Moving Day

Throughout the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific, units had to pick up and move from one base to another as they drove the Japanese northward. Just like a household move, it was organized chaos. Personal items and equipment used by the different sections were packed up into crates, hauled down to a beach and loaded into a waiting Landing Ship Tank (LST). Vehicles were driven on board and tarps were placed over stacks of crates.

Loading LSTs

Airmen of the 312th load Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) in preparation for the voyage to Leyte in November 1944. (Russell L. Sturzebecker Collection)

After a day or two of getting everything and everyone not flying a plane to the next base on board, the men settled in for their sea journey, which could last a week or more. Sleeping quarters might be somewhere below deck or up top, under a tarp. Navy food was typically much better than what the airmen were used to, and on one trip, Adrian Bottge of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group noticed how the sailors “look much healthier than we do. Never realized before how beat up, underfed and jaundiced looking we are.”

On a good trip, the men were able to move to their new location without Japanese interference. There was one terrifying trip when the 345th Bomb Group was attacked by kamikaze pilots on the way to Leyte in November 1944. Tragically, 111 members of that group were killed in that attack.

Upon arrival at the new base, it was time to unload and set up camp. Unloading was always a frenzy. The shipcrews were on a strict schedule, rain or shine, and anything left on board would be taken away when the LST departed. The 312th Bomb Group was also subject to Japanese raids the night the men arrived on Leyte on November 19th. This particular move was not easy for the 312th. Besides the raid, they expected to stay at their temporary camp for a few days, not seven weeks in the rain. Twenty-three inches of rain fell that month, the food was terrible and there was no mail delivery. It took until the end of December for the 312th’s base at Tanauan to be ready for the men.

Unloading LSTs

A section of the 43rd Bomb Group unloads their cargo. Judging by the muddy conditions, this was probably taken at Leyte. (Leon D. Brown Jr. Collection)

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Working With the Low Altitude Bombsight

About halfway through 1943, the United States developed new radar technology that allowed heavy bombers to attack shipping targets at night. Shortly thereafter, the 1st Sea Search Attack Group was formed at Langley Field, Virginia. Most of these crews were brand new, and as they learned flight basics, they were also trained on how to use the Low Altitude Bombsight (LAB). Two of the three squadrons were sent to the Pacific Theater for night bombing missions. One, the 868th Squadron, operated independently. The other was integrated into the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. One member of the 63rd Squadron wrote about the way the LAB was used on a mission.

Typical Sea Search Mission
by Richard M. Salley, 63rd Squadron Radar Mechanic

The Radar was the SCR 717A, 10cm wavelength, and had a 200 mile range at about 3000 ft. altitude. The bomb sight was on RC17 Low Altitude Bomb sight (LAB) and had to be adjusted for a specific altitude and bomb configuration. I would usually set it up for a 400 feet altitude drop and a 500-1000-500 (pounds) bomb configuration. A radio altimeter would maintain the altitude through the auto-pilot with no need for hands-on by the crew.

A search would be made at max range (about 3000 feet altitude), and when a target was sighted, and IFF [Identification Friend or Foe] interrogation revealed an enemy, the run would begin. Gradually dropping in altitude to keep the target at maximum range would prevent enemy radar (which was less sophisticated than ours) from picking us up. After a period, we would be at minimum altitude, with the bombardier in charge of the plane. His job was to keep the target between crosshairs which maintained azimuth [the angle of the aircraft] and allowed the electronics to separate the target and a voltage pip correctly. At the exact start range for the bombs, the voltage pip would come up and intersect the target pip. The increased voltage would trigger the intervalometer and drop the bombs automatically.

 

The following page may have appeared in CROSSHAIRS magazine in the late 1980s or early 1990.

LAB

The Old Man’s Ordeal

The Old Man’s Ordeal a B-17 painting by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 200 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 25″ x 19.5″

Paper Size: 30″ x 24″

On March 8, 1943, a 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group B-17 named THE OLD MAN was on a long-range photo-recco mission over Gasmata airstrip on New Britain when it was jumped by three Zeros. The battle was on. One Zero pilot shot several bursts into the nose of the aircraft, wounding pilot Melville “Dutch” Ehlers. Bombardier Thomas Lloyd “Breezy” Boren released four 500-pound bombs and the long-range bomb bay auxiliary fuel tank to lighten the craft as they frantically clawed to gain airspeed. They limped back to the Dobudura airfield complex, on the north side of Papua New Guinea, and the crew (also including co-pilot Joseph “Indian” Cochran, navigator Warren “Doc” Bryant, engineer Willard R. Madison, gunner David J. Eckholt, radioman William A. Boly, ball gunner Michael R. Andrade, tail gunner Joseph Ferriola, and photographer Leonard Williams) was credited with five aircraft destroyed. This artwork is published in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume I and is available for purchase on our website.

