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.

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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 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)

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.

Debunking the Myths of Old 666

The Medal of Honor. It is the highest honor that can be given to a member of the U.S. military, often coming at a high price to the recipient. To date, more than 3000 men and one woman have received the Medal of Honor for going above and beyond the call of duty. There is one story in particular that continues to fascinate everyone for a couple of reasons: two men from the same mission received the Medal of Honor and the story itself has evolved into a legend. With that being the case, there are several myths of this harrowing story that we would like to set straight. First, a short recap of a B-17 mission that took place on June 16, 1943.

The Most Decorated American Air Crew, cover art for Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I. Painting by Jack Fellows

This painting depicts B-17E #41-2666, nicknamed LUCY, piloted by Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on June 16, 1943 flying a crucial photomapping mission for the invasion of Bougainville Island in the Solomons later that year. LUCY, alone, without fighter cover, was surrounded and attacked over the objective by eight Japanese Zero fighters from 251 Kokutai. The pilot refused to abort and held the plane on the required straight and level course until his assignment was finished.

During the air battle that followed, half of his crew was seriously wounded. The bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, fought back heroically throughout the engagement until he died of his injuries, earning him the Medal of Honor. Zeamer, although grievously injured himself, was also awarded the Medal of Honor for piloting the B-17 until the mission was complete, then assisting other crewmen on the long flight back to base in the severely damaged bomber, ensuring the safe return of the precious photos. The rest of the crew received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor, making them the most highly decorated American aircrew in history. Zeamer eventually recovered from his near-fatal injures.

Unfortunately, as the years have passed, this amazing story has been embellished and those embellishments have been accepted as fact in print and on the screen. We’ve compiled a list of the three worst offenders.

  1.  Capt. Zeamer and his crew were attacked by 15-21 Japanese fighters.
    False. Their plane was attacked by eight fighters. Due to the ensuing chaos, it was easy for fighters to be double counted by members of the crew in different areas on the B-17. Some would fall away, smoking as they dove, and those were also potentially double counted.
  2. The crew and pilots were a bunch of “screw-ups and misfits.”
    False. While Capt. Zeamer had a hard time getting the hang of the B-26 (it was a tricky plane to fly), he was well-liked by everyone. He was in his element after he transferred from the 22nd to 43rd Bomb Group and started flying the B-17. Zeamer handpicked his crew, looking for men who were disciplined, could keep a cool head during combat, got along well with everyone, and were willing to go the extra mile when needed.
  3. LUCY was rescued from the scrap heap.
    False. Even though this B-17 was known as a “Hard Luck Hattie” because it was so problematic during missions, it was never sent to the boneyard. Still, it wasn’t the best shape when Zeamer acquired it and he and his crew spent a considerable amount of time updating it to their specifications for mapping missions.

This is but a brief overview of an epic mission from World War II. If you want a more detailed account of the mission and LUCY (profiled in Appendix V), buy a copy of our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I. You can also head to Clint Hayes’ site for a deep dive into the mission as well as a biography of Capt. Zeamer.

Pulling the Thread of History: We’re Heading to History Camp!

As we prepare for History Camp Colorado next month, we wanted to give you some insight into how we chose our topic, the disappearance of General Walker’s aircraft on January 5, 1943. For that, we want to introduce you to our Managing Editor, Madison Jonas, who will be giving the presentation. Take it away, Madison!

You know what I like about studying history? You get to follow the consequences. Living in the present, it’s hard to ascribe a chain of causality through the actions you take and the events around you. But when we study historical events in detail and with focus, the chain can be linked together. And sometimes, you get an event that has outsize influence—small in isolation, but hugely significant to the events that follow.

Such an event occurred on January 5, 1943. There was an air raid conducted by heavy bombers—B-17s from the 43rd Bomb Group and B-24s from the 90th—based in New Guinea against Simpson Harbor, a major Japanese port in the Southwest Pacific. Going purely by the numbers, it was a small affair: 14 planes attacking, three shot down, two crews rescued, one cargo vessel sunk and three more ships damaged. But the consequences would ultimately shift the nature of the war in New Guinea over the next six months.

Unlike prior air raids against Rabaul and Simpson Harbor, the attack on January 5th was a daylight mission. Rabaul was a heavily defended base complex, and beyond the reach of fighter cover, so conventional wisdom had long-range bombers flying small missions at night and doing negligible damage in a token effort to harass the base. General Kenneth Walker, head of V Bomber Command, thought that a massed formation of bombers would be able to defend itself from enemy interception and inflict severe damage on enemy operations. Walker had even flown on the lead plane to assess the battle damage as a proof-of-concept. Tragically, he was lost that day, along with the entire crew of the SAN ANTONIO ROSE. The loss nixed further daylight bombing of Rabaul for the time being. It remained the center of Japanese operations, able to send out reinforcements to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands largely undeterred. Air operations against it saw no major impact until fighter coverage could be brought into range.

An Expensive Mission by Jack Fellows

On January 5, 1943, Brig. Gen. Kenneth N. Walker planned a large daylight raid on Rabaul to disrupt an assembling convoy. Walker was flying as an observer in the lead plane, B-17F-10 SAN ANTONIO ROSE. Over Rabaul, the bomber was hit by flak and then pursued south along the coast of New Britain by a flight of Oscar fighters from 11 Sentai. The location where the B-17 went down is unknown; however, it may have gone down deep in the remote Kol Mountains of New Britain. Two crewmembers, Maj. Jack W. Bleasdale and Capt. Benton H. Daniel, bailed out and survived the shootdown, only to be taken prisoner and executed by the Japanese. General Walker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Painting by Jack Fellows.

The target of the attack on January 5th had been a convoy carrying over 4000 soldiers for a new ground offensive in the mountains of New Guinea. The convoy was scheduled to depart on the 6th, but by a stroke of luck it had been moved to nearby Jacquinot Bay the night before, dodging the strike. The near-miss, however, was shocking to Japanese higher-ups, who ordered additional fighter coverage on the convoy for the duration of its mission, which led to a fierce air battle over the convoy as it unloaded at New Guinea. Those troops were then sent to capture an outlying Allied mountain airbase called Wau, which led to the next ground engagement of the war in the Southwest Pacific. The U.S. also learned from the attempted convoy interception, developing specialized anti-shipping tactics that would lead to the overwhelming victory of Allied air power in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

The January 5th raid had significant reverberations, and I think this was partly reflected in the decision for General Walker to receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery in organizing and flying on the lead ship of the mission. The full breadth of the story, however, can only be seen in hindsight, with detailed research to piece together all the elements of the story. This is just a general summary—I’ll be delving into far more detail in my seminar at History Camp Colorado on November 12th. The story in full reaches back several days into December and forward into the present day, where the search for General Walker’s B-17 continues.

 

Save the date! IHRA is heading to HistoryCamp in November

This November, the first HistoryCamp in Colorado will be held in Denver. HistoryCamp is a day for history lovers of all types to get together and learn about a wide variety of subjects. Our session is called Medal of Honor: General Walker’s Disappearance on January 5, 1943. We will be discussing the January 5th B-17 mission to Rabaul and its place in the New Guinea campaign, as well as the possible fate of the B-17 SAN ANTONIO ROSE. Between sessions, there will also be an author’s table where you can pick up a copy of any (or all) of our books. For information on how you can attend HistoryCamp Colorado, visit their website. You don’t want to miss it!

Check us out at HistoryCamp Colorado on November 12th!

New Guinea Weather Downs “Hell from Heaven Men”

Not long after the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Allied forces began focusing on Wewak, a Japanese-held base where the 4th Air Army was located. Six B-17s from the 64th Squadron took off on the evening of March 14, 1943 to attack a convoy that had been located the previous night some miles north of Wewak. The crews, which had battled some of the worst weather they had seen yet, soon split up: three returned to Seven Mile, three continued on towards the convoy. Of the three in search of the convoy, only two reached its location and bombed it without results. Before reaching the target, pilot 2/Lt. Arthur L. McMullan in the last B-17 called “HELL FROM HEAVEN MEN” decided that it was time to turn back before running out of fuel.

Surrounded by billowing cumulonimbus clouds, McMullan struggled with turbulence and icing wings for four hours. The bombs were salvoed and instead of heading for Seven Mile, McMullan began flying towards Dobodura. A little while later, they men knew they were near Buna, but visibility was nearly zero. They dropped flares to find out if they were over land or water and saw the flares hit the water below them. Not having the time to ditch the plane on land, the men prepared for a water landing.

A message received at 0230 at Port Moresby said, “Out of gas going down for water landing.”  Seven minutes later, another one stating, “Am okay near Buna.” was received. By this point, the plane was 15 miles northwest of Buna. Out of fuel, one engine quit. That was soon followed by one last message: “Going down.”

The B-17 nose-dived into the ocean at more than 100mph. It is unknown whether that dive was due to poor visibility and not being able to see the water’s surface or the wind flipping the plane at the last moment. Fortunately, four or five of the men were able to escape the plane before it sank a few seconds after hitting the water.

Staff Sergeant Robert L. Freeman, 2/Lt. Howard G. Eberly, and 2/Lt. John M. Dawson were able to find each other and began the six or seven mile swim to shore. The tide was with them, but it was an exhausting trip. Four hours into their swim, Freeman became too tired to continue. He decided to float to shore and told Eberly and Dawson to continue without him. Reluctantly, they did so, but not before telling Freeman that they would send someone back to help him when they got to shore. It would be the last time they ever saw him.

Within the hour of sunrise, the tide turned and the men, who were now gaining the attention of passing sharks, began swimming parallel to the shoreline. More than 12 hours after landing in the water, they finally reached land at the mouth of the Kumusi River, about 24 miles northwest of Buna Mission. For half an hour, Eberly and Dawson lay in the sand, regaining their strength. Once they were able to stand, they began walking and came upon a native who was fishing on the beach. A few minutes later, a U.S. infantry patrol arrived. This patrol had been sent out to look for the downed crew. Natives were sent to look for Freeman, but he was not found.

Dawson and Eberly were sent to a local hospital, then transferred to a hospital at Port Moresby a few days later. Both men made a full recovery. In all, Freeman, McMullan, 2/Lt. MacJilton Sargent, Sgt. Wayne G. Sprecher, Cpl. Milburn J. Glanville, PFC. Hermann Bender and Pvt. James M. Grahl were lost on that fateful mission to Wewak.

The Most Decorated American Aircrew

The Most Decorated American Air Crew, cover art for Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I. Painting by Jack Fellows

This painting depicts B-17E #41-2666, nicknamed LUCY, piloted by Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on June 16, 1943 flying a crucial photomapping mission for the invasion of Bougainville Island in the Solomons later that year. LUCY, alone, without fighter cover, was surrounded and attacked over the objective by eight Japanese Zero fighters from 251 Kokutai. The pilot refused to abort and held the plane on the required straight and level course until his assignment was finished.

During the air battle that followed, half of his crew was seriously wounded. The bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, fought back heroically throughout the engagement until he died of his injuries, earning him the Medal of Honor. Zeamer, although grievously injured himself, was also awarded the Medal of Honor for piloting the B-17 until the mission was complete, then assisting other crewmen on the long flight back to base in the severely damaged bomber, ensuring the safe return of the precious photos. The rest of the crew received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor, making them the most highly decorated American aircrew in history. Zeamer eventually recovered from his near-fatal injures. This artwork is published on the cover of our upcoming book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume I.

Announcing the release of Ken’s Men Against the Empire Vol. I

Pre-order your copy today!

EoP Vol. 4 Ken's Men Against the Empire Vol. I cover pre-order your copy todayKen’s Men Against the Empire Volume I will be published on March 22, 2016.

Without a bomber to its name, the 43rd Bomb Group (heavy) was rushed aboard the Queen Mary in February 1942 because there was room for one more unit. Months after arriving in Australia, the under-equipped 43rd absorbed the 19th Bomb Group’s war-weary B-17s and crews, who had been fighting since December 7, 1941. In spite of this start, the men went on to fly some of the most important and dramatic missions in U.S. aviation history, including one that resulted in a double Medal of Honor and eight Distinguished Service Crosses for a single crew. Their innovative technique of using B-17s to skip-bomb enemy ships from masthead height changed the way Pacific A-20 and B-25 pilots attacked targets for the rest of the war.

From the author of Warpath Across the Pacific comes the story of the last B-17 Army combat group in the Pacific Theater that will delight modelers, aviation enthusiasts and casual readers alike. The narrative is supplemented by hundreds of photographs, five comprehensive appendices, three spectacular color paintings and 24 detailed color profiles by aviation artist Jack Fellows, one of which sheds light on a markings mystery that has stumped historians for decades.

 

 

Some of the stories you will find inside this book: