Repost: That Saga-Writing Kavieng Cat Crew

Seventy-five years ago today, a PBY Catalina pilot performed a series of daring rescues. His bravery was the subject of a post back in June 2014 and is being reposted today.

Meet Lt. (J.G.) Nathan Gordon. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing three aircrews near Kavieng on February 15, 1944. His crew received  high praise for the daring rescues made that day. Admiral Halsey sent a telegram saying, “Please pass my admiration on to that saga writing Kavieng Cat crew.”

Here’s a short video of Gordon talking about how he saved the men. One of the crews that was rescued by the men on his Catalina was the subject of the previous post. Don’t forget to read their story after you watch the video.

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Medium Bombardment Attack and Aviation

We’re always glad to see how much video footage from World War II is so easily accessible to us more than 70 years after it was first taken. This film is no exception. It was meant to introduce life in the Pacific Theater to the men who were transferring over from the European Theater. The film focuses on a familiar bomb group: the 345th. After covering some of the basics in the Pacific, there’s some great footage taken from bombing missions that you won’t want to miss.

The Disappearance of Capt Kizzire’s Crew

On the night of November 26th, 1943, the 345th Bomb Group was assigned a raid against Boram Airdrome. Expecting heavy antiaircraft fire, Captain William L. Kizzire and his fellow 498th Bomb Squadron pilot Lt. Melvin Best debated how best to handle a shot-out engine. A B-25 could fly on a single engine if the propeller was feathered, but if it couldn’t be feathered, the drag created by a windmilling prop would keep the B-25 from flying for very long. They decided the best strategy was to fly out to sea and wait for an Allied submarine to pick them up.

The next day, the 498th took the worst of the ack-ack. They were the last over the target, so the antiaircraft gunners had the most time to prepare. As Kizzire led his flight to the Boram coastline, he spotted a wooden ship in the harbor to strafe. A well-aimed shell from a nearby freighter took out the right engine on Kizzire’s B-25 IMPATIENT VIRGIN. Over the radio, Best, his left wingman, heard “God-a-mighty, I can’t feather it.” The oil reservoir used for feathering the propeller was damaged.

In the heat of the moment, Kizzire deviated from the prepared strategy, and instead flew about 35 miles down the coast to a suitable spot to ditch the B-25. He landed in Murik Lake, a lagoon about five feet deep at the mouth of the Sepik River. Everyone climbed out of the aircraft and fellow aircrews circling above dropped supplies to the downed airmen. Back at Bomber Command, Col. Jarred V. Crabb tried to get a Navy Catalina out to rescue the crew. He was unsuccessful.

B-25 Impatient Virgin takes off

B-25D-5 #41-30046, IMPATIENT VIRGIN, seen here taking off, was hit by antiaircraft fire near Wewak on November 27, 1943 and crash-landed into the shallow water of Murik Lagood about 35 miles east of the target. Captain William L. Kizzire of the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group and his crew reached shore safely but eventually fell into the hands of the Japanese. (Clifford C. Cottam Collection)

Lieutenant Ralph Robinette took off on a search for the crew the next morning with clothes and boots for each man as well as survival items to hold them over until they could be rescued. Kizzire’s navigator, 1/Lt. Joseph W. Carroll, and another crewmember were spotted near the lagoon and the supplies were dropped nearby. Robinette wrote a note telling them to wait by the lagoon for a Catalina and handed it to his co-pilot to drop from the flare shoot, but, in all the excitement, he forgot to do so. After Robinette flew back to Port Moresby, he secured a Catalina and headed back to the lagoon with the crew. Approaching the area, they spotted three flares west of the lagoon. Above the Catalina flew an unwelcome visitor, a Japanese Betty bomber.

