The B-24s in the painting were part of one of the Far East Air Force’s last bombing missions against the Empire of Japan. Seen here leaving the target, the city of Oita on the Japanese home island of Kyushu, elements of the 64th Bomb Squadron, 43 Bomb Group, were part of a 20+ B-24 raid by the 43rd Bomb Group on a mission dubbed a “milk run” due to the light-to-nil defensive opposition generated by the Japanese. In the foreground, #973 bears the flamboyant artwork covering the complete port side of the aircraft which would immortalize it and its creator S/Sgt. Sarkis E. Bartigian, who was assigned to the Squadron’s ground echelon. Bartigian’s exuberant creations decorated the sides of a number of 43rd Bomb Group B-24s late in the war, but this one, THE DRAGON AND HIS TAIL was the most well-known and photographed. After meeting an ignominious end in the smelters at Kingman, Arizona following the war’s end, #973 was reincarnated in all its glory on the port side of the Collings Foundation’s B-24, flaunting Sgt. Bartigian’s provocative artwork at air shows around the U.S. This artwork is published on the cover of our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume II and is available for purchase on our website.
Less than a month after the 43rd Bomb Group began setting up camp at their new home of Tacloban, the Japanese were trying to figure out a proper welcome to the area. Lieutenant Colonel James T. Pettus received a phone call on December 6, 1944 alerting him of a parachute attack on Tacloban and Dulag planned for that night. Japanese paratroopers had already landed at Buri and San Pablo airbases in hopes of capturing V Bomber Command and Fifth Air Force headquarters. Units from every military branch on Tacloban quickly organized to defend the airbase. Antiaircraft guns and searchlights were manned, and aircraft with functioning turrets were towed over to be used as additional firepower. Once the preparations were made, all that was left to do was wait for night to fall.
F6F night fighters patrolled over the airbase for awhile, but they did not encounter any enemy aircraft. A Navy B-24 privateer landed, then the nose gear collapsed and the plane had to be towed off the runway by Captain Roland T. Fisher, who hooked it up to a cletrac (Cleveland tractor) and towed it to the beach. Fisher was in charge of keeping the runway clear. Shortly thereafter, he turned on the runway lights for the F6Fs that were landing soon. The lights turned off right after the first one landed, which was not an unusual occurrence. Wires from the lights were bunched up next to the strip and were easily crushed when landing aircraft ran over the cords. Fisher jumped out of his jeep, which was doubling as his command post, and twisted the wires back together.
Coming in next was another aircraft with its landing lights on, although this one, an antiaircraft gunner noticed, had exhaust flames coming out of the top of its engine nacelles instead of the bottom. It was a Ki-57-II “Topsy” transport. The pilot was certainly sneaky to slide right into the F6F landing pattern, but his cover was very quickly spoiled. That antiaircraft gunner had his sights set on the Topsy and began shooting at it as the pilot made a final approach. By this point, Fisher had taken cover behind the cletrac. The Topsy burst into flames, flew over the gun battery and plowed down the beach where Fisher had taken cover. He jumped in the ocean.
The Topsy crashed among a dozen Marine Corsairs, bounced, hit more planes, a grader and finally the cletrac Fisher used earlier. A trail of fire followed the burning aircraft, with Japanese and American ammunition cooking off as the fire intensified. Fisher began running up the beach to the crash site then, “Right in front of me a man, his clothes on fire, ran toward me howling and pulling a gun from his holster. I knocked him down or pushed him and grabbed the gun from him…He thrashed around. I think I hit or pushed him again. Then I backed away again to the water because my own clothes were hot from the fire. He never got up again…I lucked out. My burns were minor…I think what saved me from serious burns was my jumping in the surf just before he hit and being all wet when I struggled with him. I think he was the pilot and didn’t have the murderous equipment the troopers had. Whatever, whoever, I was lucky and he wasn’t.”
Almost three months to the day prior to this incident, Capt. Fisher had brought his B-24 back to base after it was rammed by a Japanese fighter. Both times, he managed to escape serious injury or death.
Around the same time the men on Tacloban were dealing with the Topsy, a second Japanese transport plane had crashed, this one in San Pedro Bay after it was shot down by the Navy. Just as before, there was only one survivor. This one was in much better shape and he was apprehended by the Allies. The officer gave his enemies plenty of information about the mission, none of which was passed along until a more appropriate time.
This story can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume II.
They’re here! After a two day weather delay, our books arrived late on Thursday and we started shipping out orders on Friday. If you ordered a book (or two), keep an eye on your inbox for that notification email saying that your order has shipped. We have quite a backlog, but we’re working through it as quickly as possible. For the rest of you who haven’t ordered yet, head over to our website and buy your copy now! If you haven’t purchased Volume I, we’re running a deal through the end of the year of $10 off when you buy Ken’s Men Vol. I and Ken’s Men Vol. II. As always, thank you for supporting IHRA as we share the stories of the men who fought in the Pacific Theater.
