Repost: The Convoy of Rocks

During the war, friendly rivalries formed between different units. First published in June 2014, this lighthearted story describes one of the pranks that arose from the rivalry between the 90th and 43rd Bomb Groups.

 

In May 1943, the 90th and 43rd Bomb Groups were the only active heavy bomb groups in the Fifth Air Force (though the 380th was getting situated in the theater and would be fully operational by the end of the month), which led to the development of a friendly rivalry. One 90th crew was flying a reconnaissance (recco) mission on the 15th and reported seeing a convoy along the south coast of New Britain. The 43rd’s 65th Squadron sent out several reccos afterwards to prepare for a larger assault, only to discover that this supposed convoy was actually a chain of small islands. Not surprisingly, the 43rd berated the 90th for this mistake, and the 63rd Squadron’s combat diary noted that “the convoy of rocks, reported by the 90th Bombardment Group (H), on 15 May 1943, has now officially been confirmed.”

Gen. George Kenney wrote about the 90th’s response to the 43rd in his memoir General Kenney Reports. “The 90th Bombardment Group board of strategy went into a huddle to see what could be done to restore their own prestige and, if possible, to humiliate the overproud 43rd.” The 90th extended a party invitation to the 43rd, which was readily accepted, especially after hearing the 90th supposedly had some Australian beer in its possession.

43rd "Headquarters"

Men from the 90th Bomb Group pose outside the newly renamed latrine.

“That evening,” Kenney continued, “as the procession the the 43rd Group jeeps made the last turn in the winding road leading up the hill on which the 90th Group mess was perched, they were horrified to see just off the road an unmistakable Chic Sale [latrine] with a huge sign on top of it, reading ‘Headquarters 43rd Bombardment Group.’ The Kensmen didn’t say a word about it all evening. They helped their hosts eat an excellent meal and consume all the Australian beer and wound up the festivities by thanking them profusely for a fine party. The next morning just as the 90th was tumbling out of bed, a lone 43rd Group B-17, slipping in over the tops of the trees, suddenly opened fire on the Chic Sale with a pair of fifty-caliber guns shooting nothing but incendiary ammunition. The little building blazed up as the B-17 kept on going until it disappeared behind the hills.” The latrine couldn’t be saved.

While Kenney wasn’t pleased with the Group’s reaction, he only said he expected that sort of behavior to not continue in the future. Yet, he conceded, “little silly things like that, which now sound like a species of insanity, were wonderful incentives to morale and set up a spirit of competition and a desire to outdo the rival organization that meant more hits on the targets, a quicker end to the war, and thereby a saving of American lives.”

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Shortages in the Pacific Theater

Paul T. Jones enlisted in the Army in October 1940 and made the journey overseas with the 43rd Bomb Group. For much of the war, the U.S. adopted a policy of putting the fight in Europe ahead of all other theaters, leading to a lot of anger and frustration from the men in the Pacific who felt they were not getting the resources and relief needed to fight the Japanese. The shortage of men and equipment was often noted in diary entries like these.

April 6, 1943 — Sometimes I wonder, I have mentioned before how badly we need planes. Some of our combat crews have over 300 hours combat. Seems like if they are going to keep us over here they could send us some new planes and men. Gen. Kenney went to Washington to see what could be done and I understand they are sending some damn senator over to look things over. A hell of a lot he knows about it. I believe the people at home think this front is a joke. If they could be here working to keep these ships in the air and then seeing them take off and come back with some of their buddies missing it would cease to be so. At times you can’t help but get disgusted with the whole thing. Then again I know a lot of fellows and myself included wonder how things will be when we get back, taxes, and a thousand other things. Well I guess things will straighten out in due time.

Oct. 5, 1943 — A couple of days ago Gen. Kenney had us up to group for a little talk. The whole thing bills down to the fact that we can’t expect to go home in the near future. He can’t get any replacements over here. One percent a month is all for sick etc which isn’t enough. Combat men have good chances of going as they have, after 300 hours. Miserable ground men can expect to stay here until they are bush happy or physically unable. The Gen. said that he was working on a deal whereby we stay up here five months and go back to the mainland for one. It is rather plain that the German situation will have to be cleaned up before we can expect any relief…

June 17, 1944 — …The going home deal looks bad. Here it is the middle of June and the May men haven’t even left. [Jones was on the list for July.] Have been writing a few little shorts for the band in my spare moments. Shelton finished up his time and his going home orders are in. Good on him.

Jones would be transferred back home in October 1944, after almost 4 full years overseas.

Close Call over Astrolabe Bay

In a diary entry, William M. Ahl of the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group recounted a particularly tense mission to Astrolabe Bay on December 18, 1942.

 

Friday, December 18, 1942
No missions flown as yet still there is something in the wind. A large Japanese convoy is to be approaching New Guinea northwest of Madang. We are sitting and waiting patiently knowing full well we will be called upon to go after it. All available bombers in Australia have been sent for by the Fifth Bomber Command.

Everything was quiet last night. It seems as though the nips dislike the moonlit nights.

About eleven a.m. the call came by for everyone to come to operations, that is pilot, navigator, and bombardier report to operations, the rest of the crew reports to the airplane and prepares it for take off.

The convoy had been sighted by a reconn ship about two hundred miles west and north of Madang. It was heading for Madang. All the airplane commanders were given necessary information and the navigators were given the position 02-05S 145-12E to work out an interception. We had six airplanes on flying status. [Capt. Folmer J.] Sogaard took off about twelve-thirty the others close behind. We gave Lae a wide skirt and took a direct course to the assumed position of the convoy. A sort of extended search was made after clearing the mountains at sixteen thousand feet. We were first to sight the convoy at three p.m. There were seven ships (two transports, four destroyers, and one light cruiser). Our buddy, [Lt. James T.] Murphy wasn’t in sight and our common radio was not working. The radio part proved to be our down fall later.

B-17 crew of Folmer J Sogaard

The crew of Capt. Folmer J. Sogaard had an almost-fatal encounter with five Zero fighters protecting a convoy over Astrolabe Bay on December 18, 1942. They were saved by Lt. James T. Murphy and crew, who flew close to Sogaard’s bomber, FIGHTIN SWEDE, and guarded it from the intercepting Zeros. Sogaard had done a similar favor for Murphy’s crew earlier that month. The crewmembers pictured are, kneeling, left to right: Capt. Folmer J. Sogaard, pilot; 1/Lt. William E. Ward, co-pilot; Capt. William M. Ahl, navigator; Capt. Marlin W. Ditchey, bombardier; and standing: T/Sgt. Charles E. Green, engineer; Sgt. Charles C. Haftman, assistant radio operator; Sgt. John F. Frazee, assistant engineer; Sgt. Dale W. Allton, gunner; and an unidentified man. Ditchey was not a regular bombardier with the Sogaard crew, but was assigned with them when this photo was taken in mid-April 1943. (Lloyd Anderson Collection)

While I was checking the position of the convoy, it happened, five Zeros came screaming out of the sun. Murphy, who saw us, tried to tell Sogaard on command but wasn’t heard. I was still gazing at the charts when Lindsay started firing the fifty caliber over my table. I took over for him. His thirty cal. was out and the right fifty caliber jammed. The Zeros shot out our no. 1 engine and oil started spraying out. They made one more pass at us but Murphy came diving down to protect us. I shudder to think what would have happened had he not come in guns chattering and drove them off. With one engine out and our bomb load were losing altitude. Bill Lindsay salvoed the 8 – 500 lb bombs. That helped a bit but Sogaard ordered us to throw ammunition overboard to lighten our load. We lost forty gallons of oil from No. 1. One of the Jap slugs hit our prop hub preventing the feathering of the engine. Thusly the flat blades were making resistance to the air and our speed was cut way down. Murphy protected us all the way back to Seven Mile but we weren’t attacked again. We limped along climbing to sixteen thousand feet at one twenty mph. We landed at six PM and were interrogated by the I.O. We inspected our airplane on the ground. It had thirty holes in it.

