Intense Mission over Rabaul

Three B-26s from the 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group took off from Seven Mile for Vunakanau, Rabaul on May 24, 1942. For one pilot, 2/Lt. Harold L. Massie, this would be his first mission as a first pilot. It was co-pilot 2/Lt. Eugene Wallace’s second combat mission. The three planes flew through overcast skies as they neared New Britain, but their flight leader, Lt. Ralph L. Michaelis, spotted a hole in the clouds near Rabaul. When they reached the target area, they discovered it was still covered by clouds. Still, there was a gap a few miles away and Michaelis decided his flight could use that to their advantage. The plan was to make one north-south run at low-level and get out of the area as fast as possible. At the time, Rabaul was a Japanese stronghold and three B-26s were no match for the heavily defended airdrome.

As they made their run, Japanese antiaircraft gunners let loose with a barrage of ack-ack, and hit two of the three B-26s. As Michaelis put it, “While over the target each member of the crew had had a close call.” Only one man in his plane, the bombardier, was injured when a tracer bullet went through his seat and cushion, stopped right next to his skin and burned him. He and 1/Lt. McCutcheon, the pilot of the third B-26, made it back to base safely. Massie’s plane was not so lucky. It was hit in the starboard engine and last seen smoking badly. The final radio transmission mentioned that they reached Wide Bay. While the plane had been doing ok on one engine, it wasn’t enough power to keep it in the air and Massie ditched about a mile offshore. Two of his crewmen, Pvt. Joseph C. Dukes and Cpl. Wolenski, were not seen after the landing. The others were helped to shore by Papuans. On July 27th, they split up. Massie and bombardier 2/Lt. Arthur C. King went one way and the other four went another way.

The photographer, S/Sgt. Jack B. Swan, broke his shoulder in the crash and died in his sleep on August 23rd. He was buried in the abandoned village of Ubili. His surviving crewmembers were eventually located and helped by an Australian plantation owner. They were finally rescued on March 25, 1943, and that incredible story is told in full in Revenge of the Red Raiders. Massie and King were captured by Papuans who subsequently turned them over to the Japanese. They were executed at Rabaul on October 12, 1942.

A War Correspondent’s Perspective

Harold Guard, a United Press war correspondent, joined the crew of Lt. Chris Herron of the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group for a mission over the Rabaul area on April 23, 1942. Below is his account of the mission.

“I went over Rabaul in a bomber piloted by Lt. Chris Herron and co-piloted by Lt. Duncan Seffern, who fitted me with a ‘Mae West’ and parachute before we left. I had to sit between the radioman and turret gunner, [Cpl.] George McMannamy, and the navigator, Lt. Charles Smith, on the flight. Bombardier Lt. George Barnhill occupied the glass-domed nose and somewhere in the tail were rear gunners [PFC.] Fred J. Mikles and [PFC.] Harry E. Philo.

“We arrived over Rabaul Harbor suddenly from a bank of clouds. I counted seven large ships and there were several smaller vessels. Someone behind U.S. will attend to them. We crossed the harbor, swooping low. I noticed the altitude meter registered 1,000 ft. Simultaneously I saw ground gun flashes and black smoke balls bursting above and around us. I hear the sound like cracking walnuts. The altitude was 700 ft.

“Herron croaks through the throat microphone. I can see the target—long parallel, drab colored buildings. The bomb bay doors open. Barnhill lets go—and fascinated, I see the incendiary sticks spread and actually reach the target. They got what they were supposed to get.

“We start to climb and the turret gunner reports a Zero on the starboard side. I saw him racing ahead of us. The gunner reports two more. I spot a fourth on the port side. The Zeros climb higher. They’re a pretty picture, with the light putty-colored wings against the golden sunshine.

Recon photo of the Rabaul area

Reconnaissance photo of the Rabaul area taken in 1941.

“Then one swoops down towards us. I think he’s sure that he got us, but we dive steeply towards the sea and our after-guns clatter. Barnhill doesn’t waste time during the dive. He pours tracers into the barges now only 75 ft. below us. They are carrying uniformed figures and Barney’s tracers find their target. We straighten out and I see, as I look backwards, billowing clouds of black smoke and sheets of vivid red flame.

“Meanwhile, three more Zeros are pressing us. We remain low over the sea and they can’t dive below us. The tail gunner reports two Zeros hovering on our tail. Suddenly another one hurtles down out of the clouds. Guns chatter again and once more I hear a sound like cracking walnuts and there are bursting puffballs all around us. The gunner’s language over the intercommunication radiophone becomes unprintable as his gun momentarily jams, but he soon gets it into action again and fires a burst which sends the Zeros on our tail zooming away.

“Only one Zero is coming our way now. Herron anticipates perfectly. With a skillful turn of the wrist we are suddenly up and under the Zero. Our turret guns blaze, and McMannnamy’s interphone croaks ‘We got that so-and-so!’

“Barney’s singing over the interphone like a fool—’I don’t want to set the world on fire!’…Suddenly I realize it’s all over. I start grinning and everybody laughed at me. I realize I must have been scared all the time. We turn for home and race in for a perfect landing. Down at Allied HQs, a brief communique says: ‘Our air force attacked shipping, barracks and warehouses, and machine-gunned enemy personnel.’”

Read more about this mission in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Takeoff Snafu

Prior to a mission on September 2, 1942 to Lae, Capt. Walter A. Krell went through his customary visit with each aircrew to make sure they were prepared and understood what they were about to do. He did this for each mission he led, and this event was no different than any other. Until, that is, one pilot started up the engines on his B-26 and headed for the runway. Misinterpreting this pilot’s actions as the signal to start their engines, more pilots started their engines and followed the first pilot toward the runway. Krell was both livid and flabbergasted by the sudden change and he quickly ran to his plane to get in line for takeoff.

Unsurprisingly, Krell did not end up in the first spot for takeoff. This caused confusion among some of the pilots, even leading one to break radio silence and say he wasn’t going to continue the flight. He was later reprimanded. Since Krell was stuck in the middle of the pack, no one was able to find him and form up properly. One pilot in the air before Krell waited for a bit, then decided to head across the Owen Stanley Mountains to Lae on his own. His navigator got lost and they ended up over Salamaua, about 20 miles south of their intended target.

The rest of the crews stayed behind and waited for Krell, which helped alleviate the earlier disorganization. One turned back because of mechanical issues. The rest continued on to Lae with Krell in the lead. As they approached the target area from 9300 feet, they had yet to meet a single fighter. It was too quiet. P/O Graham B. Robertson, Krell’s co-pilot was feeling uneasy about the situation. Krell suddenly veered left before reaching the target. The rest of the formation followed him, then the sky erupted in antiaircraft fire where the formation was only seconds before.

B-26 Over Lae

This photo, showing a 2nd Squadron B-26 over Lae, was taken nearly a month before the September 2nd mission to Lae. (William H. Wise Collection)

Half the bombardiers’ bombs hit the target, while the other half harmlessly fell into the sea because of the maneuver the crews performed. Heading home, the B-26 crew was accompanied by a fighter escort that met them over Cape Waria. Upon returning to Port Moresby, Krell found the pilot who caused the earlier mix-up. As the pilot tried to give Krell an explanation for his actions, he was quickly silenced as a .45 automatic was drawn and pointed at his face. If he pulled a stunt like that ever again, Krell threatened, he would be dead.

The rest of the day didn’t go so well either. The B-26s had landed to refuel before continuing on to Cairns in Northern Australia. After landing a second time, everyone deserted their planes and headed to town. Much to Krell’s chagrin, no one had stayed behind to guard the aircraft. It took a few hours before he was able to find enough men to watch the B-26s overnight.

 

This story can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Firefight at Dili

In early November 1942, the 22nd Bomb Group was ordered to fly a couple of missions to Dili, located on Timor Island. Australian ground troops had reported that the Japanese were using a Catholic cathedral as a supply dump, and that building was the primary target on the November 3rd mission. Shortly before noon, eight B-26s approached the island’s south shore. Aboard Lt. Harry O. Patteson’s B-26, co-pilot John Marcus noticed a very smoky fire on the shore. As the crews flew toward Dili, they noticed other smoky fires along the way, a basic signal to let the Japanese know that trouble was approaching.

