Outta My Way!

Wewak and Boram were the targets of the 38th and 345th Bomb Groups, respectively, on November 27, 1943. Leading the 500th Squadron over Boram was Assistant Operations Officer Capt. Bruce Marston. The strike started off well enough when B-25s flying over the hillside caught the Japanese by surprise. As they neared the airfield, pilots opened the bomb bay doors to drop parafrag clusters on the runway. Marston in his B-25 HITT AND MISS, was followed by 1/Lt. Alfred J. Naigle on his left in BUGGER OFF. On Naigle’s left was a B-25 nicknamed WATTUM-CHOO.

Just as Naigle began to unload his parafrags, his co-pilot diverted his attention to the sudden shift in WATTUM-CHOO’s location from next to BUGGER OFF to right above it, with bomb bay doors open. Naigle quickly radioed the pilot to not release his parafrags and attempted to get out of the way of the B-25. White parachutes began leaving WATTUM-CHOO and Naigle ducked as a parafrag cluster shattered the cockpit canopy, nearly cutting the aircraft in two pieces as it dragged the astrodome and turret dome down through the fuselage. Naigle and gunner S/Sgt. Wayne W. Hoffman were injured, with the pilot only conscious because he was wearing his steel helmet as the top of the cockpit came crashing down on him.

Damage to Bugger Off

With 1/Lt. Alfred J. Naigle struggling with the controls, BUGGER OFF came off the target at Wewak on November 27th with heavy damage. The plane off Naigle’s wing overflew him during a bomb run and dropped a string of parafrags on top of him. This photo shows some of the damage to the cockpit and fuselage of BUGGER OFF. A piece of the iron fragmentation wrapping around one of the bombs can be seen sticking out of the window of the fuselage at lower right corner of the cockpit window. (Alfred J. Naigle Collection)

The B-25 itself was also severely damaged. The left engine was vibrating enough to potentially break the plane apart, the left nacelle and propeller had also been damaged and the rudders were gouged and dented. Naigle pulled away from Wewak to jettison the rest of his parafrags and feather the propeller. Seeing the impaired B-25, several 38th Bomb Group planes formed up to escort Naigle and his crew as far as they could go. Naigle was able to fly more than 200 miles to Dumpu, where he made a successful landing. He was followed by one of the 38th B-25s, who took Naigle’s crew back to base. The pilot was taken to an Australian field dressing station, then sent on to Nadzab.

 

 

Find this story and many others in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six More WWII Bases Then and Now

Rabaul, New Britain

Located on the coast of a natural harbor on the eastern coast of New Britain, an island in the Southwest Pacific, Rabaul was a German colony in the 1900s that was captured by the Australians in World War I. Two nearby volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, erupted violently in 1937, destroying most of the city. After World War II started, it was captured by the Japanese in January 1942, after which it was transformed into a major stronghold with approximately 97,000 troops that would easily fend off Allied attacks until October and November 1943. While the Allies continued to advance towards Japan, they cut off Japanese supply routes to Rabaul and continued to bomb the city and surrounding area. It was officially surrendered at the end of the war. After the war was over, the city became a trading hub until Tavurvur erupted in 1994, once again destroying a large part of the city. Developments closest to the volcano were never rebuilt.

Rabaul then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Rabaul and Simpson Harbor as they appeared in September 1943. At right is Rabaul today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Langley Air Force Base

Established in 1917 near Hampton, Virginia, Langley Field (named after American aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley) remains one of the oldest air bases in continuous operation in the U.S. Its small airfield was expanded in the 1930s and continued to develop as World War II began. At the time the left image was taken, Langley was used as a training ground for new units, such as the 43rd Bomb Group, established in the U.S. military build-up before they entered the war.

Langley then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Langley Field in 1941. At right is Langley today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Boram Airdrome

On the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, Boram (referred to as East Wewak by the Japanese) was one of the four airdromes that made up the Wewak Complex built by the Japanese during World War II. The other three in the complex were Wewak, Dagua, and But. It was repeatedly attacked by the Allies between 1942 and 1945, and finally ended with the Australians securing Boram on May 22, 1945. These days Boram is the home of the Wewak Airport, also sometimes known as Boram Airport.

Boram then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Boram Airdrome after it was attacked by the 312th Bomb Group during the spring of 1944. At right is Boram today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Morotai Island

Approximately two years after the Japanese invaded Morotai Island, off Halmahera Island in east Indonesia, the 31st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army landed on Morotai on September 15, 1944. Two airstrips were built and Morotai grew into a major staging base for attacks on Japanese territory in the Philippine Islands. Almost a year later on September 9, 1945, the island became the site of the formal surrender of the 126,000 Japanese still in the Netherlands East Indies [now Indonesia]. The base became a large aircraft and vehicle graveyard after the war was over. Scrapping and smelting lasted until 1988.

Morotai then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, are the two airstrips at Morotai on October 15, 1944. At right is Morotai today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Ie Shima

Ie Shima was part of the Ryukyu Island chain, a trail of islands southwest of Japan. It was just west of Okinawa, and was captured by the Allies as part of the Battle of Okinawa. Before American units took over the base, the Japanese destroyed the runways and buried mines throughout the island to deter Allied attacks. Once it was under U.S. control, various engineer aviation battalions were hard at work to make the island habitable for units that were due to move to the island in June. In August, Ie Shima was a stop for the Japanese surrender delegation on their way to Manila. These days, the U.S. Marine Corps operates a military training facility on part of the island, while civilians reside on the rest of it.

Ie Shima then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Warpath Across the Pacific, is the 345th Bomb Group’s camp area at Ie Shima in the summer of 1945. At right is Ie Shima today, taken from Google Maps.

Buka Island
Buka Island is part of the Solomon Island chain in the southwest Pacific, on the opposite end of the chain from Guadalcanal. After being claimed by the Germans in 1885, Buka was turned over to Australia in 1920. The Japanese seized Buka on March 9, 1942 and built an air base that grabbed Allied attention in June 1943 when preparations for Operation Cartwheel were in the works. A small canal separated Buka from the island of Bougainville, which was to be the site of a major invasion, and up-to-date reconnaissance of the two islands was required beforehand. That reconnaissance mission turned into one of the most dramatic moments of the Pacific war when Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. and his crew were attacked during their photomapping mission on June 16, 1943. In the end, Zeamer and his bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, were awarded the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski’s was posthumously awarded) and the rest of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for getting those photos while under fire. Contrary to internet lore, this photo was not taken during that mission. Buka remained under Japanese control until September 1945. It later gained independence from Papua New Guinea in 2005.

Buka then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from the Naval Aviation Museum, the Buka airfield in August 1943. At right is Buka today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading: