Repost: Preparing for the Battle of the Coral Sea

As the anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea draws near, we decided it was time to revisit our 2017 post on the subject and how it impacted the 3rd Bomb Group.

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.

Pilot Spotlight: Edward L. Larner Makes History

On October 28, 1942, 89th Squadron CO Maj. Donald P. Hall made the following entry to his diary: “Capt. Ed Larner, a classmate of mine has just come over from the states. Ed and I used to fish a lot while we were at Barksdale Field [in Louisiana]. He and 12 other are joining my Squadron. We flew to Port Moresby today. Good to be back with the squadron.”

Captain Edward L. Larner, who was originally with the 46th Bomb Group, had been reassigned and sent to Maj. Hall’s 89th Squadron in the 3rd Bomb Group. He arrived as an experienced pilot with more than 800 flying hours under his belt. It wasn’t long before Larner made a name for himself as a fearless low level A-20 pilot and he came to the attention of Gen. George C. Kenney. “I found I had another fireball in the 3rd Attack Group, named Lieutenant Ed Larner,” Kenney wrote on November 10th. “That lad was good. He had fire, leadership and guts.”

90th Squadron C.O. Edward L Larner
Captain Edward L. Larner joined the 3rd Bomb Group in late October 1942. A classmate and friend of Maj. Hall, he was assigned to the 89th Squadron where he made a name for him- self as an aggressive combat pilot. Barrel-chested and willing to put up his fists, he always wore a beat-up service cap pushed back on his head. He would soon become one of 3rd Bomb Groups preeminent pilots and commanders. (Gordon K. McCoun Collection)

After the A-20 strafer project was deemed a success, Pappy Gunn and Jack Fox began working on similar strafer test modifications for the B-25 Mitchell. Some senior pilots were skeptical that a medium bomber could be utilized for low level strafing. However the North American bomber did have the range necessary to reach Japanese air bases. Kenney was in favor of Larner’s promotion to C.O. of the 90th Squadron. By the end of December 1942, Larner was at Port Moresby, training 90th Squadron pilots on these modified B-25s.

Around the time of all this armament development, word about the 43rd Bomb Group using B-17s to skip-bomb ships was getting around. Major William G. Benn had led the first successful skip-bombing attack on October 23, 1942 and was continuing to work on the technique up until his death on January 18, 1943. Pilots in the 89th Squadron began practicing skip-bombing in A-20s around the end of December 1942, followed by 90th Squadron pilots in their newly-modified B-25s a few weeks later. Even though pilots still had their doubts about using B-25s in that manner, they continued their practice throughout the month of February.

On March 3rd, Larner, who had since been promoted to Major, was leading the 90th Squadron into what would be known as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. He put their practice to use and proved that the B-25 strafer would be an effective skip-bombing aircraft. Breaking away from his formation that day, he was followed by three of his lieutenants. “Damn it! Get the hell off my wing and get your own boat!” he yelled at them.

Nearby, Capt. John P. “Jock” Henebry watched Larner make his solo run. “I was leading the second element. Everybody was rather apprehensive. When everybody saw him make that pass and hit it with at least one and maybe two and the explosion and so, that just ignited the whole thing and the guys got the idea if he could do it, they could do it.” 

When Maj. Larner had taken over command of the 90th, the Squadron was reeling over the loss of senior pilot and former commander, Captain William “Red” Johnson, who had crashed on a transit flight near Townsville, Australia on New Year’s Eve. Larner’s transfer to the 90th and his confidence in the B-25 as a strafer bomber would re-energize the men in the Squadron. The combat crews were excited to watch their leader make that flawless first run on March 3rd.

Unfortunately, Maj. Larner would not remain the 90th Squadron’s leader for long. While he was a bold pilot, some of his flight maneuvers led him to be deemed reckless by some of his peers. His trademark approach would be the cause of his death on April 30, 1943. Coming in to land at Dobodura, he dove towards the airstrip and flew low over the field, then pulled up sharply into a chandelle. Usually, he performed this maneuver in a B-25 that was not full of fuel, eight passengers, baggage, tools and 2000 pounds of bombs. When Larner pulled up, the plane stalled, went into a flat spin, then crashed and exploded on the ground. There were no survivors. He left behind a wife and two daughters. Captain Jock Henebry would go on to lead the 90th Squadron.

Excerpt from the Diary of Jack Fox

While the source of this post is another diary, the person who wrote it played a different role in the Pacific Theater. Jack Fox was a tech representative for North American Aviation, the builder of the famed B-25. Sending a rep so far from the factories in United States was invaluable for both the company and the unit flying their aircraft. Jack Fox stayed on the base with the men so he could be available to assist them 24/7. 

“They Also Served”    

My first assignment as Tech. Repr., covering the aircraft known as the good ole’ baker 25 Mitchell Bomber, was with the 17th Bomb Group. The B-25 aircraft was engineered and produced by North American Aviation, Inc., in Los Angeles, California. I welcomed the opportunity to serve as a Technical Representative. Before departing for my new assignment I would require some briefing so I spent a little time with the Field Service Manager, Frank Lyons, in his office. I received my instructions and we worked out some of the details of the assignment. As I was about to leave the office Frank stopped me by saying, “What the hell can we call you besides John?”  

“Well BUB, that’s my name and you had better be damned careful what other name you use.” I replied. “That’s no good,” Frank countered and continued saying, “Let’s call you Jack as this will be better for everyone and easier also.”

That ended the conversation right there and I made my departure not as John Fox, but as Jack Fox and it remained so from that time on. All my correspondence came addressed to Jack Fox, so I continued using it also in my correspondence. I reported in at the Group Engineering office of the 17th Bomb Group at Felts Field in Spokane, Washington. Evidently there was a telephone conversation between this point and Frank Lyons as they were expecting a Jack Fox to report in as Tech. Repr. I guess it would have to stand that way so there was no use to change or check it now. I arrived in Spokane in the spring of 1941. During my assignment with the 17th Bomb Group, I became mighty fond of this doggone good ole’ B-25 airplane.


At the end of 1941, Jack Fox learned that he was recommended for an assignment with the Netherlands East Indies Air Force. After taking care of all the required formalities, Fox left for Australia at the end of February 1942 in a B-25. After a short stint with the NEI crews at Archer Field, he joined up with the 3rd Bomb Group at Charters Towers.  

NAA Rep Jack Fox
North American Aviation Service Representative Jack Fox, pictured at Charters Towers in 1942, had been sent to Brisbane to train a Dutch Army Aviation Corps unit stationed there on the operation and maintenance of the B-25 Mitchell. When the 3rd Bomb Group took over 18 of the Dutch B-25s, Davies convinced Fox to come back with the Group to Charters Towers and serve in a similar capacity. Fox went on to make an invaluable contribution to 3rd Bomb Group through his expertise in the B‑25 and his engineering capability. Together with Pappy Gunn, he was responsible for the A-20 and B-25 modifications which made the airplanes far more destructive than they had previously been.
(G. John Robinson Collection)


These 3rd Attack Group men were most certainly a wonderful bunch of guys. I had much respect for each and everyone of them. They were a close knit Group, a hard working bunch also mighty brave and courageous fighters.

I was getting an urge to go out on Missions but permission was refused me and it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to go over to Port Moresby, New Guinea that I was able to sneak in a mission or so at different times. I felt that I should go a on mission or so because what better way was there to learn first hand what it was all about and also what was required of the airplane under these conditions. Through this medium I was able to obtain first hand information by way of experience regarding the equipment I was representing and besides I could form good reliable first hard reports which was another part of a Tech Reprs. job; to send reports back to the company and to do this it took a considerable amount of time especially when sketches or drawings had to be made up to accompany failure reports. Being on a mission was a hair raising experience. My first experience with ack-ack was over the Jap target of Lae, New Guinea and it startled me so I dam near had a shit hemorrhage. Yes, darn right I was scared and I would think, how stupid I was in not knowing when I was well off as I should have had stayed put on the ground back at our base. Then I would think about these combat crews who went out daily to try to paste the enemy and they faced this condition frequently and took their chances. I felt I wasn’t any better than these guys so I tried not to show too much concern but no doubt I didn’t cover up completely. Most of these men figured I must be plum nuts to want to go out on missions as I had no business to be in the airplane on a combat mission. Major Lowry, the C. O. of the 13th Squadron presented an idea of his to make me a fine control member aboard a combat airplane out on missions, mainly I believe to guard against and direct fire on enemy aircraft. He approached me with the idea one day and frankly speaking I was all for it and started making plans for this new role I might find myself in but something happened somewhere as the Major’s idea did not materially.  Then one day, Major Lowry was out on a mission and he and his crew went down in their airplane in the New Guinea Jungle. He sure was a mighty fine man and pilot, a good Squadron C. O. and flight leader so his death was great loss to the squadron as well as the Group.

Harvest of the Grim Reapers, Vol. I is at the printer

At long last, we are excited to announce the upcoming publication of Harvest of the Grim Reapers, Volume I. This 528-page unit history will cover the 3rd and 27th Bomb Groups through the end of 1942, and the heroic and tragic events that occurred along the way. As always, this includes a comprehensive list of the aircraft the unit flew during this time period (A-24s, B-25s and A-20s), and a selection of world-class profile art by aviation artist Jack Fellows. The manuscript has been completed in full, and we will start taking pre-orders as soon as we have confirmation of when the physical copies will be in our hands from the printer. This is the last book project Lawrence J. Hickey personally oversaw before his passing, and we believe it will serve as a fitting tribute to his legacy.

To hold you over until the book is in your hands, we gathered up all of our 3rd Bomb Group posts about events from 1942 so you can read a little more about the 3rd right now. We’ll make another announcement when we start taking pre-orders.

A Month of Losses

In December 1942, the 3rd Bomb Group, especially the 90th Squadron, was dealt blow after blow as crews and planes were lost. Over the course of the month, the 3rd Bomb Group lost more than 40 men. The first loss on December 5th happened on a night takeoff when a 90th Bomb Group B-25 hit a tree at the end of the runway at 17 Mile Airdrome. Five men were killed.

Ten days later, a 90th Squadron B-25 went missing on a five-plane flight between Port Moresby and Charters Towers. At the time, the 13th Squadron was flying up to Port Moresby to relieve the 90th Squadron, but strong thunderstorms were preventing this rotation. To minimize any losses, C.O., Maj. Donald P. Hall, would only let one 90th B-25 fly down for each 13th Squadron plane that flew up. After the first one arrived, though, five 90th Squadron pilots thought the rest of the squadron was on its way up and took off. They ran into the same bad weather and the B-25 flown by 2/Lt. Alfred Crosswhite, STINKY PINKY, wound up separated from the other four planes and disappeared with 11 men on board. The wreckage was discovered on hilly terrain in July 1943, about 40 miles west of a town named Cardwell.

Five days after storms caused the crash of STINKY PINKY, the 90th lost 11 more men on December 20th, in more bad weather. After a few days in Charters Towers, the 90th was due back at Port Moresby. Seven B-25s loaded with 90th Squadron men took off from Australia and encountered heavy rain on the way to New Guinea. It wasn’t long before the heavy rain turned into severe thunderstorms, tossing the B-25s around in the strong wind. By this time, the planes were in a long line as they flew single file through the turbulent weather. Lieutenant Richard H. Launder was flying behind Lt. Donald K. Emerson, watched Emerson’s plane vanish in the clouds and followed him into another storm. Without warning, Emerson’s B-25 appeared in front of Launder. Emerson pulled up and over Launder’s B-25 in the nick of time, then crashed into the ocean. Launder, who suspected that Emerson stalled and couldn’t recover, circled the crash site, but did not see any survivors.

The final two tragedies of the month, and the year, occurred at the end of December. As with the previous two losses, this 13-plane flight was part of a rotation from Port Moresby back to Charters Towers. This time, it was the 13th Squadron being relieved by crews from the 38th Bomb Group. That day, a B-25 flown by Capt. George “Spikes” Thomas, DEEMIE’S DEMON, disappeared over the Coral Sea. In the days and weeks that followed, no one found any trace of the aircraft or the 11 men on board. Among those lost was Sgt. Eugene J. Esposito of Rutland, Vermont. His family was notified of his status as Missing in Action on February 4, 1943. On August 13, 1943, his family received word that he had been declared dead. Esposito sent his last message to his family three days after Christmas to thank them for a box they sent and extend his Christmas greetings.