 

The Costly Mistake

By the end of 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group made a series of attacks on Cape Gloucester to soften it up for an upcoming invasion. Over 100 aircraft participated in these raids on December 22nd and 23rd, where a wide range of items from bombs to leaflets and even beer bottles (these were to scare Japanese on the ground, as they whistled like bombs) were dropped from the B-24s, B-25s and A-20s. There was nothing from the Japanese in return. No antiaircraft fire or intercepting fighters rushed to discourage the Allied forces from their mission.

While the missions themselves were relatively uneventful, taking off or landing was sometimes an entirely different story. In this case, a routine takeoff for Capt. Bryan A. Flatt on December 22nd nearly turned into a nightmare. Flatt was accelerating to takeoff speed and thought he had lifted off the runway. Instead, he was still on the ground when he applied the landing gear brakes, which caused the nose gear to fold. Quickly realizing his mistake, he retracted the the main gear to get his B-24 off the ground, but both collapsed and the plane hit the ground. It skidded for several hundred feet, made a sharp right, then went over several tree stumps, a six-foot embankment and finally came to a stop in a marsh.

B-24 #42-41221 after it crashed

On December 22, 1943, 1/Lt. Bryan A. Flatt of the 403rd Squadron was taking off from Dobodura when he mistakenly thought that his B-24D #42-41221 was airborne. In fact, the plane was still on the runway, and when Flatt applied the brakes in preparation for raising the landing gear, the right and left gear collapsed and the plane skidded off the runway. These photographs show the B-24D after it crashed. Amazingly, none of the 11 crewmembers sustained more than minor injuries. (George A. Putnam Collection)

After all was said and done, the entire crew climbed out of the wrecked aircraft with nothing more than minor injuries. It wasn’t long before rumors were spreading around the camp about nose gear collapsing on B-24s because the early reports did not cite Flatt’s error as the cause. To quell the fears of the crews, Flatt called a squadron meeting to explain that the accident was his fault and not a mechanical issue. His honesty in this situation, which could have damaged his career, was greatly admired by his squadron.

General Walker’s Last Mission to Rabaul

Seventy-five years ago today, Gen. Kenneth N. Walker boarded Maj. Jack W. Bleasdale’s B-17 SAN ANTONIO ROSE, thereby ignoring a direct order from Gen. George C. Kenney not to fly on combat missions. Kenney feared losing an excellent commander and what could happen if the aircraft Walker was on was shot down and its passengers, especially Walker, were captured by the Japanese. If you’ve read our previous post on the subject, you might recall that this mission was particularly dangerous because it was a raid on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul in broad daylight. Still, it caught the Japanese by surprise and several ships sitting in Simpson Harbor were either damaged or sunk. The 43rd Bomb Group lost two B-17s that day. One was SAN ANTONIO ROSE, the other was B-17F #41-24538, piloted by 1/Lt. Jean Jack. Jack and his crew ditched their B-17 off the coast of Urasi Island and all were rescued the following day. SAN ANTONIO ROSE has never been found.

Last year, Pacific Wrecks uploaded a video taken from the January 5th mission. While it’s available to watch below, we recommend you watch it on YouTube so you can read through the excellent notes about different points of the video provided by Pacific Wrecks. For even more information on the day’s events, buy a copy of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2017

This week, we’re listing our most popular posts published this year as determined by the number of views. Did your favorite post make the list?

Thank you for your continued support by subscribing, reading and sharing our work, and buying our books. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, let us know in the comments. We’ll be back next year with more great content. And now, without further ado, our most popular posts of 2017.

1. The Fight for Mindoro As a result of some great comments from a prior post (see #4 on this list), we delved into further detail about a harrowing mission on December 24, 1944.

Wreckage of B-24 Tempermental Lady2. A B-24’s Forced Retirement After the B-24 TEMPERMENTAL LADY was hit on a mission, landing the plane wasn’t going to be easy…

 

3. Book Review: They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans We review the second book of veteran stories as told to Kayleen Reusser.

B-17 MISS EM and crew(tie) Beyond the Bomb Group What happened to the B-17s that transferred out of the 43rd Bomb Group? We follow the story of one of their old Flying Fortresses, CAP’N & THE KIDS.

 

A 63rd Squadron B-24 attacks a Japanese ship near Mindoro during WWII4. Night Action Off Mindoro This dramatic painting by artist Jack Fellows illustrates a B-24 coming off an attack on a Japanese destroyer near Mindoro.