By the time they arrived over Dili, any hopes of surprising the Japanese were dashed and Oscars from 59 Sentai were already taking off to engage the B-26s starting their bombing runs from 7500 to 8500 feet. The crews managed to score some direct hits on the first run, but then regrouped before going around for another run. At this point, 1/Lt. Charles I. Hitchcock’s B-26, #41-17593, was hit by two flak bursts that took out the landing gear and started a fire in the engine after tearing through the starboard nacelle. Noticing the stricken plane, the Oscar pilots took the opportunity to go after #593. Hitchcock activated the engine’s fire extinguisher and his co-pilot, Lt. Albert J. Pilkington used a hand fire extinguisher to put out the flames licking the instrument panel in the cockpit, then Hitchcock feathered the propeller.

Bombing Timor

The 2nd, 19th and 408th Squadrons of the 22nd Bomb Group ended their period of stand-down on October 31st by sending a total of 12 B-26 Marauders to the norther coast of Australia to stage out of Darwin for a short series of missions against Dili, the capital of the Portuguese island of Timor. On the second Timor mission, November 3rd, 1/Lt. Charles C. Eberly, Jr., a 19th Squadron bombardier, placed a 2000-pound bomb on the cathedral, which was being used as a storage dump for ammunition. A large secondary explosion can be seen, as can less well-placed bombs that fell into the sea. (Jesse G. Homen Collection)

Down an engine, there was barely enough electricity to power the guns to fend off the attacking Oscars. Still, gunners reported shooting down two of the fighters. Below, an Australian guerrilla patrol watched the fight. The B-26 was falling far behind the rest of the formation and the Australians weren’t sure if it would even make it back to base. There was at least one hole in each propeller blade of the starboard wing and a substantial portion of the wing skin between the fuselage and the engine that had died. After a pilot in another B-26 noticed the plight of the Hitchcock crew, the rest of the B-26 formation turned around to fend off the Oscars and make sure #593 got home safely.

For the next two-and-a-half hours, Hitchcock and an escort flew back at much slower speed of 135 mph and at an altitude of 1000 feet. Then the working engine quit. The crew quickly got ready for a water landing and exited either by the force of the aircraft hitting the water or by swimming out of it. All but one man were bobbing on the water’s surface and Hitchcock made two trips back into the B-26. The first was to find the missing man, which he did, and the second was to release the life raft. Then the plane sunk. Sgt. Glenn A. Campbell, the severely injured crewman who Hitchcock rescued from the aircraft, died of a broken neck. He was buried at sea. Circling above them was Patteson’s B-26. His crew dropped a first aid kid and life raft, which were damaged in the fall. Low on fuel, he headed back to base.

A couple of hours later, the downed crew was visited by three more friendly aircraft dropping supplies and a note that a rescue boat would pick them up at 0600 hours. The men spent a sleepless night in the ocean and were overjoyed to see an Australian Navy tugboat coming to their aid the next morning.

 

Read this story in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Calamity Charlie

CALAMITY CHARLIE was one of the original 18th Recon Squadron Marauders that was piloted overseas by 1/Lt. (later Maj.) Ralph L. Michaelis during the initial deployment of the Group. After traversing the ferry route between Hawaii and Australia, it arrived at Brisbane on April 22, 1942, in company with three other aircraft from the Squadron. Immediately upon arrival in Australia, Michaelis continued on to Reid River, where the renamed 408th Squadron had set up camp. There the engineer, Sgt. Centabar, continued his stateside job of supervising maintenance on the plane, assisted by Sgt. Jack S. Hirschbein. Centabar flew only a mission or two before all crew chiefs were grounded from combat flying.