First published on our blog in 2015, this story will appear in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. II.
Throughout World War II, the subject of food was regularly brought up, usually because it was so terrible and the occasional good meal was worth writing home about. While the 43rd Bomb Group was staying in Port Moresby, they put up with field rations that included canned mutton, powdered eggs and “corn willy,” which was Aussie slang for canned corn beef.
Obviously, visits to the mess hall left much to be desired. There was one chef in the 403rd Bomb Squadron who decided to have a little fun with the menus each day and began writing up items such as “Spam ala King,” “Spam Peking,” “Sweet and Sour Spam,” etc. One day, he ran out of ideas and wrote “Just Plain Ole Hairy Spam.” We do not know if scenes similar to Monty Python’s Spam skit played out in the mess hall.
The men grew tired of the bad-tasting, nutritionally-deficient food they had to eat every day and it also lowered their morale. Before long, unit mess officers started up programs to ferry fresh food from northern Australia. Men would contribute money to a fund that would go towards purchasing fruit and vegetables as well as fresh meat, dairy and eggs. Planes typically used for these trips had been designated as war-weary and removed from combat service. They were often known as “fat cats,” possibly adopted from an early 3rd Bomb Group B-25 called Fat Cat that was repurposed as a ferrying aircraft in late June 1943.
Unlike most trips, the plane returning from Australia this time was a brand new radar-equipped B-24 carrying supplies and fresh food such as a side of beef, watermelons and cases of eggs. As the plane touched down at Seven Mile Airdrome, the left tire blew out, causing the B-24 to swerve to the left. Pilot F/O Clarence Molder did his best to straighten out the landing by applying the right break and increasing the power to the left outboard engine, but to no avail. It finally came to a stop in a ditch, with the nose twisting and the outboard props being torn away. Luckily, the aircraft did not catch fire.
Before the landing went awry, radio operator T/Sgt. Charles G. Meinke had been sitting on the floor with one foot on a case of eggs. After the crash, he feared he was injured and bleeding when his foot was forced through the case and he felt liquid in his shoe. It turned out that he was not seriously injured, but the eggs had broken and the yolks had seeped into his shoe.
Second Lieutenant John P. Harmon scrambled out of the plane and noticed fuel leaking from a ruptured wing tank and another stream that was running onto a hot turbocharger. The turbocharger was so hot that it vaporized the gas as it poured down. Harmon ran for the fire extinguisher to cool down the turbocharger, then took the emergency axe to rescue his crew members still trapped inside.
Several of the other men finally got out through the plane’s windshield and helped Harmon until crash trucks and ambulance crews arrived. To the joy of the onlookers that had gathered, they soon freed the rest of the crew. As happy as the men were to see the crew make it out alive, a 501st Squadron Adjutant was upset to see his large purchase of fresh food littering the runway.
The official publishing date will be October 28, 2019. Press proofs have been approved and returned to the printer for publication. Allowing a few days for shipping from the printer, we expect to begin shipping out orders by the first week of November. The primary authors on this volume are Lawrence J. Hickey and Col. James T. Pettus, USAF (Ret). Colonel Pettus was the last commander of the 43rd BG during World War II, and flew B-24s with the unit during almost the entire time the aircraft served with the unit.
Because the 43rd Bomb Group’s history was split into two volumes, we’re also going to offer a limited sale for retail orders only until December 31, 2019 at $10 off when you order both volumes. To be clear, this sale is only for our 43rd Bomb Group books and you must purchase one of each to get the $10 off. Separate orders of either book will be $75 for Volume I (published in 2016) and $80 for Volume II. All orders received after January 1, 2020, will be at the regular price.
As far as we know these combined volumes contain the most comprehensive history of an air unit in combat ever produced. This includes a detailed narrative text, an outstanding collection of black and white and original color photography, extensive maps showing the unit operating areas, bases, missions and losses, and incredible artwork, including 56 aircraft color profiles and seven full color battle scene paintings done by world renowned aviation artist Jack Fellows. Nothing like this has ever been produced before in aviation literature.
All of our books have hardbound full color covers with sewn bindings. High quality enamel coated paper stock is used throughout to hold the best quality imagery for photos.
Here are the specifications for Volume II, which covers the B-24 era of the unit from October 1943 to the end of the war in 1945:
464 pages of new material
32-page color section
32 B-24 color aircraft profiles
4 color combat paintings
677 black and white photos
Between the two volumes, there are:
48 color pages
56 B-17 and B-24 aircraft color profiles
7 color combat paintings
1200+ black and white photos
My deepest appreciation for all your support over the many years of this project.