 

 

Maj. Gerrity (in the cockpit) and Sgt. Neal (standing in the B-25's nose).5. Major Tom Gerrity’s One Plane War Against the Japanese A pilot scheduled to go home wanted one more crack at the Japanese before he left the Pacific Theater.

 

Butch the German shepherd6. 9 Photos of Dogs in the Pacific Theater During World War II It’s all in the title. Go meet some of the dogs of Fifth Air Force.

 

A painting of a 38th Bomb Group B-25 over a Japanese ship during WWII7. One Minute in Hell Steve Ferguson illustrates some of the final moments of 1/Lt. James A. Hungerpiller and his crew over Simpson Harbor on November 2, 1943.

How to Make a Volcano Explode (or not)

In late March 1943, Rabaul was (unsurprisingly) still the top target of Allied raids. For two days, March 20th and 21st, the 65th Squadron was on alert to fly a mission to Vunakanau Airdrome, and the mission was cancelled each day because of less than optimal weather. All four of the 43rd’s squadrons were put on alert on the 22nd for another Rabaul raid, and they were able to take off from Seven Mile on the night of the 22nd, which would have them arriving over Rabaul on the 23rd.

The B-17s made their appearance known by dropping bombs on Rabaul before sunrise. Since there was no daylight, the crews could not observe their results, but searchlights were following the B-17s everywhere. While several planes were holed by antiaircraft fire, none were seriously damaged and all returned to base without issue.

Rabaul was the proverbial thorn in Fifth Air Force’s side and it’s possible that more than a few men were wishing for a quick way to shut down this Japanese stronghold. Several of them came up with a theory to test out: using Matupi Volcano to their advantage, specifically by using bombs to make it explode, thereby wiping out Rabaul. Major Carl A. Hustad took off with his bombardier on the 23rd to carry out this mission. The two 2000-pound bombs were dropped into the crater with no results. Afterwards, personnel realized how silly the idea was in the first place.

 

Rabaul Volcanos

Taken in 1941, this photo shows the topography of the Rabaul area. Matupi Volcano can be seen in the background.

This story can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire.

Peace Bombers Arrive

The title and written content of this week’s post come to you from the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group’s history. Once again, we’re focusing on that August 19, 1945 flight that stopped over in Ie Shima on the way to Manila to discuss the Japanese surrender.

On August 19th, the men on Ie Shima witnessed history in the making, as at 12:30 p.m. two white Jap Bettys approached the island escorted by hordes of P-38s, 2 PBYs, two B-25s and other elements of our efficacious air force. After making two trips around the island, the Bettys landed gracefully on Mocha strip which was lined up with M.P.s and thousands of curious soldiers. As the ships taxied down the runway, their bespectacled engineers stood half out of their open top hatches. They were bedecked in most elaborate flying attire—leather jackets, flying helmets, and goggles. One couldn’t help but think how uncomfortably warm they must have been, because the afternoon was torrid. The contrast of these Japanese flying personnel to our airmen who usually wear nothing more than a T-shirt and sun-tan pants, was certainly sharp, but on this particular day, the little guys were perhaps salvaging the last remnants of that imperialistic pride so completely stifled by their defeat.

Upon reaching the end of the runway, the planes did an about-face and taxied to the other end of the runway as hundreds of soldiers with cameras made a mad dash in that direction. At this end of the strip were parked two C-54s, resplendent in the afternoon sun. These were to take the Japanese emissaries to Manila.

Not much time was wasted, and within 15 minutes the emissaries with their entourage boarded one of the giant cargo planes and were off to General MacArthur’s headquarters.

We also went digging around YouTube and found part of a newsreel from that day’s events.

 

Want to read more about this point in history? Check out The 345th’s Final Show.

The Fight for Mindoro

Expanding a little more on last week’s post…

As 1944 was wrapping up in the Pacific Theater, units continued their march northward with the invasion and seizure of the island of Mindoro and continuing attacks on Clark Field, Luzon. Mindoro was considered a strategic asset for continued attacks and the eventual push towards reclaiming Luzon from the Japanese. The Japanese knew this, and even though they were driven off Mindoro on December 15th, they weren’t going to give up easily.

Two airfields were constructed on Mindoro within 13 days of the Allied takeover in preparation for the invasion of Luzon. Admiral Masatomi Kumura did not want to see these airfields become usable by the Americans and he assembled eight ships to sail from Vietnam on December 24th to Mindoro in hopes of disrupting the building efforts. It wasn’t until the 26th that their presence was detected some hours south of San Jose and U.S. ship crews hurried to vacate the harbor before the arrival of the Japanese. Men at Mindoro’s airfield sent a message to Tacloban asking for any help they could get to defend their new airbase.

