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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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 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)

Pearl Harbor II: Attack on Clark Field

A few days prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, commander of the U.S. air forces in the Philippines, was closely watching the deterioration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Japan. A 500 mile gap that stood between the 35 B-17s under his command at Clark Field and Japanese air forces at Formosa, which was well within flying range of Japanese fighters. Concerned, Brereton requested permission to move the B-17s 500 miles south to the airfield on Del Monte, which was still under construction. On December 4th, permission was granted to move eight planes each from the 14th and 93rd Bomb Squadrons of the 19th Bomb Group.

Four days later (since they were on the other side of the International Date Line), word of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor quickly spread around Clark Field and the men stationed there knew that it was only a matter of time before their base was attacked. Three times, Brereton requested permission to attack Formosa, which, owing to the chaos in Hawaii, was denied. Still, at 0830 15 B-17s took off to patrol the area. Brereton received a call from MacArthur himself a couple of hours later, granting him permission for the strike.

As crews prepared for the attack, a radar station on the west coast of Luzon at Iba Airfield picked up incoming Japanese aircraft before communications were cut off as the airfield was attacked. They would arrive over Clark Field within an hour. When the raid on Clark Field began, only the P-40s had been able to take off and they had been diverted from protecting Clark Field. Just like the scene at Pearl Harbor, B-17s were lined up on the runway, easy targets for the 53 “Betty” bombers above. The Japanese had expected a fierce fight from the Americans instead of a repeat of what happened hours earlier in Hawaii. Men could only watch helplessly from foxholes as their planes were bombed and strafed. In the end, most of the B-17s and about a third of the P-40s were destroyed.

In the days following the Clark Field attack, most of the 19th Bomb Group air and ground crews were moved to Del Monte. The few that stayed behind tried to repair some of the B-17s that had been damaged and to stage missions. Between combat and reconnaissance missions and being on the receiving end of several Japanese strikes, the number of operational B-17s dwindled. Allied forces had to withdraw to Java by the end of December 1941 and on February 26, 1942, all forces were ordered to withdraw from Java to Australia. By this point, the 19th Bomb Group’s replacement, the 43rd Bomb Group, was sailing toward Australia on the Queen Mary.