 1943. (George Marzolf Collection)

 

Butch the dog

Pilots on leave in Australia might return to New Guinea with dogs as pets. Butch, a German shepherd belonging to 1/Lt. John D. Field of the 89th Squadron, was a favorite of the pilots, especially Robert L. Mosley. Once, Mosley even took Butch on a medium-altitude mission to Manokwari when he was the pilot of the B-25 leading the A-20s over the target. Butch was fine until he was startled by the noise from the bomb bay doors opening and he began barking. Butch’s antics helped to relieve the tension, claims Mosley. “Here I was getting shot at, trying to blow up a bunch of airplanes and people below … and I’m in hysterics, looking back at Butch and his antics. The only dying that went on that day was me dying laughing at Butch. The bombs probably went into the ocean. We used to call that ‘bombing the sea plane runway’”. [sic] (Robert L. Mosley Collection)

Major Tom Gerrity’s One Plane War Against the Japanese

By late October 1942 Maj. Tom Gerrity, then C.O. of the 90th Squadron, was scheduled to be rotated home along with the other veteran pilots of the 27th Bomb Group who had been evacuated from the Philippines. Before leaving the Pacific Theater, Gerrity wanted to attempt an ambitious solo strike against the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul on the island of New Britain. An extra set of internal wing tanks had been installed in his B-25 Mitchell bomber to give them the necessary range for a mission scheduled on October 25th. Flying with Gerrity was co-pilot 2/Lt. Robert F. “Ruby” Keeler, veteran bombardier T/Sgt. Kirby Neal, turret gunner Sgt. Joe Champagne and radio operator Sgt. Billy Graham of the RAAF.  However, due to engine trouble they were unable to reach the distant target and returned to Port Moresby. The next day Gerrity assigned himself the morning reconnaissance flight and used the opportunity to make multiple strafing attacks against the Japanese base at Salamaua. By noon he had packed his bags and was on his way to Australia, arriving back home in California on November 5th.

Gerrity would soon rise to the rank of General in the U.S. Air Force. He passed away in 1969 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Both Lt. Keeler and Sgt. Kirby would be killed before the year was over while the two gunners, Joe Champagne and Billy Graham, would complete their combat tours and also return home.

Maj. Gerrity (in the cockpit) and Sgt. Neal (standing in the B-25's nose).

On the left side of the photo in the B-25’s nose is Sgt. Neal. Major Gerrity is to the right in the cockpit. (Gordon McCoun Collection)

 

Co-Pilot Profile: W/O John T. Soundy

During their first year of combat over New Guinea the bomber crews of the 13th & 90th Squadrons of the 3rd Bomb Group included pilots and radio gunners (WAGs) from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).  They were needed to fill the five to six crew positions of the newly acquired B-25 Mitchell medium bombers while the 13th & 90th Squadrons transitioned from previously operating the A-20A Havoc light bomber which needed only three crewmen. Warrant Officer John Trevor Soundy was one of seven RAAF pilots attached to the 13th Squadron in May 1942.  He had joined the RAAF in 1940 and was the eldest son of Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress Soundy of Hobart, Tasmania.  Because of his seniority and possibly due to his social status he typically flew as co-pilot with 13th Squadron Commanding Officer Capt. Alexander G. Evanoff.  From June through October 1942 he participated in a number of bombing missions against the Japanese air bases at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea. During a transit flight from Charters Towers to Port Moresby on January 7, 1943, Soundy and pilot 1/Lt. Charles Dolan went missing in the 3rd BG B-25 NOT IN STOCK. The crew and passengers of nine simply disappeared over the ocean and remain missing to this day.

W/O John T. Soundy

W/O John T. Soundy. (Joseph R. McWhirt Collection via Jim McWhirt)

Looking Back at Our Top Posts of 2016

It’s that time of year again. Time for us to list our most popular posts published this year as determined by the number of views. Did your favorite post make the list?

This year has been our best year yet and it’s all thanks to you, our readers. 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.

 
Marauder at Midway by Jack Fellows1. Marauder at Midway An amazing painting done by Jack Fellows illustrating a B-26 speeding over the deck of the Akagi during the Battle of Midway.

 
THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL's new fuselage2. Building the Steak and Egg Special How a group of 3rd Bomb Group mechanics built their own plane from two scrapped A-20s.

 

IHRA screen shot of work in progress 3 and 4. Behind the Scenes at IHRA and From a Layout to a Book: Behind the Scenes at IHRA We took you backstage for a look at how we compile our research and turn everything into a book.

5. Surprise over Gusap A member of the 38th Bomb Group writes about a terrifying experience on a raid.

Corregidor Island Then and Now6. The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six WWII Bases Then and Now We took some of our photos from the Pacific Theater and compared them with recent satellite images to see what has changed in 70+ years.

Ken's Men Against the Empire, Volume I7. Announcing the release of Ken’s Men Against the Empire Vol. I We were thrilled to tell you the news of the publishing of a new book in March. We have received excellent feedback on our newest addition to the EOP series, the first part of the 43rd Bomb Group’s history.

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.

Breakfast Interrupted

We came across an interesting diary entry from Lieutenant Clifford Taylor, a member of the 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group.

Jan. 15th, 1944

Well, tonight I’m writing in the cool of the evening, pleasantly tired & puffing on my “Bessimer Converter.” Today was quite warm in more ways than one. As we have been doing, we got up at 5:30 & went to chow. Sitting under a canvas roof that doesn’t restrict our view too much we could look out into the valley. As we talked over our coffee, about six fighters at 10,000 started in toward the field. Each of us figuring it was an early patrol. Just about that time they started down toward the strip with tracers blazing from their noses. Our ack-ack opened up on them. As this was going on a transport (C-47) came skimming toward us, just above the trees & heading for the mountain. About that time a “Mike” (Me-109)* peeled down & really started after him. We later heard the C-47 was shot down but all the crew got out. The Japs then high tailed it for home & a “tail-end Charlie” limped across the valley with all the ack-ack trying to get him. They seemed to hit him but not seriously & he got over the mountains. however a P-38 from Lae caught him & shot him down. A few planes were shot up on the transport strip & one boy was hit.

*In actuality, this was a Mitsubishi Ki-61 “Tony,” which looked very similar to the Bf-109. While the Germans and Japanese were allies, there were no German planes in the Southwest Pacific.

Remembering those who did not make it home

Over the last few years, we’ve shared a number of World War II stories with you. With Memorial Day coming up this Monday, we wanted to take a moment to remember everyone who lost their lives during the war and invite you to read some of their stories once more.
 
The Aguirres HONI KUU OKOLE was shot down on May 21, 1943. The crew did not survive.

 
 
McGuire Shot Down The members of 1/Lt. James McGuire’s crew who did not survive their crash landing.

 
 
The Moore crew The crew aboard the B-17 nicknamed KA-PUHIO-WELA, shot down during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

 
 
Strafing a Ship Maj. Raymond A. Wilkins and his crew crashed in Simpson Harbor on Nov. 2, 1943. This brutal day became known as “Bloody Tuesday.”

 
 
Ralph Cheli's B-25 going down over New GuineaMaj. Ralph Cheli and his crew, who were executed by the Japanese after being captured on August 18, 1943.

Building The Steak and Egg Special

For the men stationed in New Guinea during 1942 and 1943, a variety of fresh food was not easy to come by. There were plenty of coconuts, although the men grew tired of eating them, and the occasional banana, but no other fresh fruits or vegetables. Whatever came through was canned. By the end of 1942, they decided that they had had enough of the canned fruits and vegetables and began working on their own plane that would ferry fresh food from Australia.

This plane, an A-20, was being built from scrapped pieces by T/Sgt. Kip Hawkins and a few other mechanics from the 89th Bomb Squadron. The fuselage was taken from LITTLE HELLION, which belly-landed on November 1, 1942, and the wing sections from THE COMET, which was scrapped after the nose wheel collapsed while the plane was being towed on December 15, 1942.

Wings for THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL

An A-20 named THE COMET was scrapped after its nose gear collapsed. The wings from the aircraft were taken and propped up on barrels, ready for a new fuselage of the aircraft that would become THE “STEAK & EGG” SPECIAL.

 

THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL's new fuselage

Here, the scrapped fuselage from the A-20 formerly known as LITTLE HELLION is being slid between the waiting wings propped up on barrels.

It was a slow reconstruction that lasted all of January 1943, as the mechanics had to go through a lot of scrap piles around Port Moresby for various parts. At one point, a wing that was propped up on barrels fell right on the head of a mechanic. Luckily, he escaped without serious injury. Soon enough, the fuselage was slid between the wings and the aircraft was put together. The A-20, now named THE “STEAK & EGG” SPECIAL, was christened with eggs on February 4th.

THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL christening

T/Sgt. Clifton H. Hawkins and Cpl. Schraam sit in the A-20 after its dedication on February 4, 1943. Notice the splattered egg above the name.

Given the nature of how this A-20 came to exist, there were a few mechanical problems to work out. Once fixed though, the aircraft regularly made trips from Port Moresby to Australia. The Squadron enjoyed the fresh food and meat immensely. In August, the paint was stripped and the aircraft was renamed STEAK & EGGS, then later STEAK AND EGGS (without the ampersand). On June 11, 1944, STEAK AND EGGS was low on fuel when it flew into bad weather. Both factors led to a forced landing on an Australian beach and the subsequent end of the aircraft. No one was seriously injured in the landing. Parts of the aircraft were salvaged, with the rest still on the beach today.

Read more about the missions of this aircraft, including a stories from a veteran who flew the plane, at Australia @ War.