Unknowingly, the Japanese had picked the perfect moment to strike. The two airfields were almost out of resources, with only a couple dozen bombs and anemic fuel stocks. The air units present on Mindoro (the 8th and 58th Fighter Groups, and the 110th and 17th Reconnaissance Squadrons), were flying fighter aircraft, except for the 17th, which had B-25s. None of these aircraft were capable of tangling with a cruiser safely, and even if they were, none of the crews were trained for night-flying operations. And the U.S. Navy, which had previously been in charge of protecting this advance base, were a day’s voyage away.

The worst-case scenario was invasion. If the Japanese force successfully landed infantry, San Jose would certainly have been overrun. Therefore, every available plane was mobilized, despite the lack of ordnance, the mismatched combat capabilities and the darkness. (There were no landing troops aboard these ships, but the Allies didn’t know that.) Since the fields on Mindoro had to stay under blackout conditions, the aircrews were told to land at Tacloban, almost 300 miles to the east. At 2100 hours, the Japanese ships were in range, and over 100 American aircraft scrambled.

Among them were two aircraft that had responded to the distress call: B-24 snoopers of the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. The 63rd was a night operations group, and two of their aircrews, headed by 1/Lts. Dickinson and Samuel L. Flinner, happened to be in Tacloban when the distress call was received. They had been ordered to make multiple passes from 6000 feet and drop one bomb at a time in order to make it sound like multiple B-24s were overhead.

Instead, Flinner dove down to 1000 feet while strafing the light cruiser Oyodo to drop his bomb more accurately. It looked like his bomb knocked out a couple of the heavy guns aboard, and Flinner went to pull away for another run. Except he couldn’t. PUG’s rudder cables were completely severed by antiaircraft shells and Flinner’s tail gunner was wounded. The B-24 began to descend, nearly hitting the water before Flinner regained control of the plane. He salvoed his remaining bombs and turned for Tacloban. Dickinson, meanwhile, made his runs and damaged the destroyer Kiyoshimo with two direct hits.

Once the crew was away from the fighting, they set about administering first aid to the tail gunner and the engineer, T/Sgt. Bill Schlereth, tackled the rudder cables. He found the two ends of the severed cables in the large mass of wires overhead, then enlisted Sgt. Don Tuley to help him isolate them. Schlereth spent the remainder of the flight clamping and reweaving spare wire to the rudder cables to the point that Flinner was finally able to control the rudders for landing. They waited out an additional five hours by circling Tacloban in order to burn off fuel and make a daylight landing for safety’s sake.

In the end, PUG landed safely with more than 200 new holes than she took off with. The groups at Mindoro had suffered severely: three B-25s, 10 P-47s, six P-40s, and seven P-38s had been lost during the battle. The Japanese withdrew from the area around midnight after doing little damage to the airstrip and harbor with one less ship, the Kiyoshimo, which had been severely damaged by Dickinson’s crew.

 

If you want to read about the battle from the ground perspective, check out Rocky Boyer’s War.

Night Action off Mindoro

A 63rd Squadron B-24 attacks a Japanese ship near Mindoro during WWII

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 16″x21″

Paper Size: 24″x26.5″

On the night of December 26, 1944, this radar-equipped B-24M night intruder, piloted by Lt. Samuel L. Flinner of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group attacked and immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy Yugumo-class destroyer, Kiyoshimo, off the Philippine island of Mindoro, where it was left behind and sunk by a PT boat. Leaving Tacloban, they had been informed that a Japanese task force might try to retake the area so orders were given to try to locate it. After departure, they skirted a squall line only to find that Mindoro’s night sky was being lit up by shelling and flares. Scouts for ships with radar produced several targets. While being showered with heavy tracers and antiaircraft fire, a low altitude bomb run at 1000 feet was made on a vessel that was three miles off shore. All three of their bombs produced large explosions. After the run on the ship, the B-24 became the center of attention for the Japanese as it dove to the deck in a hard turn. Two shells hit the plane, one in the tail turret, injuring the tail gunner, and another exploded in the midsection behind the waist gunner, cutting the rudder cables. Splicing the cables together, they flew back through the squall line to Tacloban and circled until daylight to land. A ground inspection revealed over 200 holes. Lieutenant Flinner accumulated 24 missions and 412 combat hours. He and his crew were given credit for the kill. This artwork will be published in our next book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume II.

Buy your copy of this dramatic artwork by aviation artist Jack Fellows on our website.