Reluctantly, the pilot called off the search in case the pilot of the Betty called in some fighters to attack the Catalina. Around sunrise the next morning, the Catalina returned, the crew aboard fruitlessly searching the area for an hour and a half. About an hour later, another Catalina showed up with a fighter escort, also searching for the downed crew. They were never found. It wasn’t until March 1944 when three names from Kizzire’s crew were mentioned over an unofficial shortwave broadcast in English. These three men were alive and safe after being captured in Wewak. It was the last thing anyone ever heard about the crew.

 

This isn’t the only story from the November 27th raid at Boram. Read another one here.

Repost: One Minute in Hell

Seventy-five years ago, Fifth Air Force units set out to strike the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul. Artist Steve Ferguson illustrated one moment of that mission below. This print was first shared last year.

A painting of a 38th Bomb Group B-25 over a Japanese ship during WWII

On November 2, 1943, Fifth Air Force launched a massive low-level attack by B-25 strafer-bombers against harbor installations and shipping at the major Japanese fleet anchorage and base at Rabaul, New Britain. In the vanguard of the 71st Squadron’s strike, 1/Lt. James A. Hungerpiller flying SLEEPY TIME GAL and 1/Lt. J. E. Orr can be seen engaging their targets at mast-top heights. In the face of the hundreds of antiaircraft guns, Lt. Hungerpiller opened fire on two destroyers, scoring a direct hit with one of his bombs. Meanwhile, Lt. Orr opened fire on a harbor merchant ship while Lt. Hungerpiller’s aircraft quickly began to lose altitude because of severe AA damage. Recognizing the plight of this aircraft, he made a sharp right turn toward to heavy cruisers anchored just off the western shore of the harbor.

This painting depicts Lt. Hungerpiller’s SLEEPY TIME GAL, trailing a plume of fire and smoke, crossing beyond the bow of the heavy cruiser Haguro. In the foreground, Lt. Orr is opening fire on the Japanese merchant ship. With his left engine on fire and the aircraft severely damaged from a fuel tank explosion, Lt. Hungerpiller soon lost control his aircraft and plunged into the sea.

 

This painting, part of a limited edition series by Steve Ferguson, can be purchased on our website.

Pacific Powerhouse

Painting of a 3BG B-25 during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 28″ x 19″

Paper Size: 32″ x 24″

In less than a year, Fifth Air Force emerged from providing target practice for Imperial Japanese Army and Navy pilots and humorous material from Japanese radio broadcasters to an overwhelming and merciless adversary. This was proven beyond dispute at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, an Allied air action against a large Japanese Naval troop and supply convoy which sought to reinforce the Imperial Japanese Army Garrison at Lae, New Guinea on March 2-4, 1943. In this strategically important battle, Fifth Air Force fielded heavy, medium and light attack bombers with superior fighter cover to pulverize the convoy as it made its way from the Japanese-held bastion at Rabaul, around the island of New Britain and across the Bismarck Sea.

As the last bombs fell from B-17s and B-24s at 7000 feet, 13 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Bristol Beaufighters swept in, strafing at deck-level and 12 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers led a skip-bombing attack, followed by Douglas A-20 Havocs which also skip-bombed and strafed. One RAAF 30th Squadron Beaufighter can be seen here, having just strafed the destroyer Arashio, as the 3rd Bomb Group’s Capt. Robert Chatt in his B-25, nicknamed “CHATTER BOX,” newly modified with eight forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns, “skipped” a 500-pound highly-explosive delay-fused bomb into the bridge of the destroyer. This fatally damaged the ship which then, out of control, veered wildly to port and collided with the IJN supply ship, Nojima, visible just beyond the Beaufighter. The resultant collision sent both ships to the bottom. The B-25s and A-20s were the embodiment of the legendary Paul I. (“Pappy”) Gunn’s minimum altitude, gun-toting “Commerce Destroyer” strafers. This artwork by Jack Fellows is available for purchase on our website.

The First Major Attack on Rabaul

As the Allied forces looked beyond their current situation in October 1943, they were determined to neutralize the threat presented by the Japanese at Rabaul in order to keep moving northwest toward the Philippines. It was time to initiate a series of heavy attacks on the area, the first of which was scheduled for October 12th. Over 100 B-25s from the 345th and 38th Bomb Groups, three P-38 squadrons, 40 planes from the 3rd Bomb Group, and more than 80 B-24s from the 90th and 43rd Bomb Groups joined forces with RAAF P-40s, Beaufighters and Beauforts. They were up against a powerful foe made up of almost 300 aircraft spread out on the airfields surrounding Rabaul as well as nearly 400 antiaircraft guns. A number of ships were also sitting in the harbor at this time.

This formidable Allied force was to split up in order to tackle the defenses on each field: the 345th and 38th would attack Vunakanau, the 3rd would take on Rapopo, Beaufighters were to hit Tobera, then the B-24s would take care of the shipping in Simpson Harbor. As the formations flew toward their specific target areas, they knew the best thing for them at the start of this strike would be the element of surprise. It worked.

Flying over the hillside, the 498th Squadron began firing on the rows of Japanese aircraft sitting on Tobera’s airfield. Maintenance workers that had been working on planes quickly ran for cover and men in the B-25s noticed that the antiaircraft guns were still covered up and pointing the wrong way. The B-25s also disrupted the takeoffs and landings of several Japanese planes. As the 498th worked over its target area with machine guns and parafrags, Japanese antiaircraft gunners started firing back and dislocated part of the right aileron on 1/Lt. Kenneth C. Dean’s B-25. Dean and his crew were able to return to base without further incident.

Under Attack at Vunakanau

This Japanese “Zero” fighter was caught on the main runway during the October 12th attack on Vunakanau. It was strafed repeatedly by the waves of aircraft as they passed overhead but shows little evidence of damage in this photo taken from aircraft #220 of the 38th Bomb Group’s 71st Squadron. Strafing damage rarely showed up in belly camera photography. Two squadrons from the 38th attacked Vunakanau immediately behind the 345th. (John C. Hanna Collection)

Among the Japanese on the ground was 18-year-old Petty Officer Masajiro Kawato, who had been assigned to 253 Kokutai. That day, he was at Tobera to deal with some paperwork for his unit. Instead, he wound up defending the airfield from the Allied attack. His experiences during the strike can be found in Warpath Across the Pacific.

With each squadron’s attack on the airfields, the Japanese defenses increased as Rabaul turned into a fully armed and operational battle station. Japanese fighters attacked the enemy aircraft, with the fiercest attacks directed at the new wave of Allied aircraft: the B-24s. Two were shot down. Once the Allies left the area and began to analyze claims and photography, it was clear that this raid was a success. Approximately 100 Japanese planed on the ground were destroyed and 26 more were shot down. Several ships and harbor facilities also sustained damage.

Repost: The Last Voyage of the Amatsukaze

We’re heading back to the blog archives once again to bring you a story we first posted in January 2016 about the disabling of a Japanese ship, the Amatsukaze.

 

 

On April 5, 1945, Allied intelligence detected a small convoy of Japanese ships sailing up the China coast, from Hong Kong to Amoy (now Xiamen). The short hop, only about 350 miles by ship, was being attempted by two cargo ships, protected by several frigates and a destroyer, the Amatsukaze. These ships were the remnants of the last convoy to attempt the 3000 mile journey from Singapore, off the southern tip of the Malay, to the Japan home islands, through waters patrolled by Allied submarines and aircraft. Already, they had lost a third of their number to bombing attacks. Now that they had set sail, the 345th Bomb Group could get their shot at sinking the convoy ships.

Twenty-four B-25 strafers were sent up to intercept the convoy, and discovered two frigates, Escorts #1 and #134, at 11:30, right where intelligence briefings had predicted. Captain George Musket led the 501st Squadron on a skip-bombing attack against one of the frigates. Musket dropped a bomb which bounced off the water and onto the ship’s deck, where it exploded. Another bomb opened a hole on the frigate’s side, causing it to sink within minutes. The 499th Squadron continued on to the second frigate. Lt. Lester Morton dropped a bomb that exploded just below the waterline, in the ships center. It blew a large hole in the starboard side of the frigate, and it rolled over soon after.

The 498th Squadron, seeing that both ships had already been sunk, decided to circle the second frigate and strafe the Japanese survivors in the water. One of them took this picture as he circled the capsized ship. Crewmen can be seen clinging to the side or bobbing in the water.

Frigate destroyed by 345th Bomb Group

The 500th Squadron missed the action entirely. They continued along the coastline, looking for more ships, and after a 10-minute hunt, spotted another promising shape in the water. 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt led his six B-25s on a low-altitude run. The ship was the Amatsukaze, which the B-25 pilots had mistaken for a merchant vessel, perhaps because of its small stature. The Amatsukaze had lost its bow and front stack to a torpedo attack by a U.S. submarine in January 1944. After it was towed to base, the ship’s aft end was patched up and fitted with a makeshift bow. Though the destroyer was only half as long as it had once been, it was still bristling with weaponry.

Amatsukaze April 1945

The Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze. Sailing with a temporary bow after its bow was blown off by a submarine, is seen under attack by the lead flight of the 500th Bomb Squadron off the China coast on April 6th. This photo was taken by 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt, the Squadron Leader, as he raced by the ship. The large splash at top left in thisphoto may have been the crash of Schmidt’s wingman, 1/Lt. Joseph Herick, who was hit in the cockput by a 40mm shell and crashed inverted into the sea near the destroyer. 2/Lt. Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 from the second flight can be seen lining up for its attack.

The B-25 pilots saw their target begin to flash, and suddenly the sky was filled with ack-ack. The formation bore on, undeterred. Schmidt and his wingmen, F/O Van Scoyk and Lt. Joe Herick, began firing on the ship, hoping to suppress the gunners on its deck. Herick’s plane took a direct hit from a 40mm round. It pitched forward and smashed into the water, upside down. Schmidt dropped his bombs, catching two direct hits on the Amatsukaze. The other three B-25s made their run, catching this photograph of the ship afire.

Amatsukaze Explosion

1/Lt. George R. Schmidt’s camera caught 2/Lt. Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 pulling away from its attack on the destroyer Amatsukaze.

As the 500th Squadron B-25s headed back to base, the 498th Squadron plans came upon the burning destroyer. It was still moving at full speed, even as dark smoke billowed up from its hull. The B-25s broke into two flights of three, with one, led by Lt. James Manners, planning to use the smoke cloud as cover, and the other, led by Capt. Albin V. Johnson, arcing around the cloud. The Amatsukaze directed all of its fire on the latter flight. Johnson landed a direct hit on the stern, but was heavily damaged by flak, causing him to ditch as he pulled away. A search for survivors the next day turned up empty-handed.

Manners’ flight, coming from behind the destroyer, swept over the ship, strafing it from stern to bow. They bracketed the ship with their bombs, leaving it burning, dead in the water. The American pilots immediately headed out of the area. After dodging a brief fighter interception, they returned to Laoag, Luzon, out of fuel. The Amatsukaze was towed to Amoy, run aground, and designated as target practice.

Find this story and much more in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Diary Excerpt: Clifford Taylor

We’re back with another entry from the diary of Lt. Clifford Taylor, who was a member of the 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group. If you haven’t read the previous entries we’ve published, you can find them here.

 

Aug. 24th [1943]
Today was one of the toughest assignments the 13th of the 3rd Group ever drew. We, the 3rd Group, were to go up to Hansa Bay, 20 minutes fighter time from Wewak & take care of some shipping and supplies up there. It had been reported that six luggers & a couple of large “Sugar Charlies”, and a flock of troop barges were anchored there. In this ever tightening “pincer” on Salamaua & eventually Lae, the main line of supply lies in getting some shipping thru. With the complete success of our barge hunts, we have been slowly starving old Tojo out & he is becoming increasingly desperate trying to get thru our aerial blockade. From this type of strategy, our mission was born, so we were loaded with 8 300 pound 45 sec. demo bombs. The ack-ack up here is known to be the most intense in all of New Guinea & promised to be most interesting.

After we had the number one spot in the Wewak show, it was only rightly decided to let the 90th & the 8th have the shipping to themselves & we were to take care of the ack-ack so they could do a thorough job on the shipping. We took off at 730 & assembled at the Gona wreck, picking up our umbrella of cover, 50 P-38’s and started on course. I was with Bill Dersch & we had Sgts. Witek & MacLean as gunners. We were leading our squadron & flew on the left of the 90th in a “V” of “V’s.” We arrived south of the target at 955 & each element of the 13th was to go in with a group of the 90th giving it the necessary support for ack-ack. As we drew up toward the target slightly ahead of the 90th, black puffs started to appear around us. We opened up with out 8 guns & went in. We strafed some gun positions & toggled off our bombs in a string on the supply bases & saved a couple for the previously known heavy ack-ack on the peninsula, which dropped near the position. We were quite lucky & started a gasoline fire that was visible for 45 miles.

While we were doing our chore, I saw two direct hits made by the 90th on the luggers. As we went out over the bay a long line of bullets churned the water just ahead of our right wing. We went out & circled to the right & as the last element came over, “Jock” Henebry turned & went back in & we joined him to give him the necessary cover. By this time we were down to 3 guns firing, as our barrels on the others were burned out. We started to catch hell again so went down on the trees & flew thru the various columns of smoke, which we, the 13th, caused. Jock pulled away & we continued inland over the strip. We also sighted a camouflaged “Betty” bomber & tried to strafe it, but our bullets started to go all over due to the barrels going too. We then pulled up & went out to sea & dropped low taking evasive action. We were still catching ack-ack. We started down the coast to pick up our wing men & found a couple of “25’s” making passes on two more “luggers” down the coast a ways. We then came in low on the water toward the ships & noticed more ack-ack.

As we came in I saw a shell skip in front of our nose. As we came in to strafe only one of our guns was firing. Some tracers came up at us but were wide of there mark. As we passed over the ships one had been sunk & the other was a sheet of flame, as a result of some good bombing by our boys. We then started home leading a couple of our ships & about 5 P-38’s. As a result of some good dead reckoning & luck we came right out where we should & arrived back at Dobodura without further ado. As proof of our fair support, not one of the other squadrons were hit by ack-ack, and four of our boys were. It was a very successful mission & I’m sure that the little yellow men are on even more meagre rations of rice & fish heads.

Craig told me an interesting incident that happened to him & “Smitty” over the second target. They were coming in for a strafing pass when a burst of ack-ack shook the hell out of them. They then spotted the position & turned to take care of it. With ack-ack coming up all around them, they opened up their 8 50’s & put the old ring & bead right on them. As they closed in, the return fire ceased & they came up over the position, observing four sons of Tojo that would never fight again.

Near-Disaster over Huon Gulf

It was about 4AM when the 405th Squadron’s Operations Officer, Benny Jackson, gave 1/Lt. Garrett Middlebrook and his neighbors a rude wakeup call in the form of a revving jeep backed into the opening of Middlebrook’s tent. First Lieutenant Lawrence F. Tanberg was a little nicer to his crew, but everyone sprang to action, as they would soon take off to bomb a Japanese convoy heading to Lae on January 7, 1943. Major Ralph Cheli would lead the 405th Squadron aircrews on this mission and Tanberg would lead the 71st Squadron.

Japanese gunners were ready and waiting for the B-25s, having already filled the sky with more flak than Tanberg had ever encountered. Middlebrook noticed eight Zeros flying toward them and Cheli led the 405th into cloud cover to avoid enemy fire, then they dropped down to begin their bombing runs. Right as Middlebrook went over the target, a flak burst in front of his plane blew out a panel in the nose. His crew, as well as the rest of the 405th crews there, strafed the decks of the Japanese ships below them and dropped their bombs, then made a run for it.

38th Bomb Group B-25 Pacific Prowler

PACIFIC PROWLER, pictured here over the New Guinea coast, was nearly knocked out of the sky by THE EGG CRATE, which was hit by flak on January 7, 1943. THE EGG CRATE went into an uncontrollable dive towards PACIFIC PROWLER and missed it by several feet. (Ernest McDowell Collection)

Meanwhile, 1/Lt. Tanberg led the 71st Squadron on its bombing run, and the crews unloaded their bombs on the ships at the same time. A split second later, THE EGG CRATE’s right wing absorbed a direct flak burst, sending the plane into an uncontrollable dive towards PACIFIC PROWLER, piloted by Tanberg. THE EGG CRATE’s pilot, 1/Lt. Elmer P. Brinkman managed to turn the B-25 away from PACIFIC PROWLER, missing it by mere feet. Bombs from Brinkman’s plane that were released on Tanberg’s signal fell just behind PACIFIC PROWLER, a stroke of luck for the entire formation.

After THE EGG CRATE dove past the B-25 formation, Brinkman and his co-pilot worked to extinguish the fire that started on board and bring their plane back under control. It was too late: they were forced to make a water landing. This was the end of THE EGG CRATE, which broke in half and sank, with no survivors.

Leaving the target area, the 71st Squadron was attacked by several Zeros, two of which broke off their pursuit due to return fire from 71st Squadron gunners. Middlebrook’s aircraft was also pursued by Zeros, but his gunners weren’t shooting back. Word quickly got to the pilot that the turret gunner was badly wounded and bleeding profusely from his elbow, and the bombardier had been cut by glass when the nose panel blew out earlier. The injured men were tended to by their crewmembers and Middlebrook flew the B-25 back to Port Moresby as fast as he could. For turret gunner S/Sgt. Robert S. Emminger, the crew had to alternate between compressing his wound to slow the blood loss and allowing the blood to flow to his arm to prevent it from dying. Miraculously, his arm did not suffer permanent damage, and both wounded men recovered fully after receiving blood transfusions.

War Weary

War Weary B-25 painting by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 28.5″ x 24″

Paper Size: 34.5″ x 24″

Combat aircraft are a little like racehorses…they can only go around the track a certain amount of times before they are worn out. An airplane that has attained an advanced state of decrepitude, such that it is no longer considered safe for combat missions is considered to be “war weary.” In the Southwest Pacific Theater of operations, consignment of worn out aircraft to the boneyard was an unaffordable luxury in 1944. For utility was still to be squeezed out of an airplane which could still wheeze down the runway and struggle into the air, and enough optimists could be found to fly her.

In the painting, a war weary B-25D with over 100 combat missions to its credit, WOLF PACK, retired to utility flights by the 498th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group, drops into the Ramu River valley in the jungles of western New Guinea, September 11, 1944, after losing an engine. The B-25 was unable to maintain level flight on the remaining engine, so a controlled crash-landing in the valley, an area known to be inhabited by cannibals, became a necessity. Pilot Lt. John Fabale, and co-pilot Lt. Harrison Beardsley managed to land in a swamp without any injuries to themselves or the crew.

After a five-day odyssey through the jungle, the crew arrived at an Allied jungle outpost, whereupon they were airlifted the rest of the way out by L-5 Stinson liaison aircraft. Many aircraft and their crew simply vanished into the jungle of New Guinea, never to be seen again, as the weather and the uncertainties of flight in aircraft which have mechanical failure as a recurring theme, took their toll on optimist and pessimist alike.

 

Read more of this story here. This print is available for purchase on our website.