Squadrons of B-17s and B-24s attack the enemy throughout the night, the result being one transport and the light cruiser sunk.

 

Read this story in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I.

IHRA’s Top 7 Posts of 2018

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 2018.

 

B-24 Petty Gal 1. Remember the 15  The 65th Squadron suffers a terrible loss on a mission to Tainan Airdrome.

 

 

389th Squadron officers 2. Mickey The profile history of a 389th Squadron, 312th Bomb Group A-20, coming straight to you from our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

 

 

3. How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II After writing this post, we wanted to dive into the use of phosphorus and how it impacted air missions.

 

B-24 Crash at Lipa 4. Lady Luck’s Unlucky Day LADY LUCK‘s pilots were having an inexplicably hard time taking off from Lipa Airdrome.

 

5. Your Army in the Making: The Carolina Maneuvers 1941 This video goes into some of the Stateside training done in 1941.

 

Low Altitude Bombsight 6. Working With the Low Altitude Bombsight This technology was used by a few heavy bomber squadrons to attack shipping targets at night.

 

The Old Man’s Ordeal a B-17 painting by Jack Fellows 7. The Old Man’s Ordeal A 65th Squadron B-17 crew is in the middle of a harrowing mission in this painting by Jack Fellows from our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the Southwest Pacific

As the men in the Southwest Pacific fought the Japanese during World War II, they spent major holidays and birthdays far away from their families and friends. These holidays weren’t always a break from routine missions, but they were a brief respite from the bland food typically served in the mess hall. We’ve gathered some diary entries from Thanksgiving Day in 1943 and 1944. Happy Thanksgiving!

Harry E. Terrell, 405/38
11/23/44, Morotai, clear.
“Today is Thanksgiving! I got up at 9:00 and Stanley, Shrout, Zombie and I started laying the rest of the floor. We put up the uprights and knocked off for chow. We finished the tent in the afternoon and cleaned up in time for Thanksgiving dinner! We had turkey, spuds, peas, buns, fruit salad, pumpkin pie and coffee – it was “The nuts” with a white table-cloth, candles and ferns! We’re observing blackouts at sunset now. The 71st lost a ship and we had two shot up with one man injured today.”

11/24/44 John “Hank” Henry, 405/38
“…November 24…I’m writing this on our way home from a strike [mission].

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, we flew all day and it was a rough one. When we landed, I tossed down my two jiggers of bourbon, then went to the mess hall for turkey, dehydrated potatoes, green peas, and pumpkin pie. I loaded up my plate, but couldn’t eat a thing. I hope some of the bastards met their honorable ancestors today.

Well — Land Ho — I’d best get to work…

Upon our return to Morotai, we learned the Bombardier in the first element had left his extended vision knob rolled out after he used it to search for the target through his sight, and consequently his bombs had released prematurely. The Bombardier cried like a baby as he caught hell from our C.O. When the photos came back from group, I was highly congratulated on my run over the target.

It was also on this date the first strikes were made against Japan from the S.W.P.A. This was the start of the devastating B-29 attacks on Tokio from the Marianas.”

 

408th Thanksgiving

It was a little late, but the units back at Reid River were treated to a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings on December 3, 1942. This photo layout shows various aspects of the 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group’s celebration. (Samuel Schifren Collection)

 

11/25/43
Joseph C. Cox, 64/43
“Thanksgiving chow.”

11/25/43
Francis G. Sickinger, 64/43
“We were put on alert today and would have taken off except that the news got to town, and so the mission was called off. We’ll probably go out tomorrow afternoon. The 30th ground echelon is still around. Thanksgiving today and I guess I’m plenty thankful to be alive yet.”

11/25/43
Robert W. White, 65/43
“Had detail today. We had a good dinner – turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, string beans, yaws (native food), gravy potatoes and pumpkin pie. Eddie Rickenbach sent some Camels down to us. We went up the club and then down to Bryan’s tent. I got a card from Mom that read: ‘To Robert W. White – My Xmas gift to you is part of my self. I have given a pint of my blood at the Red Cross Blood Donation Center. May it prove a real gift to bring someone back home…’ That’s about the best thing I ever received.”

Piecing Together An Air Battle: Balikpapan October 10, 1944

We found a couple of interesting diagrams in our archives that we wanted to share with our readers. These were done after the 65th Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group returned from a raid on Balikpapan in October 1944. This was a significant moment in the 43rd’s history, as it was one of several Fifth Air Force units participating in the raid that day. For a quick refresher on Balikpapan, read this post.

Sorting out the chaos of an air battle with only one side of the evidence was no mean feat. Here, we see one of the tools Intelligence Officers used to make sense of it all. These diagrams of the air interception during the October 10, 1944 raid on Balikpapan, Borneo were drawn after debriefing each returning aircrew of their own experience. The composite sketch still leaves some details uncertain—and elements such as the two fighters with bailing pilots might have been one bailing pilot, seen from different aircrews’ perspectives. Note that both sketches depict the same moment in time. We believe the black splotches represent white phosphorus bombs, dropped from J1N1 “Irving” fighters (labelled in the diagram as a “Nick”). We know from Japanese records obtained after the war that the Japanese planes were Navy aircraft: thus the Oscars and Tonys (Army aircraft) listed in the diagram must have actually been A6M5 Model 52s—an advanced variation of the classic “Zero” fighter.

65/43 Balikpapan Interception side view

65/43 Balikpapan Interception top view

Lieutenant Byrne’s Postwar Adventure in Japan

After the war ended, the men who hadn’t yet reached the required number of points to head home were sent to Japan as part of the occupation force. One of those men was Lieutenant Arthur D. Byrne. He was part of the 65th Squadron Intelligence section and wouldn’t be sent Stateside until February 1946. In January of that year, he had a memorable excursion to the house of a Japanese man who sold silk, kimonos and other fabric goods.

“Last night I had quite an experience,” wrote Byrne. “Earlier in the afternoon Toepperwine and I were making the rounds of the shops in Tachikawa. While we were looking at some embroidery, a well dressed Japanese male of about forty spoke to us in English, making suggestions about the comparative values and prices of goods we were looking at. We left a few minutes later and he walked out to the street with us where he explained that he has a large shop in Tokyo dealing in fine silk products and inviting us to come see him later in the evening. We were disgusted with the cheap junk in Tachikawa, so, when we returned to the base, we called Felix and asked him to come over to the barracks and bring a jeep. He did so with fairly good grace, and we took off at 1830 bundled to the ears.

“We had been told by our Mr. Turuya that he lived in Asagaya, about half way to Tokyo on the railroad, which he advised us to take. We started by asking everyone we saw on the post where to find Asagaya. They never heard of it. We asked the MPs at the gate. They never heard of it either, but they had a map showing everything of importance in the Greater Tokyo area. It wasn’t on the map. The Jap boys in the civilian Labor Office told us in a few thousand precise phrases that they didn’t know it either. We decided to ask at the railway station in Tachikawa. The interpreter was out. There was a consultation resembling that which must have preceded the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It resulted in a rough map drawn upside down, as regards compass directions, and accompanied by the explanation that Asagaya is easy to find by train, but by jeep, well, ha ha, shrug, grin, no so easy. We muttered the usual ‘sank you’ and left in a cloud of dust. By this time it was 20 minutes to 8, in other words 1940. Finally, after twisting and turning and bypassing bombed bridges, we got to Route 2, a wide, black topped highway into Tokyo. After two miles we stopped at a little road side 2 x 4 police station. The blue uniformed Nip cop, smiled, nodded, consulted and emerged with chalk with which he and his colleague sketched a map near actual size on the pavement in the moon light. They put in circles for towns, 9 kilometers to Shofu, etc., drew a bridge, a side road to the left and then, with a triumphant flourish of chalk, Asagaya itself. We ‘sanked’ them and sped away for the prescribed number of kilos, stopping occasionally for confirmation from civilians still abroad at this late hour. Some of them understood us but didn’t know; others understood us but didn’t give a damn if we went to Asagaya or to Hades.”