Newspaper clipping from the August 14, 1943 Rutland Daily Herald about the death of Sgt. Eugene J. Esposito of the 3rd Bomb Group
Newspaper clipping from the August 14, 1943 Rutland Daily Herald

Hours after the 13th Squadron left for Australia, Capt. William R. “Red” Johnson and the other 90th Squadron officers were starting their New Year’s Eve party at Charters Towers. Johnson, who just finished his combat tour and would be heading home to his wife soon, decided that a couple of his old friends from the 27th Bomb Group should join the fun and decided to fly to Townsville and pick them up. A crew chief went with him as his co-pilot and two privates tagged along for the ride. One decided to stay in Townsville and four new passengers (his friends and two others) climbed aboard. That was the last time anyone saw the men and the B-25. Without Johnson, the party at Charters Towers was a little quieter, as everyone thought his return had been delayed due to weather. A search plane was sent out on January 3rd and someone spotted a burned aircraft about 20 miles southwest of Townsville. Johnson had been flying through rain and low clouds, following the railroad back to Charters Towers, when he hit the base of a mountain. None of the seven men on board survived.

For the 3rd Bomb Group, it was both a tragic ending to 1942 and a tragic beginning to 1943. Forty-five deaths occurring in a single month was difficult to bear. Back in the States, 45 more grieving families may have hung gold star flags in front windows of their homes.

Repost: Betting Against the Weather

First published in 2015, we’re revisiting a diary entry written after a 1943 mission.


This week, we have an entry from Col. Donald P. Hall’s diary. The C.O. of the 3rd Bomb Group wrote about a particularly exciting mission on July 28, 1943.

Henebry led the 90th [Bomb Squadron] this AM and hit barges beyond Cape Gloucester in New Britain. Got 11 barges. The P-38 escort tangled with enemy fighters and shot down six. All our planes returned. Took 15 B-25s, T.O. 1300 composed of planes from 8th, 13th and 90th to go to north coast of New Britain and hunt more barges. Weather bad on route out and I received call from ground station saying something about a destroyer and transport somewhere en route. P-38s called and said they were going back because of weather. I decided to take a chance and go on without cover and use the bad weather alone. You don’t get a chance at a destroyer and a transport every day.

Buck Good decided to go as co-pilot for me as he hadn’t flown in a B-25 in a long time. He’d just came back from leave that A.M. We hit Cape Bushing on the south coast of New Britain in light rain. No barges. As we rounded the point at Cape Gloucester saw everything at once. 2 destroyers lying off shore (I thought one was transport it was so large). As we headed for them, 20 Zeros passed directly over-head but didn’t attack right then. “Oh Boy!” I thought this is going to be rough.

A Jap air transport or bomber was circling over the boats and four of the boys headed for it. They fired a long burst into it, but it didn’t go down. So all planes except mine headed for 1st destroyer which was by now throwing up lots of ack-ack. Took my flight toward enemy air transport as it landed at Cape Gloucester. 16 Japs passed out of it but we cut all of them down. “Pappy” Gunn flying No. 2 position on my wing laid a 75mm shell under it. The wing caught fire from our bullets by the time it had stopped rolling. Buck Good let go a couple or three bombs as we went over it and that finished it.

Buck Good an I then headed for large destroyer which had not been touched. Looked over my shoulder and saw enemy planes coming from about 10,000 feet, but there was too juicy a target to stop now. I could see that the boys in Henebry’s, Wilkins’, and Hawkins’ flight had the other destroyer burning and were still bombing and strafing it. We dropped down on our run for the large destroyer and it lit up like a Christmas tree as its ack-ack tried to knock us down before we bombed them. While Buck opened the bomb doors for me, I started to tap rudders and rake the deck with my 50’s [nose guns].

You could see Japs all over the decks trying to get cover someplace. We released our bombs as we pulled up to clear the mast, then dropped to the water to get out of their heavy gun fire. As we turned sharply to the left I could see we scored two direct hits as the destroyer rolled back and forth, then began to burn. Oh Boy! Buck and I shook hands on that job!

As we could see the Zeros coming in among us, I wiggled my wings to collect the formation but it was hard to do as they were still in a circle around the first destroyer. I could see that it was finished too. We finally got together and left the target with a few Zeros on our tail. The rest of my flight had been unable to release their bombs, so it was lucky that Buck and I had thrown ours into the sides of the large destroyer.

I knew some of the boys had been hit as the planes couldn’t close their bomb doors. Lt. Nuchols’ plane (13th SQ) I found out later was badly shot up by enemy fighters and rudder about gone. Radioed our report home and came straight home. After the bombing, Nuchols was still flying around and someone saw parachutes descending. Later it was found out that everyone got out except Lt. Nuchols who had lost too much altitude to make it. He crashed and burned about 15 miles from drone. Took his co-pilot two days to get back here.