The nickname was chosen during the fall of 1941, after the aircraft was assigned to the Michaelis crew while they were stationed at Langley Field, Virginia. Charlie was the nickname of Michaelis’ wife, and Calamity was a take off on “Calamity Jane,” a famous female muleskinner and personality from the American old west. Initially, only the name was stenciled on the nose of the Marauder, but after consultation with the crew, the design for the artwork, a modification of a Walt Disney cartoon bee, was chosen. This was painted on both sides of the nose before the plane left for California on the first leg of its deployment to the Pacific.

Michaelis and his crew flew their first mission on April 30th, in the Squadron Commander’s aircraft, but thereafter flew many of their missions in CALAMITY CHARLIE. The members of the crew during this period were 2/Lt. (later Capt.) Wade H. Robert, Jr., co-pilot; 1/Lt. Edwin R. Fogarty, navigator; 2/Lt. Arthur C. King, bombardier; Cpl. (later Sgt.) Stanley A. Wolenski, engineer; PFC. Havis J. Barnes, radio operator; Pvt. Daniel C. Perugini, gunner; and S/Sgt. Jack B. Swan, photographer. The plane was also flown by several other Squadron pilots during its career with the 408th.

This Marauder was scheduled to fly its first mission on May 16th, but this was scrubbed due to poor weather conditions. Its combat debut was made over Rabaul on May 24th with Michaelis at the controls although he was leading a different crew on the mission. Over Vunakanau Airdrome it sustained AA damage to the right wing and hydraulic system, but it eventually landed safely at Port Moresby on one engine. On this mission, three members of Michaelis’ original crew, King, Wolenski and Swan, went down while flying with another crew. Wolenski apparently died in the crash; King was captured and apparently died in Japanese hands, while Swan died of his injuries after an extended period on the run from Japanese forces on New Britain.

Calamity Charlie

The artwork on CALAMITY CHARLIE, a 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group B-26 Marauder, was painted on both sides of the nose. This aircraft transferred to the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group during the spring of 1943, and continued its career with the Silver Fleet until the beginning of 1944. During that period it displayed an unusual tally system on its mission scoreboard, which can be seen in a photo appearing in Appendix IV of Revenge of the Red Raiders. (Laverne L. Limpach Collection)

 

After repairs, CALAMITY CHARLIE was back in action by mid-June and thereafter flew regularly until its last combat mission with the 408th, which took place on November 27th. It played no role in the last six weeks of B-26 operations by the Group, probably because of the need for a major overhaul. On November 2, 1942 Michaelis was transferred to Port Moresby to become an Operations Officer in V Bomber Command. At the same time several Squadron officers transferred out to staff the recently arrived 38th BG.

The profile illustrates this aircraft as it appeared during September 1942, with ten mission markers on its scoreboard. When it completed its tour with the 408th, this was updated to reflect a total of 27 flown, including ones aborted for weather or mechanical reasons. By the time of its last missions with the 408th, the top of the vertical stabilizer had been tipped in the Squadron color, Kelly Green.

As with other 22nd BG planes, CALAMITY CHARLIE was overhauled during the spring of 1943, and the camouflage paint was removed. It was one of only two B-26s still assigned to the 408th at the beginning of June, 1943. The nickname and artwork were repainted on both sides of the nose in a revised format. The plane was transferred to the 19th Bomb Squadron’s “B” Flight by July, 1943, where it started the second phase of its combat career with the Silver Fleet.

Its first mission with the unit was flown on August 13, 1943. During its service with the 19th, CALAMITY CHARLIE did not have a regular pilot although 1/Lt. Jesse G. Homen flew it on ten missions during its last three months with the Squadron. Mission reports indicate that ten different crews flew the plane at least 24 times before it ended its combat flying on January 4, 1944. The members of the ground crew assigned to CALAM1TY CHARLIE during this period included T/Sgt. Frank L. Cain, crew chief; S/Sgt David M. Crawford, his assistant; and mechanic Sgt. Ed Schwietzer.

A unique aspect of the plane’s markings while with the Silver Fleet included a mission scoreboard done in a system of tally marks, which were recorded in groups of five on both sides of the fuselage. Photos taken at the time it was retired from service show the aircraft with 75 tally marks, which far exceeds the 45 combat missions known to have been flown by the aircraft. It is these markings that are depicted in the insert profile. As with the other Marauders remaining in service in the theater, CALAMITY CHARLIE was declared “War Weary” in January, 1944, and flown to Brisbane where it was scrapped during the spring.

