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.

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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.

Diary Excerpt: Paul Jones

We wanted to share some fascinating insights as well as some thought-provoking questions in a diary entry written by Paul Jones, a ground crewman who served in the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. Jones was with the 43rd when they left the United States in early 1942 and he returned to the States on November 1, 1944.

January 23, 1944

The other night I went out to the line to check the airplanes, as I always do every night after they are loaded. When I find anything wrong it means extra duty for the crew chief who is responsible. It is a rare thing to find anything amiss but occasionally the boys get lax on details. A few nights previous I had found a fuze unsaftied in Strang’s ship. You should have heard the howl he put up when I reprimanded him.

Anyway I was checking Sam’s ship — one of the tail fuzes had a 8-11 sec. detonator where it should have been 4-5. For an instant it flashed through my mind, “You can change that ‘set’ and say nothing about it.” “Nobody will know the difference.” Naturally I didn’t follow that impulse. At times like this it has to be soldier first and brother second. When I came in and told him about it all he said was, “Yes. I guess I checked them for color instead of reading each one.” It meant a lot to me that he offered no excuse. I told him of my first thoughts and he said I’d have been a hell of a soldier if I had done that.

Tonight I was at church. It is in the open as a lot of soldiers are having their services under the sky. The chaplain is praying, asking that out of all this bloodshed and destruction comes a better world. In the middle of the prayer one of our ships takes off that we had just finished loading an hour or so before. The sound of its engines rises in volume, full blowers on, it passes over and the sound dies out. The chaplain hasn’t faltered in his prayer. We had loaded those ships to kill and there we were sitting at church. What a mixed up world this is, I and millions all over the world pray that out of this will come good. God must have a plan for the whole affair but it is not for us to understand.

We all over here wonder how it will be after the war. I know people at home wonder the same. What difference will this war make on people living a hundred years or even fifty years from now. Will it bring security for the generations of children to come or will, in another twenty years or so, the world be at it again? Only pages of some future history hold the answer.

Mom’s letters come regularly and are a big lift to us both. She says when we get home she is going to cook a whole pound of scrapple and she and Sam will sit down and stow in away. Raleigh is still in school and doing well according to his letters. If they go behind in their marks for one month out they go. I hope Pal is fortunate enough not to have to go overseas.

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

Port Moresby

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

Port Moresby then and now

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

Floridablanca

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

Floridablanca

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

 

Owi Island

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

Owi then and now

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

Finschhafen

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

Finschhafen then and now

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

Gusap

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

Gusap then and now

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

 

Sources and additional reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Bomb Group

If you are familiar with the movements of the 43rd Bomb Group during World War II, you know that their B-17s were phased out in 1943 as Fifth Air Force made the decision for heavy bomber units to fly the B-24. What happened to the trusty B-17s that were transferred out of the 43rd? Below is the story of one aircraft, CAP’N & THE KIDS (Profile #21 in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I), with information from the book Claims to Fame: The B-17 Flying Fortress.

After flying 90 missions as an active combat aircraft, CAP’N & THE KIDS was transferred out of the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on October 18, 1943. It entered armed transport service with the 54th Troop Carrier Wing in November and was sent to the 433rd Troop Carrier Group, where it was given the nose number 371. The 433rd was kept busy, not only by transporting troops, but also hauling supplies, equipment, and evacuating wounded personnel and civilians.

CAP’N & THE KIDS was damaged on February 19, 1944 after a C-47 taxied into the plane. It was promptly sent out to the 478th Service Squadron for repairs, then went to the 69th Troop Carrier Squadron four days later. From there, the B-17 as well as another former 43rd B-17, THE LAST STRAW, were flown to Finschhafen for Detached Service. These aircraft would become part of an eight B-17 formation that would drop supplies to the men at Momote on March 1st. CAP’N & THE KIDS made three supply drops, then flew over to the Japanese-held territory and made three strafing runs. Momote was a contested beachhead, and the B-17 attacks also served to distract enemy troops from attacking US soldiers as they grabbed the supplies.

The next day, the crew’s supply mission got a little more interesting when CAP’N & THE KIDS was jumped by three Japanese fighters as it was approaching Momote. The first fighter, a Tony, made a pass, then dove away as the right waist gunner returned fire. Next, a Zero attacked the B-17 from below and did not hit the aircraft. At last came another Tony, which made a couple of attacks as the B-17 pilot flew towards cover provided by nearby American destroyers. The left waist gunner hit the Tony in both the engine and right wing and the attacking aircraft fell away smoking, then hit the water below. Once the fighters stopped attacking the B-17, the crew finished their ammo supply drop mission. After they landed and inspected the plane, they discovered two bullet holes in the tail and they were missing an antenna, which had been shot away during the attack.

More than a month later, CAP’N & THE KIDS joined the 317th Troop Carrier Group to support the landings on Hollandia. The B-17 was used to drop supplies to troops until their airdrome at Cyclops was functional. In May, the aircraft was sent on a mission to Biak, where 7000 pairs of shoes were dropped for the men clearing out the island. August 10, 1944 marked the end of the plane’s service as an armed transport, as it was transferred to the U.S. Eighth Army the following month for a new job as Lt. General Robert L. Eichelberger’s B-17. By this time, Major Charles Downer was a former 403rd Squadron Commander, and he was asked to fly Eichelberger’s aircraft, which had been renamed MISS EM after Eichelberger’s wife, Emaline.

B-17 MISS EM and crew

After its service with the Group, CAP’N & THE KIDS was transferred initially to the 433rd Troop Carrier Group. It continued to serve as an armed transport until August 1944, when it was overhauled and turned into a VIP aircraft. The nose of the plane was adorned with a red rose and it was renamed MISS EM, after the wife of the 8th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, who used it as his personal transport. Maj. Charles B. Downer, former C.O. of the 403rd Squadron, became Eichelberger’s pilot, heading a crew of 43rd Bomb Group veterans. From left to right: Maj. Charles B. Downer, pilot; 2/Lt. Sidney Webb, co-pilot; Capt. Thomas E. Porada, navigator; M/Sgt. Charles R. Cole, crew chief and engineer; S/Sgt. Alfred Goldman, radio operator; Sgt. F.T. Sullivan, waist gunner; S/Sgt. Brian J. Marcorelle, assistant engineer and tail gunner. (Howard K. Anderson Collection)

Downer and the rest of the flight crew thoroughly enjoyed flying MISS EM. It was a reliable aircraft that took them all around New Guinea, the Philippines, and, among other locations, the occasional trip down to Sydney. The crew had an excellent view of operations that were carried out, including the recapture of Corregidor and Manila. MISS EM’s final flight with Eichelberger and his crew may have been August 6, 1945. It was transferred to the Eighth Army and went on to make 160 flights, with 63 of them classified as combat missions. CAP’N & THE KIDS/MISS EM’s long career in the Pacific Theater ended sometime afterward and the aircraft was scrapped at Tacloban in April 1946.