Lawrence J. Hickey
Co-Author and President of
International Historical Research Associates
Throughout the war, different technology was developed and improved so that the Allies and the Axis could find out what the other side was up to. The U.S. began to experiment with radar countermeasures—one involved a radar set installed in a B-24 heavy bomber capable of pinpointing enemy radar stations on the ground. A 403rd Squadron crew, 1/Lt. Erwin C. Zastrow’s, received one of these B-24s. Because the equipment on board was so secret, it was ferried from the States with a 24-hour armed guard. Upon arrival, Zastrow’s crew was told it was the only one that would be flying that particular aircraft, which was named THE DUCHESS OF PADUCAH.
The crew spent about three weeks in training then was sent out on the first mission on January 30, 1944. Along with the crew, observers and technicians also boarded the aircraft so they could see how this B-24 performed in a mission environment. It turned out that there were still plenty of issues to deal with. The first test was a few passes over the newly-acquired Finschhafen. Nearing the airfield, the lights went out below them and Zastrow’s crew joked that there must have been an air raid. Then the searchlights went on, antiaircraft guns went off and everyone realized that they were the raid. Only later did someone realize that their new Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) device wasn’t backwards compatible with the older IFF devices in the Allied equipment.
Leaving Finschhafen unscathed, a fire soon broke out in the nose turret of the B-24. It was brought under control, but also shorted out the power system. The navigator, who was using a special radar device on board to calculate their position, also lost their location when the power went out. Somehow, the observers and techs had fallen asleep during the mission. The crew had to act quickly to contact an Australian station for bearings, which required the installation of a radio tuner. Once this was done, Zastrow got the crew home without any further excitement. After that mission, Zastrow’s crew requested a transfer. “We told them goodbye and good luck. We would rather haul bombs,” wrote S/Sgt. Robert Roth.
While her first mission was a disappointment, THE DUCHESS OF PADUCAH would serve a long and successful career attached to the 43rd Bomb Group (and, at times, the 380th).
After World War II ended, the United States initiated Project Sunset, a program to bring as many crews and airworthy airplanes as possible back to the States for salvage, storage and smelting. Just like the days of ferrying aircraft to the Pacific Theater, crews would island-hop across the Pacific Ocean to their destination: home.
Each bomb group chose a crew to fly a plane back, and each crew spent several days getting ready for the flight ahead of them. They packed up, went on test flights with their planes, checked equipment and plotted courses. After Typhoon Louise roared through Okinawa from October 8th through 10th, some men discovered that their B-24s were damaged and would need to be repaired before they could go anywhere.
Captain Charles “Chuck” Fogo was one of the pilots whose assigned B-24 was in need of some repairs. His plane had been renamed HOME ALIVE IN 45 and the whole crew was determined to get back. As Fogo and some of his crew surveyed the B-24, they found signs of stress and a dangling aileron, among other things. A new aileron was procured under the cover of darkness and put in place soon after. The crew was ready for a test flight by October 18th.
Much to Fogo’s chagrin, the test flight of HOME ALIVE IN 45 was not as easy as he expected it to be. It took nearly the entire length of the runway before the B-24 could be coaxed into the air, hung low when cruising, didn’t fly straight and consumed roughly 25% more fuel than the average B-24. The crew figured that the typhoon had warped the fuselage structure, which would account for the rough ride. Still, they were going to bring it home, and began the journey two days later.
Just like the test flight, the B-24 didn’t lift off until the last second and the flight to Guam wasn’t any easier. From there, they flew to Johnston Island, five or six hundred miles away from Hickam Field, Hawaii. If the fuel consumption rate hadn’t been so dire, they would have skipped Johnston Island and gone directly to Hickam Field. After landing in Hawaii, they hung around for several days in hopes of flying with a good tailwind to boost their chances of getting home. Captain Fogo didn’t think HOME ALIVE IN 45 would make it back without running out of fuel. The Base Operations Officer wasn’t happy with their delay and forced them to move on.
Before the flight on October 25th, the crew got to remove the ball turret, lightening and streamlining their plane. About six hours away from Mather Field, California, the fuel situation was looking uncertain. With 1000 gallons left and 200 gallons being consumed per hour, the math was not in their favor. Fogo reduced the RPMs as much as he could and put the B-24 into a shallow descent to conserve the remaining fuel.
Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, the crew felt like they could make it to Mather Field instead of making an emergency landing at Hamilton Field. Upon landing, Capt. Fogo recommended that HOME ALIVE IN 45 be salvaged at Mather Field instead of continuing on to Kingman, Arizona. He and his crew celebrated their return home with a steak dinner and cold milk, then fell asleep on real mattresses.
It had been more than a month since the 22nd Bomb Group last encountered fighter opposition on a mission. With an eye on the Palau Islands, the Red Raiders were sent to disrupt the Japanese airfields and destroy installations on June 9, 1944, prior to the invasion of the Marianas island chain in the central Pacific later in the month.
The plan was for 26 B-24s to fly from Hollandia to Wakde Island, where their fuel tanks would be topped off, and then they would continue to their target of Peleliu Island. Much to the annoyance of the crews, Murphy’s Law struck several times over the course of the mission and only 11 aircraft completed the mission. Bad weather forced several crews to turn around, others made navigational errors that led them to miss the target completely (they made it back to Wakde safely) and others were unable to make it to the target due to mechanical problems.
As 1/Lt. Dwaine E. Harry of the 408th Squadron approached Peleliu with the other B-24s in his squadron, weather became enough of an issue that Harry had to separate from the formation. He was jumped by several Zeros three miles out from the island. The lone B-24, ISLAND QUEEN, went into a dive, pulling up 20 feet above the water. Aboard the lead Zero, the pilot dropped his wing tanks in hopes of hitting the B-24 below. He missed. A second Zero made a pass at ISLAND QUEEN and the the gunners promptly returned fire, severely damaging the tail section of the Zero. The fight lasted for 25 minutes, then ISLAND QUEEN turned for Hollandia, landing without further incident.
Approaching the target area, the remaining B-24s were met by several Zeros. Along with the usual attacks on the B-24s, the Zero pilots dropped phosphorus bombs and something that looked like heavy chains in front of the 22nd’s formation. Every plane was damaged in the fight. Captain John N. Barley’s aircraft was hit in the right inboard wing tanks, the fuselage and the #3 engine. A fire that started in an ammunition box burned some crewmen but it was quickly extinguished. Both waist gunners were wounded by gunfire, and one of them was dead 30 minutes after he had been hit in the forehead and stomach. A cloud bank provided enough cover to duck into and end the fight.
The crews managed to drop their bombs and began the long trip back home through more bad weather. Barley’s plane made a startling dive toward the sea when it was caught in a downdraft, but he and his co-pilot managed to level out before they hit the water. They flew on at a lower altitude, though they were now unsure of their exact position. Keeping an eye out for familiar landmarks, the crew flew along the New Guinea coastline until the B-24’s fuel supply dwindled and daylight waned. Captain Barley made a water landing about a mile and a half from Sissano Lagoon, located about 25 miles up the coast from Tadji. The tail broke off in the ditching, and nine crewmen exited the plane with new injuries from the ditching.
It took four hours for two of Barley’s crewmen to swim to the beach. One man was pushing the other because he was too injured to swim on his own. They met up with pilot and co-pilot, but the other five men were nowhere to be found. A constable from a nearby village found the airmen stranded on the shore. Barley knew he needed to get help for his crew, and asked if there were any American units nearby. The officer was willing to lead him to the nearest Allied presence, which turned out to be about a day’s walk away. They arrived at an Australian outpost, where the American base was contacted and help was promptly dispatched. The waiting crewmembers were rescued. What happened to the other five remains a mystery, although it’s possible that they were captured by the Japanese.
This story can be found in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.
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.
1. Remember the 15 The 65th Squadron suffers a terrible loss on a mission to Tainan Airdrome.
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.
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.
6. Working With the Low Altitude Bombsight This technology was used by a few heavy bomber squadrons to attack shipping targets at night.
We found a couple of interesting diagrams in our archives that we wanted to share with our readers. These were done after the 65th Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group returned from a raid on Balikpapan in October 1944. This was a significant moment in the 43rd’s history, as it was one of several Fifth Air Force units participating in the raid that day. For a quick refresher on Balikpapan, read this post.
Sorting out the chaos of an air battle with only one side of the evidence was no mean feat. Here, we see one of the tools Intelligence Officers used to make sense of it all. These diagrams of the air interception during the October 10, 1944 raid on Balikpapan, Borneo were drawn after debriefing each returning aircrew of their own experience. The composite sketch still leaves some details uncertain—and elements such as the two fighters with bailing pilots might have been one bailing pilot, seen from different aircrews’ perspectives. Note that both sketches depict the same moment in time. We believe the black splotches represent white phosphorus bombs, dropped from J1N1 “Irving” fighters (labelled in the diagram as a “Nick”). We know from Japanese records obtained after the war that the Japanese planes were Navy aircraft: thus the Oscars and Tonys (Army aircraft) listed in the diagram must have actually been A6M5 Model 52s—an advanced variation of the classic “Zero” fighter.