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.
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.