Among the missions flown during 1942 were: Rabaul, 5/24 (Michaelis); Kila Point, 6/16 (Ellis); Buna, 7/22 (Augustine); Lae, 8/6, 9/13, 9/19 (Michaelis); Buna, 11/24, 11/27 (O’Donnell); and 11/27 (Ellis). During its service with the 19th Squadron in 1943, missions flown included: Lae, 8/13 (Hathaway), Lokanu Ridge, 8/25 (Burnside); Bogadjim, 8/27 (Rugroden); Cape Gloucester, 9/2 (Higgins); Cape Gloucester, 9/3 (Burnside); Lae (abort), 9/8 (Steddom); Lae, 9/9 (Steddom); Finschafen, 9/18 (Hathaway); Wonan Island, 9/21 (Burnside); Cape Hoskins, 10/2 (Homen); Alexishafen, 10/14 (Homen); Faria Valley, 11/5 (Homen); Satelberg, 11/19 (Irwin); Satelberg, 11/24 (Forrester); Kamlagidu Point, 12/2 Burcky); Cape Gloucester 12/3 (Flanagan); Wandokai, 12/8 (Irwin); Kelanea Harbor, 12/16 (Homen); Sag Sag, 12/24 (Homen); Madang, 12/26 (Homen); Cape Gloucester, 12/29 (Homen); Bogadjim,1/31 (Homen); and in 1944: Erima Point, 1/2 (Homen); and Nambaaron River, 1/4 (Homen).

Read more about CALAMITY CHARLIE and the rest of the 22nd Bomb Group in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

3 Short Stories from the 22nd

A Nerve-Racking Flight on SO SORRY
Captain Gerald J. Crosson was leading B-26s from the 2nd Squadron to Lae on January 3, 1943, where they were to bomb sailing vessels in the area, or the airdrome if the boats couldn’t be found. The aircrews thoroughly searched the area between Lae and Cape Cretin and failed to find the boats. They turned for the airdrome and were met by flak sent up by the alert Japanese antiaircraft gunners. Before Crosson’s bombs were released, his B-26 SO SORRY jolted around and there was a sound of rattling metal in the cockpit. SO SORRY nosed upward in an unanticipated climb and Crosson worked frantically to right the plane. Bombardier T/Sgt. T.J. Smith saw that the bomb bay doors were still open, then noticed that the bombs were still in their racks. He carefully eased himself onto the catwalk where he manually jettisoned the bombs.

Meanwhile, Crosson and his co-pilot struggled to maintain a level course as they dealt with a cut elevator cable, bomb bay doors that wouldn’t close and dragging flaps. SO SORRY dropped out of formation and flew on at about 700 feet in bad weather. The crew was happy to spot Dobodura 50 minutes later, but everyone knew they were in for a rough landing because the aircraft was so unstable, the landing gear wouldn’t lower and the aileron controls were damaged. In spite of everything, Crosson brought the B-26 down safely, and, remarkably, without injury to the crew.

The Rise of the Silver Fleet
Since the early days of the 22nd Bomb Group’s formation and involvement in World War II, the unit was designated a medium bomber unit and the men flew B-26 Marauders on missions. This would last until April 1943, when three of the four squadrons were told that their B-26s would be phased out and replaced with B-25s. At a meeting, the 19th Squadron pilots said they preferred flying the B-26 and the Marauders were given to that squadron. They were stripped of their camouflage paint, which increased their speed by a few miles per hour, as well as given a complete overhaul for optimal performance. First Lieutenant James C. Houston came up with the “Silver Fleet” nickname and an accompanying logo. The 19th would remain the silver fleet until January 1944 when the B-26 was completely phased out of the Pacific Theater and the 22nd Bomb Group was redesignated a heavy bombardment group and transitioned to the B-24.

Silver Fleet

For a short time, the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group was know as the “Silver Fleet.” This nickname referred to the fact that the unit was flying the only combat aircraft in the theater in a natural metal finish. This insignia and nickname were the work of bombardier 1/Lt. James C. Houston, who adapted it from the model railroad with which he played during his youth. Here, the 19th Squadron Line Chief, M/Sgt. Raymond D. Fuller, and Maj. Walter H. Greer, the Squadron C.O., can be seen posing with the new insignia on the tail of B-26 #40-1488, which carried the nickname HOOSIER MISS during its service with the Silver Fleet. (J. William Brosius Collection)

The Practice Bomb Squadron
After several reports of poor bombing records from the Silver Fleet, the squadron was removed from combat in late July 1943 for three weeks so crews could receive additional training. Not only did accuracy leave something to be desired, there were bombs handing up in the racks. When the 19th Squadron returned to combat, one crew discovered the additional training paid off: all ten bombs were dropped in the target area and hit crucial targets.

 

Read these stories in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Repost: Raided!

First published on this blog in September 2014, we thought it was time to bring the story of a Japanese raid on the 22nd Bomb Group back to the front page.

 

Official message from Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters: “On the morning of August 17th, twenty-four Japanese bombers attacked the aerodrome at Port Moresby, which resulted in slight damage to installations and a few casualties.”

For three days, the 22nd Bomb Group had been in standby mode at Seven Mile Drome as they waited for their next big mission. Each B-26 was loaded with six 500-pound bombs, fueled and parked in the open, as revetments had not yet been built. The ten crews were camped out next to their planes, ready to move at a moment’s notice.

During the last couple of months, the Japanese had been keeping an eye on the situation in New Guinea and decided it was about time to improve their prospects there. They decided to move troops and artillery from Rabaul to Buna, and would need a distraction for a successful move. This distraction would come in the form of an air raid on Seven Mile on August 17, 1942.

That morning, Capt. Gammon heard that a Japanese raid was imminent. He ran to his plane, calling to Bauman to start the engines and get ready for an immediate take off. Three bursts from an antiaircraft gun were heard, signaling a red alert. Their early warning system failed and caught everyone completely off guard. As the men scattered, 24 “Betty” bombers in perfect formation approached the airfield at 20,000 feet. Puffs from antiaircraft fire dotted the sky, but were too low to hit the incoming Japanese.

Gammon climbed aboard his plane and headed for the runway with a small crew. As he took off, bombs fell all around his plane, exploding violently, and sending shrapnel into the aircraft. Some of the pieces landed on the bombs in the bomb bay. Quickly, Bauman released the bombs in order to keep the aircraft in one piece. Gammon kept close to the hills to avoid drawing any attention from the Japanese, then circled the runway until the debris was cleared and it was safe to land. He eventually landed with 200 holes in his plane and a shot-up right tire.

When the red alert sounded, Capt. Gerald Crosson was taxiing to the runway with a full crew. He was about halfway down the runway when the bombs began falling and one exploded about 20 feet in front of his B-26’s left wing. As flames from the explosion engulfed the plane and crept towards the bomb bay, the crew abandoned the aircraft as quickly as they could before the bombs exploded. The co-pilot, RAAF Sgt.-PIlot Logan, had been incapacitated by the explosion, so Crosson stayed back to pull him from the bomber. Just as Crosson and Logan took shelter in a crater from one of the bombs, the bombs in the plane blew up. The two men were helplessly caught in flames and a shockwave from the blast. Once the raid ended, Logan and Crosson were loaded into an ambulance. Logan did not survive the journey to the hospital.

Black Smoke

Black smoke and flames rise from Seven Mile Drome following an enemy raid by Betty bombers. This photo was taken on either July 5th or on August 17th, when a similar attack took place and caught Marauders on the ground. (William P. Sparks Collection)

After the raid was over, the 22nd tallied their losses. The message from MacArthur’s office about the raid minimized the results of the surprise attack. One report listed four of their planes as destroyed, as well as three from other groups, and 25 damaged. Pieces of planes, clothes, guns and much more littered the airfield. One thousand barrels of gas and oil burned at one end of the runway, sending plumes of smoke 1500 feet in the air. The Group lost its tower and Operations shack in the raid. The spot where Gammon’s plane had been parked was turned into a giant crater five feet deep and 15 feet wide. For the next 24 hours during the cleanup, delayed action bombs would explode every four or five minutes.

