Camp Life: Gusap to Nadzab to Hollandia

After a rough start at Gusap in late 1943/early 1944, the men of the 312th Bomb Group had adapted to life in their muddy, temporary home by May. For the most part, their meals consisted of canned meat and dehydrated vegetables or potatoes. The occasional shipment of fresh food from Australia was heartily welcomed by everyone. At times, men would trade items such as razors and cigarettes for bananas, papayas, or coconuts from the villagers. If they weren’t looking for something to eat, they would trade for bows and arrows to keep as souvenirs. Somehow, the 312th acquired a Coke machine with the help of Lt. Harold Friedman of the Special Services section.

New equipment and crews were filtering into the unit when they were needed, which also made life in the Pacific easier. So, too, did plumbing and wooden floors as well as a laundry service. At this point, the 312th got to watch American movies on a regular basis and visit Australia for some rest and relaxation more often. There was also less disease in camp, and all these things contributed to a higher morale among the men in the unit.

It wasn’t long after the Hollandia raids of April 1944 that rumors of moving to Hollandia began to fly. Because that base required more development before it could accommodate the 312th, the air echelon of the Group was temporarily moved to Nadzab on June 11th. The move came with a few perks, namely newer movies and treats such as cookies, candy and juice. Meanwhile, the remainder of the unit had received orders on May 30th to head to Hollandia. Their move was staggered over June and July, as there was a shortage of C-47s to transport larger groups of men.

Upon arrival at Hollandia, it looked like the Japanese had left the base in a hurry. Aside from aircraft, vehicles and equipment strewn about, they had left behind clothing and blankets. Those and the huts they lived in were burned and the equipment was stripped of anything that might prove to be valuable
for trade with infantrymen. There were instances of hungry Japanese soldiers going through camp to scavenge for food, but none of them were captured or shot by the 312th. Around the end of June, the air echelon began trickling in and got to experience the most annoying thing about Hollandia: the dust. It was everywhere and got into everything.

A-20s at Hollandia

The 388th Squadronʼs parked A-20s can be seen at Hollandia with dust rising from a road in the background. Depending on the amount of rainfall, dust was a recurrent problem for operations from the base. (Martin P. DeNicola Collection)

Aircraft were covered as much as possible to keep the dust from getting into engines, turrets and cockpits. Taxiing around Hollandia was a tense experience because dust clouds created by A-20s greatly reduced visibility and planes seemed to come out of nowhere all of a sudden. To combat these issues, engines were kept at idling speed and line chiefs in jeeps were often used to guide pilots to the busy airstrips.

The men began to long for Gusap. It was much quieter, there was less dust, the recreation facilities were better and they got to enjoy cool breezes through their campsite. Food quality hadn’t improved and they were still waiting for more regular mail deliveries. Still, morale remained high and they knew it was a step forward in the war.

 

Read more about the 312th Bomb Group in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

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3 More Stories from the 312th

HOT SHOT CHARLIE’s Final Flight
Back in March 1944, A-20G #43-9480 joined the 387th Squadron. A year and two months later, it had been designated the oldest A-20 in the squadron with 600 hours put on the original engines. By that time, it was a difficult aircraft to fly, as it was extremely unstable (possibly due to a bomb blast or hard landing damaging the frame) and black smoke would pour out of the right engine.

On the 5th, 2/Lt. Warren H. Phillips had been assigned HOT SHOT CHARLIE on a mission to Solano. He reported smoke coming from his engine after coming off the target, which wasn’t surprising. The engine, however, finally reached its end life and stopped running. As Phillips continued home on the single working engine, the dead engine burst into flames and Phillips and his gunner, Cpl. Douglas Shafer, were forced to bail out of the A-20.

Shafer landed with cuts and bruises, and Phillips with a broken leg after he slammed into the vertical stabilizer when he bailed out. The pilot was sent to a hospital at Lingayen, then went home. His gunner returned to the 387th.