Google map of the distance between Tachikawa and Asagaya

This screen shot from Google Maps shows present day routes between Tachikawa and Asagaya, Japan. The green and orange lines in the middle symbolize modern rail routes between the two cities.

[map of the distance between Tachikawa and Asagaya, orange and green line are the modern rail lines]

It was bitterly cold out and their prolonged exposure to the cold air was leading the men to believe they were frostbitten and needed to hurry to Asagaya. They stopped many times along the way to confirm that they were heading the right way, and, eventually reached the Asagaya station.

Upon arrival, “Topper got out, took the paper bearing our friend’s name and address in Jap characters and waved it around. Top is one of the biggest men who ever came out of Texas, although certainly one of the gentlest. To add to his dimensions he was wrapped in a complete Eskimo flying outfit. Also, Americans were obviously a complete novelty in these parts, and a crowd gathered at once with a small sword-dragging cop trying frantically to bore into the center of things to satisfy his own curiosity…after a few minutes we hustled the cop into the jeep to act as a guide, since he seemed so interested and so willing to be helpful…It seems we had passed the place we were looking for. He directed us to it and we pulled up at about 9 o’clock after a two and one half hour hunt.”

The men were greeted outside by Mr. Turuya and led inside to a comfortable room in which they were directed to sit down, cover themselves with a blanket and warm themselves by the heater in the center of the room. They discovered that they weren’t frostbitten after all, just very cold.

“Wine was brought by Mrs. T. and served in tiny glasses on a small lacquered tray. Meanwhile we explained our delay to our host who was amused and sympathetic. Then his two little boys came in and sat quietly by the door. They were little burr heads dressed in army style clothes. I gave them two bars of Baker’s chocolate. They beamed, said ‘sank you,’ and departed. I suppose they are not allowed to smack their lips before company. All this time Mrs. T. was sitting or kneeling, I couldn’t tell which because of the long kimono she wore and the low cushions. Mr. T. turned and spoke to her, she definitely kneeled, smiled, and then left the room. We engaged in more small talk of this and that, of anything by the recent hostilities, and presently she was back with piles of silks, brocades and embroidery, kimonos, obis, scarfs. They were passed to Topper and Felix and me, and we ogled, murmured and exclaimed and were pretty generally bewildered by the richness of it all. I began to fidget and finally managed a vague question about process, which I felt was a breach of etiquette at that stage of the game. Mr. T. smiled indulgently and reassured me, ‘You select what you want. Do not worry about price.’ So I did, recklessly—seven or eight brocades, a kimono and two small embroidered pieces, plus a dazzling four foot length of irresistible something or other. Then Felix and Topper finished their selections, and after more talk over cups of cocoa (we were promised green tea next time), we suddenly discovered it was growing late. Then came the question of price. This occasioned surprisingly little disagreement and the goods were wrapped and handed to us. At 11:20 we were bowed out with good nights and best wishes, further invitations and much smiling.

“Half way back to camp we had a flat, but, strangely, we had both spare tire and tools, a definite oversight on the part of someone. We fixed it in twenty minutes and got to the Field about 12:20. So now I’ve been in a Japanese home and have experience the traditional Jap courtesy. Whether it’s real or false, I still haven’t the faintest idea. It looked genuine.”

Remember the 15

May 18, 1945 was an all too eventful day for the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. Seven of its B-24s were sent to make up a third of a 21-plane raid with the 403rd and 64th Squadrons on Tainan Airdrome, located on Formosa (now Taiwan). Antiaircraft fire was heavy and accurate, and coming from both Tainan and the nearby Okayama Airdrome. Aircrews noticed two strange types of antiaircraft bursts. One looked like a gasoline fire bursting in midair, the other appeared to be a stream of fire trailed by smoke.

As the crews made their runs, 1/Lt. James J. Franklin’s B-24 took a direct hit and exploded. All ten members of the crew as well as an observer were killed. To the right of Franklin was 1/Lt. Rudolph J. Cherkauer in B-24 #373, which felt the brunt of the explosion and ended up leaving Tainan with two hundred new holes and three wounded men aboard. The bombardier was knocked unconscious by the blast. Both port engines were smoking heavily, but the #2 was still capable of running at reduced power. It was enough to get them to the emergency field at Lingayen, Luzon. The three wounded crewmen were brought to the hospital and eventually recovered.

B-24 Petty Gal

This 65th Squadron B-24, nicknamed PETTY GAL, was almost shot down in a bombing mission over Tainan Drome on Formosa. The antiaircraft fire alone was responsible for bringing down two B-24s, and it put around 200 holes in PETTY GAL. Fortunately, pilot 1/Lt. Rudolph J. Cherkauer was able to bring it back to Lingayen on three engines. (James L. Klein Collection)

First Lieutenant Charles H. Wilt, another 65th Squadron pilot, finished his run and was hit in the #4 engine. To make matters worse, the #3 engine was running away and the smell of gas permeated the fuselage. Everyone on board knew they needed to bail out before their B-24 exploded, but they were warned against it by PBY crews standing by for rescues. By that point, Wilt’s B-24 was 6000 feet above rough seas with 25-foot waves, which would make it harder for rescue crews to find the downed airmen. Still, the crew felt like everyone would have a better chance of survival if the men bailed out.

Unfortunately, they were also short on life jackets. Four of the 11 crewmen had to go without, including 2/Lt. Norbert C. Straeck, who volunteered because he was a strong swimmer. The other B-24 crews watched 11 parachutes open and only the men with the Mae Wests were rescued. Two men went under before they were fished out and two more disappeared. It was a tough day for the 65th Squadron, losing 15 men and two B-24s. A funeral for the 15 men, 1/Lt. James J. Franklin, 2/Lt. Frances J. Smith, 2/Lt. Darrell F. Hoffman, 2/Lt. John R. Duff, Cpl. Walter J. McKay, Jr., T/Sgt. Henry A. Cichy, T/Sgt. Francis J. Dougherty, S/Sgt. Lloyd B. Arie, S/Sgt. Frank D. Byrd, S/Sgt. Donald C. Gayle, S/Sgt. Sigmund J. Magiera, 2/Lt. Norbert C. Straeck, 2/Lt. Gabriel R. Levinson, Cpl. Walter J. Christensen and Cpl. Lehland Stauffer, was held on May 23rd at the 43rd’s chapel. Below is reproduced the order of service for the event:

Choral Prelude Choir
Call to Worship
Leader: Renewed this day be all noble memories
People: All high and holy traditions of the past
Leader: Let us remember all those who went over the sea
to share the perils of oppressed peoples
People: Who suffer torment from fire and smoke
Leader: Who took food to the starving in strange lands
People: Who went down to the sea in ships and into the
air like eagles.

Hymn #99 “BLEST BE THE TIE THAT BINDS”

Call to prayer
Leader: The great and brave who have gone before us and
blazed the trail, gave freely of their talents, their strength,
their lives. We who would remember them to-day unite
our prayers in memory of their noble giving. Let us pray
together.

Unison Prayer
O God, here in the memory of death we pause in thy sight
for life is precious to thee. Even as the life of those we know
and care for is dear to us so dost thou care for each of thy
children. And because we know this we have no fear for
those we know who leave us to return to thee. Their release
from the limitations of the flesh is a greater freedom than
ever they have known before. Lift us above the shadow of
mortality into the light of hope.

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)

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