Big Nimbo

We are highlighting one of the 22nd Bomb Group’s B-24s this week. Its profile history, as well as those of 47 other aircraft from the unit, can be found in Appendix V of Revenge of the Red Raiders.

BIG NIMBO, named after a character from the Lil’ Abner comic strip, was flown to the Southwest Pacific out of Hamilton Field, California on orders dated January 12, 1944, with a destination of the Fifth Air Force Replacement Center at Amberley Field. It was part of a batch of 14 Liberators that had been assigned to newly trained crews at Herington and Topeka, Kansas during December 1943. BIG NIMBO’s ferry crew, led by 2/Lt. George H. Bailey, is believed to have named the aircraft and had the nose art applied before it left the States. While several of the ferry crews were forwarded to other units as replacements, all 14 of the planes in this detachment ended up forming part of the initial complement of B-24s that equipped the 22nd Bomb Group. Seven went to the 33rd, four to the 19th, two to the 2nd and one to the 408th.

The bomber initially went through theater modification before being assigned during February to the 19th Squadron at Charters Towers, Queensland, where it was undergoing transition training. It thus became one of the 13 Liberators assigned to the unit during January and February 1944,with whom it returned to combat operations out of Nadzab in March. The new B-24 was assigned to a ground maintenance crew led by T/Sgt. Jesse G. Smith, a veteran crew chief who had served with the unit from its inception.

Sometime just before the plane was flown to Nadzab, it received its new aircraft designator, a large black “P” that was AV-37 centered on the white patch on the outboard side of both vertical stabilizers. The prominent nickname and nose art appeared only on the right side of the nose. No scoreboard or mission symbols were ever applied. As was typical at the time, the prop hubs were painted in white, the Squadron color. Our profile painting represents the aircraft in these markings as it would have appeared at Nadzab about July 1944.

22BG B-24 Big Nimbo nose art

The artwork for BIG NIMBO was almost certainly put on the aircraft back in the States by the crew that ferried it overseas. The cartoon character was from the Lil’ Abner comic series in the newspapers of the time. This plane was one of the original B-24Js assigned to the 19th Squadron at Charters Towers, Queensland, during February, 1944, and was one of the few in that unit to carry nose art. It was written off in a landing accident at Owi Island on July 25, 1944, with 2/Lt. James H. Shipler at the controls. (Claude V. Burnett Collection)

The 19th Squadron’s Air Echelon, including BIG NIMBO, moved from Charters Towers to the new Squadron base at Nadzab, New Guinea, on February 28th, and within a few days was ready to get back into action. Captain George I. Moleski piloted the Liberator on the Group’s first B-24 combat mission on March 10th, a strike against Lugos Plantation on Manus Island. A few days later on March 16th, Capt. Jesse G. Homan was at the controls over Wewak when a burst of flak exploded between the number one and two engines. One of the shrapnel fragments penetrated the fuselage and damaged the hydraulic system, which began leaking badly. After using all the spare hydraulic fluid aboard, the engineer collected urine from the crewmembers and added it to the fluid reservoir. This kept the hydraulic system working until Homan could bring it down to an emergency landing at the forward fighter base at Gusap. During the next three weeks a maintenance crew repaired the plane and the B-24 was flown back to Nadzab, where it returned to combat on April 8th. The crew never mentioned having added urine to the reservoir.

The plane served with the Squadron throughout the Nadzab era, but as was the general practice at the time, it had no specific crew assigned. During the 23 combat missions completed and two more from which it aborted, this B-24 it was piloted by crews led by 16 different pilots; only one flew it more than twice. That crew, led by Capt. Ferdinand R. Schmidt, put six of the last 14 missions on the bomber.

BIG NIMBO’s last combat mission was on July 1, 1944, when Capt. Schmidt flew the plane on a strike against personnel and supply dumps at Kamiri Village on Noemfoor Island. Because of the lack of suitable targets within range, and preparations for a move to Owi Island, the unit flew few missions during the month of July. During this time the B-24s were heavily committed to shuttling equipment and supplies to the new base. The 19th’s Air Echelon moved to Owi on July 24th, but BIG NIMBO, carrying a large amount of equipment and a full load of frag bombs, experienced a partial brake failure while taxiing for departure. The pilot, 2/Lt. James H. Shipler, brought the plane back to its hardstand and a corroded valve in the hydraulic system was replaced. The next day, Shipler took off and had an uneventful flight to Owi. However, when the plane touched down, he had trouble with the left brake. The pilot immediately applied full throttle to the number four engine to compensate, but the right wing of the Liberator hit and badly damaged the nose and cockpit of a B-25 parked along the runway, tearing away several feet of its own wing in the process. Upon inspection it was found that the entire hydraulic system on BIG NIMBO had been badly corroded, undoubtedly as a result of the acidic urine put in it back on March 16th. The aircraft was deemed unfit for repair, and both it and the B-25 were subsequently salvaged for parts. Four months later the Liberator was officially removed from the Government’s inventory on December 8th.

BIG NIMBO flew the following combat missions, all from Nadzab: Lugos Plantation, 3/10 (Moleski); Boram Airdrome, 3/12 (Dorfler) and 3/13 (Parker); Hansa Bay, 3/14 (Clarey); Wewak, 3/15 (Moleski) and 3/16 (Homen); Hollandia and Marienburg, 4/8 (Nicholson); Dagua, 4/9 (Paffenroth); Hansa Bay, 4/10 and 4/11 (Smith); Boram Airdrome (abort), 4/23 (Thunander); Sarmi, 5/7 (Schmidt); Wadke, 5/11 (Harvey); Sawar, 5/13 (Schmidt); Wakde, 5/16 (Schmidt); Biak, 5/22 (Schmidt); Hansa Bay, 5/23 (Clarey); Biak (weather abort), 5/27 (Homen); Kamiri Airdrome, 5/28 (Finley); Biak, 5/29 (Almon); Peleliu Airdrome (takeoff abort), 6/13 (Shipler); Kamiri Airdrome, 6/20 (Haines) and 6/25 (Schmidt); Cape Kornasoren, 6/26 (Markey); and Kamiri, 7/1 (Schmidt).

Repost: Friendship After Bombing Davao

This story is one of our favorites and we thought it was time to reblog it. Without further ado, here is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two veteran World War II pilots.

 

Two 63rd Squadron B-24 Snoopers took off from Owi Island on the night of September 4, 1944 to bomb Matina Airdome at Davao, Mindinao. One of the B-24s soon turned back due to radar failure. Captain Roland T. Fisher, pilot of the other B-24, “MISS LIBERTY,” continued on alone. Fisher had flown night missions with the Royal Air Force in 1941 and would soon be needing every ounce of skill he had acquired over the last few years.

Twenty-one years after this mission, Fisher recounted his experience: “I could see again the bright moon in the clear night sky and the green shadow of Cape San Agustin below. I had entered Davao Gulf by crossing from the Pacific over the peninsula into the head of the gulf and made nearly a straight-on approach over Samal Isle to Matina air strip. I remember thinking perhaps this would allow me to enter the gulf undetected. On previous occasions I had entered the gulf at the mouth and flew north, and it seemed like [Japanese] defenses always spotted me.

Miss Liberty's Nose Art

“But this evening my plan didn’t work…I recall vividly being in the searchlights and how, just after I had made the bomb run over the air base, I made a sharp turn to the left with the intent of flying south out of the bay.” Back on the Japanese-held base, a man who had been ordered to reconnoiter the area in his Irving night fighter spotted the interloper. That man was Yoshimasa Nakagawa. “Some minutes after my plane took off,” wrote Nakagawa, “I found that the bomb which had fallen off [the B-24] seemed to have been exploded somewhere in the air-base. My plane had caught sight of [the B-24] which was flying about 1500 meters high above mine…my plane had been kept waiting for [him] to start on [his] way home. My plane was drawing nearer and nearer to [his] B-24 which was circling over the little island in Davao Bay.”

While Fisher was still in the middle of his turn out of the bay, Nakagawa flew straight at “MISS LIBERTY” with guns blazing. A collision between the two planes was imminent and Fisher pulled up a wing, narrowly avoiding the Japanese fighter. Nakagawa turned again to make another attack on Fisher’s B-24, this time for the death. “My plane could not help colliding with [the B-24] owing to the disorder of the machine gun. I hope you can understand we Japanese pilots of those days felt as if their heart were broken when we were forced by the General Headquarters to do such a thing as collision,” he later wrote. As Nakagawa rammed his plane into the B-24, his fighter’s propellers severely damaged the belly of the B-24.

When the planes broke apart, Nakagawa watched Fisher’s plane plunge towards the sea and flew to base thinking about the skill of the American pilot, who probably wouldn’t make it home. Fortunately, Fisher was able to limp back to Owi after a long, tense 7 hour flight. Years later, Nakagawa contributed to a book called The Divine Wind, which is about experiences of kamikaze pilots. In that book was the story of his encounter with that B-24. Fisher received a copy of the book from a former tentmate, telling him to look on page 29, where he found the mission described above. He then composed the following letter:

Letter to Yoshimasa Nakagawa

Even though Nakagawa had tried to kill Fisher and his crew years ago, the two men put the past behind them and struck up a friendship 20 years after their first encounter. The men met in 1972, both of them thankful that the other was still alive, and appeared on the Dick Cavett television show together. “Imagining how bravely you could survive the World War 2 that had made the horrible marks in the history of the slaughter of human race,” Nakagawa wrote to Fisher. “I am inclined to heartily express my joy that you are still living all right. I am very grateful to you, who hope I am in good health and fortune, for the fact that you have no antipathy against me, who had once been an enemy of you. I am also very much delighted to be able to exchange correspondence with you. I hope you are in good health and happy for ever.”

In his response to Nakagawa, Fisher wrote, “Then you and I were young and conducted ourselves as young men should for our countries. Now we are older an wiser and our countries are wiser and I feel that we have attained a lasting friendship between our countries that is not only honorable but sensible and good for their futures. Still those dark moments we spent as young men in the night tropic skies of twenty years ago, I am sure, always will be glistening memories no matter how old we grow.”

A Zombie that Almost Lived up to its Name

For a short time in November 1943, the 43rd Bomb Group was flying missions to Ring Ring, a coconut plantation near Gasmata. Although these weren’t the most exciting missions, the area was being prepared for a December ground invasion, which made the mission necessary. It was observed in the 43rd’s Group History that, “Our combat crews don’t seem to think much of this type of target, preferring to hit something that will blow up with a loud noise and a satisfactory amount of flame and smoke, but the Army seems quite pleased with the results of our bombing and apparently considers the destruction of these targets essential.”

Flying from Port Moresby to Ring Ring on November 24th was 1/Lt. Henry J. Domagalski and his crew in their B-24 nicknamed ZOMBIE. Their mission was an armed reconnaissance to the area, with the crew running into no trouble as ZOMBIE’s bombs were unloaded over Garove Island. As the B-24 flew over the Dampier Strait, the crew encountered a formation of nine Japanese “Lily” bombers accompanied by 12 “Oscar” fighters returning to Wewak from a mission to Finschhafen.

43rd Bomb Group B-24 Zombie

The 64th Squadron struck the Ring Ring coconut plantation near Gasmata, New Britain on November 24, 1943. On the way home, Henry J. Domagalski and crew, in the B-24D #42-40913, ZOMBIE, were attacked over the Dampier Strait by 12 Japanese Zeros.

While most of the Japanese planes continued on their way, seven Oscars attacked the lone B-24. An intense fight began as Domagalski performed evasive maneuvers while his crewmen did their best to fend off the attacking fighters. ZOMBIE’s hydraulic system was shot out, as well as trim tab wires and six cables that controlled the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. The fighter pilots also started two fires: one in the emergency radio compartment and the other in the cockpit. Both were extinguished by Lt. Cletus A. Bunsen and 2/Lt. Herbert J. Maxwell, respectively.

By this time, the Oscars broke off their attack and turned for Wewak. ZOMBIE was in bad shape and the pilot was unsure whether or not they would even make it back to base. After an examination of the parachutes, three were determined to be unusable and it was decided that instead of ditching the plane, they would try to make an emergency landing at Lae.

Somehow, the B-24 appeared over Lae and circled five times as the crew manually lowered the landing gear. It touched down, going 160mph, and without hydraulic breaks that worked, the crew hurried to stop the plane before it crashed into the trees at the end of the runway. While Domagalski used the auxiliary hand pump to work fluid into the brakes, the rest of the crew was piled in the back of the plane to keep the tail down. ZOMBIE stopped and the crew tumbled out to assess the damage. Fifty holes were counted and two crewmembers were injured. The next day, ZOMBIE was flown home to Port Moresby. This story quickly spread across the United States and each crew member was awarded the Air Medal for their actions during the mission.

A Night at Sea

Shortly after half of the 22nd Bomb Group finished moving to Owi Island, the Group began flying missions to the Vogelkop Peninsula. For reasons unknown, the 2nd and 33rd Squadron were flying from Wakde Island instead. Crowded revetment and parking spaces on Owi may have been a factor in this decision. On July 26, 1944, the 33rd and 2nd were sent on a mission to Ransiki, an airfield on the eastern side of the peninsula. While releasing their bombs, crews faced moderate antiaircraft fire over the target area. The B-24 flown by 1/Lt. Amos was hit once in the #1 engine and once in the #4 engine right after the bombs were dropped on Ransiki, starting a fire in the #1 engine.

While most of the crew escaped injury during the explosions, bombardier, 2/Lt. James K. Bishop was mortally wounded after flak tore open his abdominal area. The co-pilot treated Bishop as best as he could, then returned to help fly the damaged plane. With 200 miles to go on two functioning engines and an inability to maintain altitude, Amos knew that he and his crew would have to ditch the plane soon. After throwing extra equipment overboard and making distress calls, the two working engines, which had been at full power, began to overheat. It wasn’t long before the #2 engine quit and the plane subsequently landed in the water.

The B-24, which was notorious for breaking apart upon ditching, did not fare well in this landing. After the tail sheered off, the plane cracked in half from the nose to the fuselage. Amos, who was on the left side of the plane, was under water when the plane stopped and hurriedly surfaced, only to find his co-pilot still sitting in his seat with a cigar still in his mouth. He went to release the raft and was soon joined by the radio operator and co-pilot. They picked up the navigator, bombardier and engineer, who were in the water.

As they got the raft situated, the plane sank, taking the assistant engineer, two gunners and assistant radio operator with it. The remaining men fished a “Gibson Girl” radio  and a parachute pack out of the water and did their best to reach someone who might be searching for them. Bishop, who had by then regained consciousness, spoke of his wife who was soon to give birth. Just after the crews took off for their mission that day, a message was received that his wife had a baby girl and they were both doing well. Unfortunately, Bishop would never receive this message. He died in the raft that afternoon and was buried at sea by his crew mates.

While the men floated, a storm blew through during the afternoon, thoroughly soaking the raft’s occupants. Amos and the co-pilot, 2/Lt. William A. Rush, decided to try some purple fish they saw swimming around. The other two men refused to try them. Some hours later, daylight faded and the men spent an uncomfortable night at sea. They huddled under a parachute to shelter them from passing storms as well as the rain in the morning.

Later that morning, they saw a B-25 flying a search pattern and waved a parachute in hopes of catching someone’s eye. Unfortunately, no one on the plane saw them. Determined to be rescued, the men in the raft broke out the dye markers for the next aircrew to hopefully spot. Three hours later, a PBY Catalina began flying a search pattern and the men watched the plane, hoping it would see them. An hour later, the again men waved parachutes, as it looked like the Catalina would probably pass close by the raft. The plane flew overhead, circled, and landed nearby. One man aboard the flying boat poked his head out and yelled, “Hey, you guys! Wanna ride?” Rush, Amos, 2/Lt. Louis Moore (navigator), S/Sgt. Harold W. Talley (engineer), and S/Sgt. Benjamin M. Gonzales (radio operator) were finally rescued.

This story can be found on p. 261 of Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Going Home

A reflection on the process of going home after World War II ended, written by Richard Golze of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group.

The war had ended. Rotation points were totaled. The Blanchard/Golze crew had enough points to fly a B-24 home rather than go by boat. Ten man crews were assembled based on points. For some unknown reason, crews were set at 10 men. A B-24 without bomb load and armament could easily transport 20-25 men.

We were flown to Clark Field from Ie Shima. When we landed, we noted the field was covered with brand new B- 24, B-25, A-26 and fighter aircraft. These were the reserves for the planned invasion. We were assigned a new B-24M. It is interesting to note that most of the 65th aircraft were “J” models I many of which had in excess of 100 missions. It is also a matter of interest to note that these line combat aircraft had fewer deviations than the stateside training command B-24’s thanks to the competant dedicated ground crews. The aircraft we drew smelled new. We were cautioned that the aircraft had to be complete when it took off for home. It seems that military personnel were stealing the Plexiglas waist windows, cutting them into strips and fashioning transparent grips for the Colt M1911 service pistol. Many had pictures of nude women under the transparent grip panel. To avoid this potential problem, we had one crew man stay with the aircraft at all times, including sleeping in the waist overnight.

The first leg of OPERATION SUNSET was a flight from Clark Field to Guam. Guam was stateside civilization. They had flush toilets and cold drinks in the officers club. While we were flying to Guam I reasoned that we could gain air speed and also eliminate the hazard of the pilots being trapped in their seats by the top turrets in the event of a ditching. The center of gravity of the top Martin turret was well below the top skin of the aircraft. The weight was centered in the armor plated seat and caliber 50 ammunition containers. When a B-24 was ditched, the bomb bay doors were torn off by the water which exposed the vertical bulkhead at the rear of the bomb bay. This bulkhead acted as a very effective water brake. The catwalk or keel of the aircraft usually broke and the tail section rotated upward. This rapid deceleration provided enough “G” forces acting through the top turret center of gravity (at a long moment arm) to tear it from its mounts. When the turret was free, it flew forward to wedge itself against the two vertical structural members behind the pilots seats and the control pedestal thus trapping the pilots. Many B-24’s had small metal framed windows on the side of the cockpit. The one window that slid open was not large enough for a man to slide through. Wise pilots carried hand fire axes so this metal framing could be chopped out if there were time before a ditching. An escape route would then be available for the pilots.

When we landed at Guam I located the base Engineering Officer. I told him I wanted to remove the turret and crate it for return to the USA. He said there was no interest in the return of the turret. He also said NO to removal since it would change the basic load index for weight and balance. I convinced him I could make the mathematical correction. He then said OK but with two conditions. One was that we could not delay our scheduled departure. The second was that he would ground our aircraft if we damaged the skin in the process of removal. After a discussion with the crew we started. We were able to remove the light weight Plexiglas top, guns and part of the seat. We then unbolted the remaining assembly from the bronze trunion ring. This ring had internal gear teeth. It was about 48″ in diameter. The whole assembly, including the electro/hydraulic drive and armor plated seat had to be removed out of the top of the fuselage. All hands set to the job and we worked it to the top of the left wing where we set it on the cloth engine covers to prevent damage to the skin by sharp edge. The turret assembly was carefully moved to a position between the number one and two engines. Four lines were attached to the turret assembly and it was moved foreward to clear the leading edge of the wing. Holding this assembly in suspension was the most difficult part of the removal process. When it was clear, it was lowered to the ground — with no damage to the plane! The Engineering Officer came along at this time. He was satisfied we had done a good job. He told us to dispose of the turret by placing it in the lush tropical vegetation at the edge of the ramp.

Now we had a 4 foot hole in the top of the aircraft and evening was approaching. A trip to the repair hanger netted a 4’x4′ piece of aluminum skin. We needed some means of cutting the aluminum into a circular plug. There were no tin snips available but Sam Dante, our engineer located a single hack saw blade. We circumscribed a circle of proper size by placing a nail hole in the center of the panel. A string with a scriber was attached at the proper radius and the line was scribed. We then took turns hand holding the hack saw’ blade to cut the circle – some 12′ of lineal length. The plug fit perfectly. Sam tried to borrow a speed drill and bit with no success. I went to the hanger and left my watch and sun glasses as hostage but did borrow the band speed drill and a bit . Screws, lock washers and nuts were also obtained. It seems as if Second Lieutenants of the 5th Air Force were not trusted by Sargents of the 20th Air Force. We used the turret mounting holes as locators, drilled the holes) inserted and secured the fasteners and then reclaimed my watch and sun glasses.

The next leg of OPERATION SUNSET was from Guam to Kwajalein. Take off was at 3-5 minute intervals. We were in the middle of the flight. The reduced drag from the removal of the turret gave us a 7-10 MPH increase in speed at cruise power. We were first in at Kwajalein! The tower was contacted about 10 miles out. We were cleared for landing on a brilliant clear tropical day. Wind was from the west so we entered the down wind leg of the pattern. The tower was contacted on final. As we came over the shore, a Navy SBD cut in front of us at a distance of about 20 feet. The pilot and passenger was clearly visible. We went around but spoke harsh words to the tower operator. There was no response– we were on a Navy island.

A high noise was generated from a standing vibration wave on our 4′ plug. However, no one complained because of the speed increase, the removal of the ditching hazard and the wide open space on the flight deck. The vibration wave was eliminated at Kwajalein by screwing a l” x l” x 48″ wood strip across the panel. This stiffner eliminated the vibration/noise problem.

Kawajalein to Oahu was the longest flight we made in the B-24. Our increased air s peed along with the extra flight deck space made the long flight pleasant. We lead the flight from Oahu to Camp Stoneman, California. A scare marked our take off. The runway was just above high tide sea level. We planned a typical flight take off which used the full runway and then retract the gear as we passed over the sea. This avoided a climb at max load. While we were rolling down the runway some GI’s in a 6×6 stopped their truck on the end of the runway and proceeded to get out and sit on the hood and the top of the cab in order to watch the take offs. We were approaching the critical three engine speed of 136 MPH when this event happened so Blanchard opted to lift the aircraft over them rather than try to abort. We made it but the subsequent conversation with the tower was quite directed.

When we were about 2/3 of the way to California, Mel Shroeder our radio operator made contact. We were told the Bay area was in heavy fog and we were to change direction and land at Edwards Air Force Base. The course change was relayed to the aircraft behind us. When we approached Edwards we were unable to contact the tower for landing instructions. We called on all four VHF channels with no answer. The field was circled and then the tower was buzzed. Still no contact. By then other B-24s had entered the pattern so we picked a runway and landed. We taxied to a ramp and parked with the other B-24s following. After a while a staff car appeared. A WAC captain came out demanding to know what we were doing on her field and also why we were out of uniform since we were in kahki. We explained but she said we were lying about out trip from Hawaii. A trip to operations resolved the matter. We got a meal of sorts and fuel for a flight to our original destination since the fog had lifted.

We cleared customs at Camp Stonemam and got a barracks assignment. It was about 2200 hours. We then went to the mess hall where we got our return home meal of a steak dinner with a tossed salad.

The next day saw more processing. During a physical examination we were treated for the “crud”. Crud was a fungus growth in your arm pits and crotch. It manifested itself as a raw red rash. We were sprayed with an engine oil like liquid and told to wait for 30 minutes before a shower. After 15 minutes the spray took effect. The raw rash areas felt as if they were on fire. We took cold showers to try to put out the hot torment. Crud came about as a result of the lack of sanitary conditions on IE Shima. There was no natural water on the solid coral is land. The natives built large 10′ x 10′ catch basins to trap rain water. This water flowed into 6′ x 6′ x 8′ deep holding basins. This was the natives only source of fresh water. Army health officers found malaria mosquito larva in some of the basins so they either pumped them dry or poured oil in the basin. These basins were used by some as air raid shelters during the nightly Jap raids. All of the water we had came from Okinawa by Navy boat. If the sea was up, the Navy did not come. The wearing of unwashed clothes and unwashed bodies resulted in the crud. Our flight surgeon tried Silver Nitrate, Iodine and Methiolate with no results. Bathing in the sea felt good while you were in the water but the sticky feeling after you dried off made this action less than desirable. The cure was daily bathing and clean clothing. It cleared itself once we got home.

Landing with a Compass and Two Parachutes

By May 1945, the Japanese had been pushed back to Formosa, now known as Taiwan. Throughout May, the 22nd Bomb Group had been flying missions to various parts of Formosa. Now that the month was coming to a close, Fifth Air Force’s heavy bomber groups were sent back to Taihoku (Taipei) on May 31st to take out the city’s antiaircraft guns and give it a heavy pounding. The 90th Bomb Group was to hit the antiaircraft guns, which would be followed by the 22nd and 43rd Bomb Groups focusing their efforts on bombing administration and municipal buildings in the city.

As the 37 B-24s from the 22nd Bomb Group began making their runs, they discovered that the 90th had not been able to take out the antiaircraft guns as planned. Instead, the crews were met with flak so heavy that the smoke from it nearly obscured the flight leader. Somehow, only two planes were hit by the flak. One of those two, MISSLEADING, was severely damaged after a burst hit the #2 and #4 engines, the #4 gas tank, knocked out all navigational and radio communications except for Morse Code and broke the instrument panel. To make matters worse, both the pilot, 2/Lt. Charles E. Critchfield, and co-pilot, 1/Lt. Robert A. Morgan, were critically injured in the blast. Critchfield was wounded in both his right arm and leg as well as his groin. Morgan was bleeding profusely after his left leg was cut to the bone by shrapnel.

Once the stricken plane left the target area with the rest of the formation, a pilot in another plane noticed that MISSLEADING was having trouble and alerted the formation leader. He ordered one of the other crews to accompany the lagging aircraft as far as it could fly and contacted rescue planes about the situation. For reasons unknown, the Catalinas never showed up.

Back in MISSLEADING, Morgan wrestled with the B-24, as the trim tabs were inoperative and he had feathered the unusable engine #4, cut the throttle of #2 to partial power and feathered engine #3 because of a gas leak that was running over the hot exhaust, leaving engine #1 as the only fully operating engine. There was no way that they would be able to get back to base on one engine, so Morgan cautiously restarted engine #3 and hoped it wouldn’t burst into flames with the gas running over it. Fortunately, it did not. Critchfield had been carefully removed from his seat so that other crewmembers could administer first aid and Lt. Robert S. Edgar slid into the pilot’s seat to assist Morgan whenever possible. It had only been five minus since they were first hit.

To lighten the plane, the crew tossed out everything they didn’t need. Without a working instrument panel, flight engineer S/Sgt. Lloyd Watson kept an eye on the engines and gave the rest of the crew instructions as needed. Navigator 2/Lt. R.E. Grey fished a small compass out of an emergency kit, and with a heading provided by T/Sgt. Benjamin D. Oxley, they headed for Laoag, an emergency strip on the northwestern coast of Luzon. Upon their descent, they discovered that the B-24’s main hydraulic system had been shot out and they would have to lower the landing gear manually. The flaps to help slow the plane were also not working and the nose gear wouldn’t extend. Parachutes were tied to gun mounts in the rear waist windows to help slow the plane.

B-24 MISSLEADING after landing at Laoag

MISSLEADING had its hydraulics shot out by antiaircraft fire during a combat mission to Taihoku, Formosa on May 31, 1945. Without flaps, the 19th Squadron co-pilot, 2/Lt. Robert A. Morgan, made an emergency landing at Laoag Strip, Luzon, after the pilot, 2/Lt. Charles E. Critchfield, was badly wounded by flak. Parachutes were deployed out both side windows to slow down the brakeless plane. However, the nose gear folded and the plane crushed its nose when it smashed to the runway.

When the B-24 touched down on the 3500-foot runway, Morgan held the plane’s nose high so that the tailskid would act like a brake as long as possible. Once the brakes were engaged, the parachutes were deployed and MISSLEADING skidded to a stop 200 feet off the far end of the runway. Emergency crews waiting for the plane hurried to get Critchfield and Morgan out of the plane. Both were taken to the local field hospital, where most of the small anesthetic supply was used on Critchfield’s operation. Morgan was held down by two medics as shrapnel was removed from his leg. It would be two days before Critchfield’s injuries were no longer life-threatening, however, that mission would be his last before he rotated home. Morgan was recognized for his determination and skill and received a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1988.

 

This exciting story and many others can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders. Buy your copy now.

A Convoy Meets Its End

Around the middle of March 1944, Allied intelligence was monitoring reports about the movements of the 21st Wewak Resupply Convoy. Three subchasers were escorting three medium-sized merchant ships and a small “sea truck” from the Palau Islands for Wewak. The convoy’s position was accidentally betrayed by the Japanese, who did not know that the Allies had intercepted their communications, then detected by a couple of radar-equipped B-24s that had been sent to destroy the convoy before it reached Hollandia. The B-24s put one ship out of commission and the rest continued on to Wewak, reaching the base on the 18th, six days after leaving the Palau Islands.

With their location compromised, the Japanese worked through the night to quickly unload supplies and nearly 400 troops, then reload the ships with soldiers moving rearward to Hollandia early on the 19th. They hoped to avoid any further run-ins with Allied aircraft, as the convoy was carrying valuable cargo. In addition to the large number of passengers (1000), aboard one of the ships was a new radar system to detect enemy aircraft that was being moved to Hollandia, where the Japanese were building up their forces. At that time, the Japanese had very few of these radar systems.

B-24 crews from the 90th Bomb Group arrived at Wewak later that morning, only to find an empty harbor. They flew on, staying near the New Guinea coastline, and eventually found the convoy about 50 miles west-northwest of Wewak. Bombing the convoy from a medium altitude turned out to be mostly unsuccessful, although the crews may have sunk one of the escorts. Crews from the 22nd Bomb Group caught up to the convoy later that morning and were greeted by puffs of flack that stood between them and the convoy.

A three-plane element from the 19th Bomb Squadron attacked the Yakumo Maru, dropping 72 bombs around the ship, some of which landed within 50 feet of the ship. The 19th’s first attack was followed by an attack by the 33rd Bomb Squadron, then the 19th once again. Japanese fighters joined the fray in an attempt to defend the convoy below. During the chaos, the B-24s of 2/Lts. Ralph L. Anderson and G. Hill and 1/Lt. Chester G. Williams were holed by fighters. Hill’s plane suffered the most damage with a hit to the turbo-supercharger, damage to the outer left engine, the left wing and vertical stabilizer, as well as damage from a 20mm cannon shell to the fuselage.

Destroying the 21st Wewak Resupply Convoy

Following the sinking of the Yakumo Maru by the 22nd Bomb Group on March 19, 1944, the Taiei Maru picked up survivors from the sunken ship, and, along with a small transport and two escorts, resumed the dash for Hollandia at top speed. A-20 and B-25 units back at Nadzab scrambled around noon and raced each other to the scene, where a wild engagement with almost no flight discipline. This photo shows the Taiei Maru after being set afire by bombs dropped by a B-25 from the 345th Bomb Group. Note the attacks from several directions at once.

After the fighters let up their attacks and the B-24s had dropped all their bombs, an explosion rocked the Yakumo Maru, which began listing dangerously. The two squadrons left the smoking convoy behind as they departed the area. Word of the convoy spread through Fifth Air Force and about 80 B-25s and A-20s converged on the convoy that afternoon. This time, the attacks on the convoy were completely uncoordinated. As an A-20 from the 3rd Bomb Group made its attack, it was accidentally shot down by an overexcited B-25. The 3rd also lost another A-20 after it hit the ship’s mast and had to ditch nearby. Both the pilot and gunner were rescued by a Catalina the following day.

In the end, the convoy was thoroughly destroyed, with only three members surviving the attack. As a result of the attack, the Japanese ceased sending convoys to reinforce the Japanese 18th Army, now trapped in northeastern New Guinea.

Friendship After Bombing Davao

Two 63rd Squadron B-24 Snoopers took off from Owi Island on the night of September 4, 1944 to bomb Matina Airdome at Davao, Mindinao. One of the B-24s soon turned back due to radar failure. Captain Roland T. Fisher, pilot of the other B-24, “MISS LIBERTY,” continued on alone. Fisher had flown night missions with the Royal Air Force in 1941 and would soon be needing every ounce of skill he had acquired over the last few years.

Twenty-one years after this mission, Fisher recounted his experience: “I could see again the bright moon in the clear night sky and the green shadow of Cape San Agustin below. I had entered Davao Gulf by crossing from the Pacific over the peninsula into the head of the gulf and made nearly a straight-on approach over Samal Isle to Matina air strip. I remember thinking perhaps this would allow me to enter the gulf undetected. On previous occasions I had entered the gulf at the mouth and flew north, and it seemed like [Japanese] defenses always spotted me.

Miss Liberty's Nose Art

“But this evening my plan didn’t work…I recall vividly being in the searchlights and how, just after I had made the bomb run over the air base, I made a sharp turn to the left with the intent of flying south out of the bay.” Back on the Japanese-held base, a man who had been ordered to reconnoiter the area in his Irving night fighter spotted the interloper. That man was Yoshimasa Nakagawa. “Some minutes after my plane took off,” wrote Nakagawa, “I found that the bomb which had fallen off [the B-24] seemed to have been exploded somewhere in the air-base. My plane had caught sight of [the B-24] which was flying about 1500 meters high above mine…my plane had been kept waiting for [him] to start on [his] way home. My plane was drawing nearer and nearer to [his] B-24 which was circling over the little island in Davao Bay.”

While Fisher was still in the middle of his turn out of the bay, Nakagawa flew straight at “MISS LIBERTY” with guns blazing. A collision between the two planes was imminent and Fisher pulled up a wing, narrowly avoiding the Japanese fighter. Nakagawa turned again to make another attack on Fisher’s B-24, this time for the death. “My plane could not help colliding with [the B-24] owing to the disorder of the machine gun. I hope you can understand we Japanese pilots of those days felt as if their heart were broken when we were forced by the General Headquarters to do such a thing as collision,” he later wrote. As Nakagawa rammed his plane into the B-24, his fighter’s propellers severely damaged the belly of the B-24.

When the planes broke apart, Nakagawa watched Fisher’s plane plunge towards the sea and flew to base thinking about the skill of the American pilot, who probably wouldn’t make it home. Fortunately, Fisher was able to limp back to Owi after a long, tense 7 hour flight. Years later, Nakagawa contributed to a book called The Divine Wind, which is about experiences of kamikaze pilots. In that book was the story of his encounter with that B-24. Fisher received a copy of the book from a former tentmate, telling him to look on page 29, where he found the mission described above. He then composed the following letter:

Letter to Yoshimasa Nakagawa

Even though Nakagawa had tried to kill Fisher and his crew years ago, the two men put the past behind them and struck up a friendship 20 years after their first encounter. The men met in 1972, both of them thankful that the other was still alive, and appeared on the Dick Cavett television show together. “Imagining how bravely you could survive the World War 2 that had made the horrible marks in the history of the slaughter of human race,” Nakagawa wrote to Fisher. “I am inclined to heartily express my joy that you are still living all right. I am very grateful to you, who hope I am in good health and fortune, for the fact that you have no antipathy against me, who had once been an enemy of you. I am also very much delighted to be able to exchange correspondence with you. I hope you are in good health and happy for ever.”

In his response to Nakagawa, Fisher wrote, “Then you and I were young and conducted ourselves as young men should for our countries. Now we are older an wiser and our countries are wiser and I feel that we have attained a lasting friendship between our countries that is not only honorable but sensible and good for their futures. Still those dark moments we spent as young men in the night tropic skies of twenty years ago, I am sure, always will be glistening memories no matter how old we grow.”