Hot Shot Charlie

1/Lt. Edward E. Bretch (on the right) of the 387th poses with Capt. Wann V. Robinson in front of HOT SHOT CHARLIE. The Squadronʼs oldest A-20, it was known for its stability problems and questionable engine performance. On May 5, 1945, 2/Lt. Warren H. Phillips flew it to bomb and strafe Solano, in northern Luzon. After leaving the target, one engine stopped running and burst into flames, forcing Phillips and Cpl. Douglas Shafer to bail out. Shafer returned to the Squadron with only cuts and bruises, but a fractured leg sent Phillips to the hospital at Lingayen, and eventually, back to the States. HOT SHOT CHARLIE crashed and burned near Mangaldan. (Wann V. Robinson Collection)

Most Memorable War Experience
In early May 1945, pilot Charles W. Stricker and gunner Ernest R. Reisinger were aboard an A-20 on an especially cloudy day. They were diverted from both their primary and their secondary target due to the bad weather. They flew on to the tertiary target, then headed home to Floridablanca on this much longer flight. As they flew back, Stricker tried to talk to Reisinger over the radio, but his gunner wouldn’t respond. Other pilots told Stricker that Reisinger was hunched over, leading the pilot to believe that his gunner was either severely wounded or dead. Upon landing, Stricker checked on Reisinger and discovered he was fast asleep. “He was astonished that I could sleep through all that,” said Reisinger.

Bringing Home a Souvenir
At the end of May 1945, the 387th and 389th were sent to strike Echague Airdrome. Edward L. Rust, a relatively new pilot in the 389th, used most of his ammunition over the target area. As he flew over a meadow, he saw muzzle flashes coming from a tree at his right. He headed for the tree, using his only working gun, which sounded a lot like a typewriter when he fired it. After he returned to base, his crew chief pulled a sapling half an inch in diameter from a wing. That was when they also noticed that the last eight inches of the propeller blades had been stained green by cut grass. Rust had been so focused on his target that he didn’t realize how low he was flying, nor did he see the tree he hit.

 

Find these stories in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Mickey

Delivered to the AAF on July 8, 1944, this “H” model went into service with the 389th Squadron in March 1945. The pilot was Maj. James M. Wylie, the 389th Squadron C.O., and he named the aircraft MICKEY, after his wife’s nickname. When S/Sgt. Orian E. Hackler, the crew chief, asked about a tail identifier, Wylie replied that it would be nice to have “X,” for “X marks the spot.”

Wylie claimed this aircraft was a “pilot’s dream,”, and he flew most of his missions in it. On one, he almost lost control of it over Nichols Field on February 6, 1945. An unexploded 20mm shell tore through one wing and the plane swooped towards the ground before Wylie regained control and returned his damaged mount to Mangaldan. Afterwards, the aircraft received only occasional small arms hits. The profile painting shows MICKEY at Mangaldan during April 1945, with 67 missions arranged around the large spade scoreboard. This aircraft carried a skull and crossbones on the nose, and the crew ID panel, done as a scroll, stated: PILOT ~ MAJ. J.M.WYLIE; on a second line: c.c. T/SGT HACKLER.

In June 1945, Wylie transferred to Headquarters, Far East Air Forces. Seventy-five of his 77 combat missions were flown in MICKEY. The aircraft was assigned next to 1/Lt. Lloyd A. Wilson, but details are lacking. Yet a third pilot also flew the plane before the war ended, and it is his name, “PILOT ~ CAPT. BEARDSLEE” that now appeared on the ID panel, reversed to white lettering on a black background that was on the plane when it was used as a backdrop for Squadron photos taken in late July 1945. By this time, the scoreboard from Maj. Wylie’s service had been removed from inside the spade design, and the name MICKEY had been replaced by LITA~BONITA. The port machine gun also was enhanced with a black background, with the forward half of the area decorated in white. It is this version that is shown on the port insert profile. Probably at this time, but perhaps earlier, a large spade was painted in a similar position on the other side of the plane, incorporating a pin-up girl from a Gil Elvgren work entitled “Fun House.” This is the image on the second profile insert. After the war ended, LITA~BONITA was flown with the rest of the Squadron’s aircraft to Biak, where it was scrapped several years later.

Some of Wiley’s significant missions in MICKEY, all in 1945, were: Tuguegarao, 2/14; Corregidor, 2/16; San Fernando, 3/11; Eiko, 3/29; Saiatau, 3/31; Ipo Dam, 4/25; Mt. Ayaas, 5/13; and Tuguegarao, 6/13.

View the color profile on page 208 of our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

389th Squadron officers

Officers of the 389th Squadron assembled for this photograph at Floridablanca in late July 1945. The 389th gained A-20 pilots from the 387th Squadron when that unit prepared for the projected B-32 conversion. However, that conversion had not been completed before the war ended. From left to right, the men are: (back row) 1/Lt. Charles L. Reynolds, 1/Lt. Everard Holske, 2/Lt. Leonard Eisen, 2/Lt. Dwight L. Gnepper, 1/Lt. Kenneth L. Brown, 2/Lt. Walbert C. Brooks, 2/Lt. Joseph C. Wallman, 2/Lt. John K. Schreiber, Capt. William T. Walsh, 2/Lt. Clough H. Blake, Jr., 2/Lt. John B. Price, 1/Lt. EinoA. Salo, 2/Lt. Howard S. Britton, 2/Lt. Elmer O. Jones and 1/Lt. Henry G. Dacey; (middle row) Capt. Chester H. Hummell, 2/Lt. Thomas P. Mulrooney, Capt. Raymond W. Beardslee, W/O Charles W. Stricker, 2/Lt. George F. Howatt, 2/Lt. Frances P. Delaney, 1/Lt. Frank M. Martin, Capt. Cecil W. Shelton, 1/Lt. Lawrence O. Feldkamp, Capt. Lloyd A. Wilson, 2/Lt. Hugh T. Mulhern, 1/Lt. Joseph C. Benet, Jr., 2/Lt. Elliot W. Wooldridge, F/O William A. Bartles, III and Capt. Leonard G. Dulac; (front row) 1/Lt. Donald K. Longer, Capt. Philip H. Schaaf, F/O Jack R. England, 2/Lt. Martin E. Heck, F/O Glenn V. Walters, 1/Lt. Martin Sobel, 2/Lt. Lawrence R. Poythress, 1/Lt. Harry T. Sharkey, 1/Lt. John G. Moore, Capt. Frederick H. Wood and F/O Guy P. Clark, Jr. LITA BONITA, formerly MICKEY, is the subject of Profile #28 in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s. Capt. Lloyd A. Wilson renamed the aircraft, which Capt. Raymond W. Beardslee also flew. (Eino A. Salo Collection)

 

3 Short Stories from the 312th

While our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s doesn’t have as many long stories as some of our other books, there are a lot of great short stories sprinkled throughout the 312th Bomb Group’s history. We picked out three of them to help you get to know the 312th better.

A Bronze Star for a Creative Mind
Theodore R. Tanner, a pilot in the 386th Squadron, flew more than 70 missions during his service in the Pacific Theater. Oddly enough, none of them were the reason behind him being awarded the Bronze Star in 1944. Instead, the award came out of an idea that changed combat photography. There were problems with combat photography on an A-20: it took about half a day to install the combat camera in the tail, which meant crews could only load film during the day (potentially degrading the film’s quality) and the alternate camera location of the engine nacelle was too shaky to allow for decent photography.

Tanner designed a new mount in the lower tunnel hatch of the A-20 that had a bracket which could clear the lower gunner’s door and fold in place during a flight. This mount allowed ground crews to install or remove cameras in five seconds and remove the camera film at night. Once V Bomber Command heard about Tanner’s innovative design, he was awarded his Bronze Star and his new mount became part of the light bomber’s standard equipment.

Obscured Vision
First Lieutenant Larry Folmar was flying a mission at But on April 26, 1944, when he had an unusual close call during a bombing run. The bombs used by the A-20s on this day were 500 pounds each and set with one-second delay fuses. Given the short delay, pilots had to be very careful to maintain their distance from each other so they wouldn’t end up flying into a bomb blast. This time, Folmar got caught by a blast of mud from a bomb dropped by the preceding aircraft. The mud coated Folmar’s windshield, making it impossible for him to see what was ahead of him.

Larry Folmar with his A-20

1/Lt. Larry Folmar of the 386th Squadron (shown here as a captain with his aircraft, CALAMITY JANE), had an unusual experience at But Airdrome on April 26, 1944. Mud from an exploding bomb covered Folmarʼs windshield, obscuring his view. He turned for the coast, hoping that “one of the planes ahead might skip a bomb off into the water, causing a blast of sea water that I might fly through.” That was what happened, clearing the windshield enough for Folmar to return to Gusap. (Mack E. Austin Collection)

While wondering how he was going to land when he returned home, Folmar had an idea. He wrote, “I then remembered that the far end of the landing strip we were hitting was at the coastline. It occurred to me that one of the planes ahead might, just might, skip a bomb off into the water, causing a blast of sea water that I might fly through. As I live and breathe that is what happened.” While the spray wasn’t enough to completely clear his windshield, it was enough to get home and land safely.