Received wire from Gen. Ramey and phone calls from others [saying] congratulations in our job. The boys were really happy. We stayed up late to see the photos. Buck said he’s never seen me so happy and excited over the target, but he didn’t exactly take out his knitting either! Only two planes had 300 lb. bombs and rest had only 100 lb. Lucky for us 300 lb. were along and I was glad I had one of the planes with this load.

Experiencing an Air Raid

This descriptive entry comes from the diary of T/Sgt. Adrian Bottge, a member of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group ground crew.

Sunday, May 16, 1943

Smitty and Mata left on transport this morning. Loaded a plane and sat around waiting for the other transports. Didn’t show up. Then the two with the men on board came back. Had received orders to return at once because Jap planes were over Oro Bay. Made up loading list of photo supplies in afternoon. Went to show in evening. One of the fellows said there was a yellow alert. 50 Betty Bombers and 50 Zekes took off from Lae airfield 1/2 hr. before. They started the picture anyway. Had run a few minutes when the three shots sounded. We ran for our trenches but the Aussies were put out. Hollered to keep the show going. In a few minutes we heard the planes, shortly after we saw bomb flashes toward 14 mile. There were lots of planes and lots of ack-ack. Didn’t come over this far. Went back to the show “Ice Capades” and saw some more — then got the alert again. The Aussies were really disgusted this time. Hollered for everyone to sit down. We went to our trench, however and was glad to be in it. Lard and Mata hit a trench close to the movie area. We saw what seemed like hundreds of bomb flashes in the north. Was so noisy, one couldn’t hear himself think. Terribly warm and lots of mosquitoes in the trench. My knees felt like they would break in two — crouched down like we were. Those bombers left and it was quiet for about ten minutes. Then several more planes came over. Didn’t drop any bombs though they were right overhead. Dropped flares — possibly trying to photo the damage. One of our P70 nite fighters was there but hadn’t been able to gain enough altitude. Could see the Jap planes (in searchlights) shooting tracers at the P70. Went back tot he show and finally finished without interruption. Lars said the Aussies really scattered during the last raid. Tried to get into crowded trenches. Our boys told them, “Carry your a-s, this will teach you to move when the alert sounds.” They scurried around like rats looking for a hole. Shrapnel was falling like hail. Sounds like bumble bees in flight. 89ths A-20s made early morning raid on Lae yesterday. Strafed 6 bombers and 5 Zeros on ground. 90th lost another B-25 with six man crew. Poor 90th has taken it on chin. B-25 destroyed on ground at 14 Mile last night. B-24s and 17s took off before the raid. Ack-ack fire was terrific last night. Doubt its effectiveness though. Cootenac (Marval) got back from hospital this morning. Had measles.

Target: Submarine

In March 1943, crews from the 90th Squadron were sent on a mission with an unusual target. This excerpt from the 90th Squadron diary describes it in detail.

Mar 19— At noon mess rumors of a mission circulated….Captain Henebry would not say anything and we were all in the dark…a meeting at the line at 1:30….Lt Commander Menucci, USN, briefed us on submarines…….at 2:30 a list was posted of 6 ships to take off for Dobodura to await an early evening mission from there……..

The boys arrived at Dobodura and spent the afternoon swimming and having a good look at what had been a Japanese stronghold two months ago…At 5:30 the crews were briefed by Capt Henebry at Lt Commander Menucci…..The target was a large submarine that was supposed to unload supplies at Lae around sundown…this news had been deciphered by our men at Port Moresby….We took off at 6:45 just as the sun was setting behind the Owen Stanley Range…..Henebry led the first flight of Howe and MacLellan…Chat led the second element of Ingram….”Snuffy” Hughes did not get off due to engine trouble….Capt Henebry had to slow his formation down as it looked as though he might get to Lae too early…..Near Salamaua the two flights swept inland and came down on the trees….they flew this way until they were about 5 miles South of Lae when they swung out onto the water and flew up the coastline…..approaching Lae, a rocket was shot into the sky (this was the Jap’s air raid warning)…..2000 yards from Lae, on a heading of 90 degrees, the 5 ships came in abreast….airspeed 250 mph….suddenly the rising moon outlined a gigantic submarine tied up against the Lae dock…at the end of the runway…..Henebry, Howe and MacLelland who were heading over the sub let go with their guns…from the runway and from the flanking hills intense and accurate ack ack was fired by the Nips…at about 100 yards the co-pilots began to toggle the bombs loose….11 bombs hit directly while one went over…the explosion was terrific and for a moment Henebry and Howe thought their plane was out of control…..The on suing fire lit up the wreck at Malahang….[As they made their attack, the B-25s were fired upon by Japanese antiaircraft gunners and after the Americans left the target area it was discovered that Sgt. Timberlake had been killed.]

On this run Captain Chatt was unable to fly over the submarine so after Henebry’s flight had passed by, Chatt swung over and made another run….Ingram followed closely on his wing…seeing that the submarine had exploded and sunk, Chatt made a run over some dispersal area and dropped his bombs….Ingram did likewise….There were many near misses with ack ack, but miraculously none took effect…..Henebry, Chatt and MacLellon made it back over the mountains to 17 Mile Field…..Ingram and Howe landed at Dobodura…..Howe tried to get home but went into a dense cloud formation which put him into a violent spin and he was able to bring his ship out after losing 8 thousand feet and hitting an airspeed of 450 mph…his escape hatch flew off and it had Captain John White, Observer, a bit worried for a moment or two…Sgt Hume in the upper turret said he could feel water dripping on him from the rear of the plane…..

Bombs Away

This excerpt comes from a memoir written by 1/Lt. Robert Mosley of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group.

 

Our planes at the Mindoro strip were parked along the taxi way but each parking spot was surrounded by a pile of dirt, about a wing tip height, around the side and rear of the airplane. These were called revetments and the purpose of the dirt was to protect the planes as much as possible from bomb damage from the enemy and particularly from any strafing attacks. One day I was getting ready for a mission and the whole area was alive with activity as one would expect prior to a squadron going on a combat mission. Now, I must digress a little to explain briefly how the bomb release switches work in an A-20. That is, there were a number of switches you could activate so you could release the bombs in singles, pairs or pretty much whatever order the pilot wanted. There was also a salvo switch. To operate the salvo switch there was a small, maybe 2 inch long, lever like thing that you rotated from about the 6 o’clock position (it had a pin next to it on the right side, sticking out of the panel to keep you from trying to rotate it to the left) almost 360 degrees around until it hit the pin from the other side. This salvo switch was on there to allow you to drop all of your bombs at once if that is what you wanted to do but we also used it on the final pass of a mission to make sure we had dropped all of our bombs. The bomb release panel was down near the floor of the cockpit, just above where your left foot would go up under the instrument panel on  to the left rudder pedal. It was not a good position for it because you had to look down near the floor to set up what ever configuration you wanted on the bomb panel, which meant momentarily taking your eyes off of where you were flying the airplane. And, it was dark down in that low spot in the cockpit, especially when being in bright sunlight and then trying to see down there in the shadows.

Well, this particular morning I had gotten in the cockpit and went through my pre-start checks but did not notice that the salvo switch was in the full salvo position. In my defense, when the lever was in the SALVO position it was no more than an eighth of an inch from the position it would have been in when in the OFF position; i.e., it was just over on the other side of a 16th inch pin. But I should have noticed it as well as the people who loaded the bombs. In fact I never quite figured out how they could have loaded the bombs with it in the salvo position but they had.

SO– when I turned on the battery switch, that plane gave a big lurch as every bomb on the plane dropped right there in the revetment. At that moment I was not sure what had happened but what I saw soon confirmed my suspicions. For what I saw was ass holes and elbows going in all directions away from me. Guys were going over the dirt walls of the revetment like the walls were not even there. My gunnery sergeant came casually around from his position in the back of the plane (as stated earlier, Sgt. Rogers was about 5 years older than me and was not impressed with Lieutenants). He looked up at me in the cockpit and said with total disgust, “What in the hell did you do?”