 

This story can be found in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Preparing for War in the Pacific Theater

Although the 22nd Bomb Group had been formed up in December 1939, they saw next to no activity until only a few short weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor sent everyone into a flurry of activity. “The first change of station after the attack on Pearl Harbor was stunningly sudden,” wrote Lt. Maiersperger. “At 1700 hours, Sunday, 7 December 1941, the members of the 22nd BG were engaged in individual pursuits. By 0730 Monday morning, the air echelon was taking off. For half of us, the immediate route was Memphis, Albuquerque and to Muroc Dry Lake…The other half went a more southern route by way of El Paso. The ground echelon was furiously packing all ground equipment to follow us by rail. We had overnight to load our airplanes with such spares as we could carry — hydraulic fluid, brake seals, starter solenoids and spark plugs — which we knew we would need. About 0300, those of us who lived off the base were allowed to repair our respective quarters, divide our possessions as to those that we’d take with us and the remainder to be loaded into our autos for future disposition, according to the arrangements we could make with our landlords, friends or relatives at that hour in the morning. We wrote out checks to meet our obligations to our creditors and tried to answer the excited questions of our landlords. All we could tell them was that we were leaving that day and had to be back on base by 0600. My landlord drove me back to the base and later delivered my car to my parents in New York City.”

B-26s Flying West

On December 8th, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the air echelon of the 22nd was airborne en route to the West Coast, where it was needed to protect against a possible Japanese attack on California. Most of the planes arrived at Muroc Dry Lake within a couple of days following overnight stops at bases along the way for servicing, crew rest and routine maintenance. This photo shows a flight of three 19th Squadron B-26s flying cross country in typical formation at about this time. (George H. Wilson Collection)

All the B-26 crews in the 22nd Bomb Group were ordered to fly from their former airbase at Langley, Virginia to Muroc Dry Lake, California on December 8th at 0715. The ground echelon was loaded up on a train and sent across the country, arriving on the 12th. Muroc was never intended to be a major airbase, but in the wake of Pearl Harbor the primary concern was moving the units to the west quickly, with the details to be sorted out later.

The ground echelon called Muroc “The Pits”. Living conditions were awful, it was very isolated and subject to extreme temperature changes (as it was located in the Mojave Desert). Several lucky crews from the 33rd Squadron, soon followed by the rest of the air echelon, were sent to on March Field, a much more comfortable base, at the end of December. The ground echelon remained at Muroc until the end of January, at which point the decision to mobilize the 22nd Bomb Group was finalized. Only a week later, the 22nd was leaving the States and heading off to fight the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

 

Read more about the 22nd Bomb Group’s journey in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

YEAH! Goes Down

On this Memorial Day, we want to take some time to remember those who were killed in combat. Among them were several members of a B-26 crew from the 33rd Squadron. Their story is below.

On January 7, 1943, 1/Lt. Leonard T. Nicholson and his crew were flying to Lae with a couple of other B-26s to target ships in the harbor. As the three planes began their bombing run, the Japanese began sending up antiaircraft fire to discourage the American crews. The men flew on and released their bombs. As they turned, YEAH! was hit by two blasts of flak, one of which knocked out the left engine and damaged the hydraulic lines. YEAH!’s bomb bay doors fell open, causing an unsustainable amount of of strain on the only working engine.

Ground Crew Members with B-26 YEAH!

Two unidentified members of the ground crew stand beneath the Squadron insignia on the nose of YEAH!

By this point, nine Zeros had caught up to the B-26s and the pilots knew it was time to get out of there. Nicholson knew there was no way he would make it back to Port Moresby on one overheating engine and let the crew know that they should prepare to ditch the plane. The pilot landed in Hercules Bay, located north of Buna, and the crew hurried to get out of YEAH! Engineer Sgt. Jack G. Mosely and radioman S/Sgt. Joseph P. Papp unfortunately did not escape and went down with the plane. The rest of the men swam to shore, helping the severely injured navigator Lt. Norm E. DeFreese along the way. Once on the beach, gunner Cpl. Thomas A. Moffitt went off to find help for his crew. DeFreese did not live through the night.

The next day, three crewmen were walking towards Buna when they were spotted by Australian Beaufighters flying overhead. Food and a map were dropped to the men below. The relief that they must have felt was destroyed soon after by the sound of a gunshot. Bombardier S/Sgt. William M. Brown was killed by a Papuan Infantry Patrol that had mistaken the Americans for Japanese. The two remaining crewmen, the pilot and co-pilot, were separated during the chaos.

Co-pilot Lt. Jack I. Childers spent a couple of unbearable nights fending off mosquitoes in the open air and three days looking for someone who would help him get back to base. On the second day, Beaufighters espied him once again and dropped supplies. Childers’ situation changed on the third day when he spotted natives on the far side of the river and was able to flag them down. They took him to their village, where he spent a more comfortable night, then was taken to an Australian camp the following day. He soon learned that both Moffitt and Nicholson were alive and had been flown back to camp within the last couple of days. Childers would soon follow them and rejoin the rest of his unit.

This story can be found on p. 166 of our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Marauder at Midway

Marauder at Midway by Jack Fellows

Early on the morning of June 4, 1942, the Japanese Combined Fleet, with four aircraft carriers, was approaching Midway Island in the Central Pacific with the intention of seizing the island. They expected to surprise the Allied base, but due to a broken Japanese code the Allies had advance warning, and sent every available bomber in Hawaii to Midway’s defense. Among this eclectic mix were four B-26 Martin Marauder fast medium bombers, now equipped to carry aerial torpedoes: two from the 22nd Bomb Group and two from the 38th Bomb Group. Navy ships, including two carriers, were also now approaching the scene. But even without the element of surprise, the Japanese had more ships, more carriers, and more aircraft armed to take down opposing ships.

While Midway Island was subjected to a terrific pounding by an initial Japanese air attack, the B-26s participated with Midway-based Navy attack aircraft in a desperate but spirited counterattack on the carriers. The strike ended badly for this American strike force and two of the B-26s were shot down during their target runs. The other two were so badly shot up that they barely made it back to Midway, where they crash-landed and never flew again. While attempting to evade the Akagi’s Zero fighters after releasing his torpedo at the ship, Lt. James Muri of the 408th Bomb Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group, in B-26 #40-1391 SUZIE Q, ended up flying just feet above the Akagi’s flight deck. Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, leader of the Midway assault, witnessed the American counterattack, saw the Marauder fly a few feet above the ship’s deck, and incorrectly surmised that the planes stationed on the island’s airbase were the biggest threat to his precious carriers. Accordingly, he re-armed his force of attack aircraft with ordnance intended to destroy land targets. What Nagumo didn’t realize was that at the moment that Lt. Muri was hurtling down the flight deck of Akagi, mere feet away, two yet undetected U.S. carriers had arrived to engage the Japanese fleet.

The shocking discovery a short time later of U.S. carriers preparing to strike the Japanese fleet forced Nagumo to once again download the ordnance on his waiting planes and reload them for attacking ships. Aside from the breaking of the Japanese code that allowed the U.S. Navy to respond to the Japanese invasion fleet, this fateful decision was responsible, more than anything else, for the U.S. Navy’s stunning victory over the Japanese Naval forces in the Battle of Midway. While the Japanese planes were sitting on the flight decks, busy reloading, the Americans had already launched their attack aircraft. Had the Midway-based attack not been so aggressive, or if Lt. Muri had not so audaciously buzzed the Admiral’s flagship, the Japanese attack aircraft may well have kept their anti-ship ordnance and been in the air when the American carrier attack planes were launched. By the end of the day, all four of the Japanese carriers had been sunk; the USS Yorktown was the only carrier loss suffered by the United States Navy in this battle, which was the turning point in the Pacific war.

 

If you want to learn more about the Battle of Midway, read this post. Head to our website to buy the painting.