The Lighter Side of Missions
Once in a while, members of the ground crews were granted permission to fly with pilots on their missions. One day in June 1944, T/Sgt. George K. Hanks, Jr. rode along with 1/Lt. Robert C. Smith on a mission to a Japanese escape route behind Madang. Hanks decided to bring along his own bomb, a large rock, for Smith to release once they were over the target area. Hanks’ contribution wasn’t the only odd object dropped on the Japanese. Captain Peter J. Horan, an Australian Liaison Officer from the 389th Squadron, took his own “Bring Your Own Bomb” approach by unloading nails, grenades, books and rocks, among other things, on the targets below.

A tongue-in-cheek entry from the 312th’s Group history for June 1944 noted that the repeated missions southeast of Tadji had a strange effect on the A-20s. They “gradually acquired the ability to fly the course to Wewak, sans human control.” One pilot also reported that “his plane automatically buzzed down over Wewak and he couldn’t get control of the craft again until 3 strafing passes had been made.”

The Joker

The Joker Clark Field 14 JAN 312BG

The Joker by Jack Fellows

On the Philippine island of Luzon, elements of the 312th Bombardment Group, nicknamed the Roarin’ 20’s, sweep across Japanese-occupied Clark Field near Manila on January 14, 1945. The attack was executed in a line abreast formation at 100 feet or less above the airfield complex. First lieutenant Wilbur L. Cleveland of the 387th Bomb Squadron, flying an A-20G sporting a winning poker hand with the face of Batman’s nemesis, “the Joker,” narrowly avoids colliding with the squadron commanding officer, Capt. John C. Alsup, in his fatally damaged A-20. A burst of flak had just exploded in the bomb bay of Alsup’s A-20, causing it to nose up and burst into flames. It then crashed into the target, killing him and his gunner, Cpl. Oscar C. Rush. The third plane was flown by 1/Lt. Ormonde J. Frison of the 386th Squadron. Clark Field was the most important and heavily defended Japanese airfield on Luzon, and the low-level attacks were key to neutralizing Japanese airpower on the island during the critical week of the American amphibious landing at nearby Lingayen Gulf. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Buy a copy of this print on our website.

Repost: Building the Steak and Eggs Special

First appearing in May 2016, this entry was one of last year’s most popular posts. We like it so much we’re sharing it again with you this week.

 

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

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

Wings for THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL

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

 

THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL's new fuselage

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

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

THE "STEAK & EGG" SPECIAL christening

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

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

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

Repost: A Fiery Landing

This post first appeared on October 2, 2015.

Nine planes took off for Utarom, a Japanese air base on the west coast of Dutch New Guinea, on the morning of September 28, 1944. The mission was soon cancelled due to bad weather over their target and the A-20 crews headed back to base. Shortly into the return journey, 2/Lt. Kenneth S. DuFour lost oil pressure in one engine of his plane. He shut it down, jettisoned his bombs and told his gunner, S/Sgt. Thomas E. Smith, to bail out if the other engine quit. For the time being, things were stable, and DuFour continued flying back to Hollandia. Above him, 2/Lt. Walter F. Hill kept a watchful eye on DuFour’s A-20.

As DuFour approached Tanahmerah Bay, he followed the common landing procedure of switching from the bomb bay tanks to the wing tanks, only to have vapor lock shut down the remaining working engine. His A-20 went into a spiral dive and DuFour worked furiously to regain control of his plane by easing off the rudder trim and switching on the booster pumps. The engine restarted and the pilot got his plane back in control. For a short time, Hill thought DuFour’s A-20 would plunge into the water and was relieved after he pulled out of the dive. During the chaos, Smith bailed out with Hill watching him float towards the cliffs on the west side of the bay.

DuFour slowly took his aircraft up to 3000 feet in order to clear the mountains that stood between him and Hollandia. When he could not contact the tower, he decided to land on a dirt strip next to the runway. As he attempted to lower his landing gear, only the nose wheel came down. DuFour aborted the landing, determining that he would be better off ditching in nearby Sentani Lake. The descent to the lake was too difficult to control, leading the A-20 to crash into nearby trees instead. During the landing, the pilot was knocked unconscious.

When he woke up, he was surrounded by fuel and fire. DuFour attempted to escape the inferno through the canopy, but it wouldn’t open. Instead, he used a pistol to break the Plexiglas and climbed out of the plane. Soon after getting out, he heard the ammunition exploding. This worried the pilot, as he was unaware that his gunner had bailed out and thought Smith was still trapped.

Meanwhile, Hill landed at Hollandia and headed for a PT boat where he and others would search for Smith. A member of the 25th Liaison Squadron, T/Sgt. James D. Nichols, would help him with the search from the air. As they began looking, they saw a native canoe with Smith sitting in it. Other than minor cuts and bruises, he was uninjured after landing at Cape Korongwabb.

Back in the jungle, DuFour was certain that he landed near Hollandia and walked back in the direction of the base, which happened to be five miles away. After a six hour walk that included several stream crossings, the pilot heard an engine and began walking towards the sound for about 25 yards before he emerged from the jungle surrounding the base. DuFour walked into the closest tent, waking the occupant from a sound slumber.

The soldier drove the pilot to the hospital where he was treated for first, second and third degree burns over 30% of his body. All of his hair and part of his ears were burned off, as well as half the skin on his forehead. His hands and arms were also badly burned. At the hospital, skin grafts failed and he was transferred to the plastic surgery center at Northington Hospital in Alabama, where he stayed for six months. Once he recovered, he returned to flying status near the end of the war.

This story can be found in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

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

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

Lt. Robert L. Mosely at Hollandia with dog

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

 

Ralph Cheli with a Puppy

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

 

Taking a Breather

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

 

The 13th Squadron Mascot

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

 

Lt. Phillip B. Baldwin and Duffy

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

 

B-17 Ground Crewmen with Dog

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

 

Col. Davies and Pappy Gunn with a dog

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

 

Maj Marzolf and Ack Ack

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

 

Butch the dog

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

Tough Day at Utarom

By August 1944, months of Allied advancement in the Southwest Pacific had forced the Japanese back to the port town of Utarom and its airdrome, Kaimana, their only major airfield left on New Guinea. On the 11th of that month, 24 A-20 crews from the 386th and 387th Squadrons were briefed by Maj. William Pagh, who told the men that there were multiple antiaircraft guns guarding Kaimana and pointed out their locations. He recommended that they stay out of the range of the guns. Targets for the mission were mainly barges just off the Utarom coastline.

Arriving over Utarom with Pagh in the lead position, the pilots spread out as they looked for targets. Pagh spotted a couple of barges off Kaimana’s shoreline, and, ignoring his own advice from earlier, made a run on them. As he pulled up and exposed the belly of his aircraft, an antiaircraft position on the north end of the runway opened up. The right engine of Pagh’s A-20 was fatally damaged, leading the plane to drop and cartwheel into the water. Pilots who watched the scene said that the “hill north of the strip looked like a solid sheet of flame from 8 to 10 M/G machine gun] positions there.”

Kaimana Drome at Utarom

By August 1944, Utarom was the last major Japanese operational airdrome in Dutch New Guinea. On August 11, 1944, Maj. William S. Pagh, the Group Operations Officer, led the 386th and 387th Squadrons in an attack against it and was shot down and killed. (Claud C. Haisley Collection)

Utarom was nothing but chaos. Pilots were flying in every direction, making it more difficult to make any sort of attack run without worrying about being hit by an antiaircraft gunner from below or accidentally damaging a fellow crew’s A-20. At some point, the A-20 flown by 1/Lt. Frank W. Wells was hit and he issued a mayday call. While 1/Lt. Frank Hogan had spotted Wells’ plane about half a mile ahead of his own, he did not note any hits. Hogan lost sight of the A-20 soon after and it is speculated that Wells crashed into the sea.

Once it was time to head back to Hollandia, Hogan looked for the other A-20s in his squadron, picking up Capt. Joseph B. Bilitzke flying in BABY BLITZ. Both pilots circled the area, looking for any sign of Wells or any other 386th aircraft that still might be in the area. BABY BLITZ was suddenly hit by flak, damaging both the rudder and vertical stabilizer, and knocking out most of Bilitzke’s instrument panel. Hogan and Bilitzke then headed for the nearest base, Owi, and Bilitzke made a hair-raising landing with four armed bombs still in his bomb bay. The bombs, three of which were secure and the fourth hanging precariously, were defused the next day.

Reflecting on the day’s losses, pilots realized that the location of the barges may have been a trap meant to lure pilots towards shore gun installations. While the briefing prior to the mission discussed the locations of the biggest antiaircraft guns, it’s possible that the locations of other nearby antiaircraft guns had not been mentioned. Pilots were also inadvertently putting their lives and the lives of their gunners at risk by exposing aircraft bellies to antiaircraft fire. Overall, the mission to Utarom was painful for the 312th.