You would have to have been around bombs a lot to know that these iron bombs were really not all that dangerous, when not armed (these bombs had to have a little propeller on the nose of the bomb, activated by the air stream when dropped from a plane, to screw the firing pin into position to become armed) because I have seen the ground crews just drop them from the plane onto the ground beneath the plane as a expeditious way of unloading them as opposed to doing it with a winch as they should. So I was not concerned about them going off. I was just embarrassed. What was an unknown though, was what the two huge tanks of Napalm, one under each wing, would do because they dropped also. No one had ever tried dropping one of those onto a PSP surface before (and they were armed differently than the iron bombs). It can be concluded from the face that I am here to tell this story that they will not go off either.

Repost: The Royce Raid: The 3rd Bomb Group Wins Its Spurs

We’re wrapping up our Royce Raid trilogy today with the exciting finale. This post was first published in May 2014.

 

The morning of April 12th brought a raid by the 3rd Bomb Group on Davao, located on the southeast coast of Mindanao. This base became a primary target for the 3rd Bomb Group’s raids, as it had been under Japanese control since war was declared. Three P-40s from the Del Monte base made strafing runs, while two others flew on to Luzon to find shipping targets. A group of B-17s caught the Japanese by surprise when they destroyed runways, hangars, gasoline storage and warehouses at Nichols Field. The Japanese Army Air Force at Clark Field was taken by surprise and they were not able to mount a response until after the U.S. bombers were already back in Australia.

That same morning, the 3rd Bomb Group split up into two flights, led by Capt. Robert Strickland and Capt. Lowery, for their morning missions. They flew out separately to Cebu City, approximately 140 miles to the northwest of Del Monte. On the way over, the flight led by Lowery spotted a Japanese transport and Col. Davies decided that each plane should drop a single bomb on the ship. While they claimed it as sunk, Japanese records do not indicate any ships lost.

When Lowery’s flight arrived over Cebu City, the crews discovered Strickland’s flight had already bombed the airfield so it was decided that the five crews would split up: three B-25s would attack two large ships while the other two B-25s would bomb warehouses and onshore docks. They recorded a direct hit on a 7000-ton transport ship, which was probably the transport India Maru. Japanese anti-aircraft gunners shot at the B-25s and one bursting shell sent a piece of shrapnel into Lt. Petersen’s bomber where it failed to penetrate the armor plate behind the seat of Lt. Harry Managan. The B-25 gunners defended their bombers from attacks by four Japanese seaplanes, two of which were claimed shot down. The B-25 flight left for Del Monte with the Cebu docks and nearby buildings on fire.

Royce and Davies

Brigadier General Ralph Royce (left) and Col. John Davies, two commanders of the Royce Raid (April 11–16, 1942), pictured in Melbourne soon after their return from the Philippines.

Both flights got back to the dispersal fields at Valencia and Maramag without incident and the planes were quickly hidden in the jungle to keep them from being spotted by Japanese planes. The 5th Air Base Group’s efficiency refueling and reloading the planes for the afternoon mission greatly impressed the men of the 3rd Bomb Group. Everyone wanted to help wherever possible, and thanks to the cooperative efforts, the B-25s were back in the air at 1330 hours for a second strike.

Not long after takeoff, the single flight was intercepted by two Japanese seaplanes. One of the seaplanes was hit, while the B-25s flew on unscathed. The crews also attacked a large transport on their way to Cebu Harbor and left it listing. When the crews arrived over Cebu the second time around, the Japanese were ready to greet the B-25s with heavier antiaircraft fire. The 3rd Bomb Group persisted in their attack, dropping 25 500-pound bombs on various targets and strafing buildings.

The next day, the crews flew two more missions, this time to Davao, where they targeted floatplanes and ships in the harbor. After the missions on April 13th wound down, it was time to get the B-25s back to Australia before the Japanese were able to locate the base and launch a strike against them. Upon their return to Australia, Royce, Col. John Davies and Lt. Jim McAfee flew to Melbourne for interviews and to report to Gen. MacArthur. All the B-25 crews received medals for their participation in the raids and the media pounced on their success.

“The raids obviously threw the Japanese into a terrific panic,” Royce told reporters. “You can imagine their bewilderment when suddenly out of the sky appeared a bunch of bombers that let loose everything on them. They didn’t know where the bombers came from.” A few days later, the Doolittle Raids would reduce the Royce Raid to a brief moment in the Pacific war, but morale was still high. After all, the members of the Royce Raid participated in the longest mission to date without a single death and Australia was proven to be a good point to launch offensive attacks. “We have won our spurs,” wrote McAfee. “We can do a job no matter how much politics there is to it!”