Although he wasn’t a member of an aircrew, Mathew Gac of the 38th Bomb Group saw many raids through the lenses of cameras on his group’s aircraft. He frequently wrote in his diary about day-to-day life working in the photo department and we wanted to share three of them with you this week.
July 8, 1943
Still a tired fellow this morning with a lot on my mind and a lot of work to do alone. Another mission today. 405th to support the big push around Salamaua. Finished overhauling a K-17 and then had to take V.R. shots of a 499 wrecked B-25 [#41-30028 “BLUNDER-BUS,” see pp. 32-33 of Warpath Across the Pacific] at the end of the runway in the stream. Could not take off, no bombs exploded. Luckily 4 men walked out and the other was carried out hurt. In the P.M. started to make a special mount for the K-21 camera. Went down to the Service Sqdn but got no satisfaction, nothing so I am going to make a wooden model and try it out. The mission came back 1 P.M. then a lot of work again developing at printing got finished 7:30 P.M. Photos not so good on account of the bad weather. Rumours we must have 24 months overseas before going home.
This photo, taken on a mission to Lae on June 26, 1943, is an example of the photos that could only be taken with cameras installed in an aircraft’s belly.
Another tired feeling after yesterday’s busy day. It was very damp and cool as this A.M.s short rain was the first for a while. Another mission today 405th in the Mubo area again. Working on a new setup for the K-21. A box where the camera can be slung along underneath the camera hatch and shoot backwards. Went down to the line for parts but the tin smith was busy, so Amos and I worked on the other idea of attaching the mirror arrangement to the K-17 cone. Did not finish as it started to rain very hard. Thank goodness we have a good tent and all the equipment is dry for a change.
It was quite damp and wet this morning as it rained hard last night. Went down to the line to try the new setup of the mirror idea. Worked on it with Amos and got it fixed O.K. Though the setup looks peculiar and the mirror is half inside the plane the angle is greater and it looks O.K. in focal plane. The plane was tested and so was my setup and it turned out O.K. Almost 100% coverage. Lt Salome liked it and now I’ll have to change all the other plane setups, 14 in all. Worked for a while on the K-17 for the mirror attachments. Got new camera cones for K-17s. Will have a lot more work now.
We wanted to share some fascinating insights as well as some thought-provoking questions in a diary entry written by Paul Jones, a ground crewman who served in the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. Jones was with the 43rd when they left the United States in early 1942 and he returned to the States on November 1, 1944.
January 23, 1944
The other night I went out to the line to check the airplanes, as I always do every night after they are loaded. When I find anything wrong it means extra duty for the crew chief who is responsible. It is a rare thing to find anything amiss but occasionally the boys get lax on details. A few nights previous I had found a fuze unsaftied in Strang’s ship. You should have heard the howl he put up when I reprimanded him.
Anyway I was checking Sam’s ship — one of the tail fuzes had a 8-11 sec. detonator where it should have been 4-5. For an instant it flashed through my mind, “You can change that ‘set’ and say nothing about it.” “Nobody will know the difference.” Naturally I didn’t follow that impulse. At times like this it has to be soldier first and brother second. When I came in and told him about it all he said was, “Yes. I guess I checked them for color instead of reading each one.” It meant a lot to me that he offered no excuse. I told him of my first thoughts and he said I’d have been a hell of a soldier if I had done that.
Tonight I was at church. It is in the open as a lot of soldiers are having their services under the sky. The chaplain is praying, asking that out of all this bloodshed and destruction comes a better world. In the middle of the prayer one of our ships takes off that we had just finished loading an hour or so before. The sound of its engines rises in volume, full blowers on, it passes over and the sound dies out. The chaplain hasn’t faltered in his prayer. We had loaded those ships to kill and there we were sitting at church. What a mixed up world this is, I and millions all over the world pray that out of this will come good. God must have a plan for the whole affair but it is not for us to understand.
We all over here wonder how it will be after the war. I know people at home wonder the same. What difference will this war make on people living a hundred years or even fifty years from now. Will it bring security for the generations of children to come or will, in another twenty years or so, the world be at it again? Only pages of some future history hold the answer.
Mom’s letters come regularly and are a big lift to us both. She says when we get home she is going to cook a whole pound of scrapple and she and Sam will sit down and stow in away. Raleigh is still in school and doing well according to his letters. If they go behind in their marks for one month out they go. I hope Pal is fortunate enough not to have to go overseas.
We came across an interesting diary entry from Lieutenant Clifford Taylor, a member of the 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group.
Jan. 15th, 1944
Well, tonight I’m writing in the cool of the evening, pleasantly tired & puffing on my “Bessimer Converter.” Today was quite warm in more ways than one. As we have been doing, we got up at 5:30 & went to chow. Sitting under a canvas roof that doesn’t restrict our view too much we could look out into the valley. As we talked over our coffee, about six fighters at 10,000 started in toward the field. Each of us figuring it was an early patrol. Just about that time they started down toward the strip with tracers blazing from their noses. Our ack-ack opened up on them. As this was going on a transport (C-47) came skimming toward us, just above the trees & heading for the mountain. About that time a “Mike” (Me-109)* peeled down & really started after him. We later heard the C-47 was shot down but all the crew got out. The Japs then high tailed it for home & a “tail-end Charlie” limped across the valley with all the ack-ack trying to get him. They seemed to hit him but not seriously & he got over the mountains. however a P-38 from Lae caught him & shot him down. A few planes were shot up on the transport strip & one boy was hit.
*In actuality, this was a Mitsubishi Ki-61 “Tony,” which looked very similar to the Bf-109. While the Germans and Japanese were allies, there were no German planes in the Southwest Pacific.
Today’s post comes from the diary of Capt. Albert L. Behrens, a pilot in the 822nd Bomb Squadron.
November 15, 1943
Strike! Wewak. About 85 B-25’s were to participate in this raid. We left at 8 AM to pick up fighter escort over Gusap and then to Wewak. I was flying #3 position in the last element. We arrived at Gusap and started circling at 9000 feet. I heard a terrific explosion in the navigation compartment and smelled odors of cordite and gasoline. I turned around and thru the smoke Pete came up holding his hands in front of him – he had been hit bad. Both wrists were cut to the bone and blood was gushing out. Norb called Brownie to come forward and then he got out of the co-pilot’s seat to give first aid to Pete. I now had fallen out of formation and with the gas fumes in the plane, it was an extreme fire hazard and with 21 HE shells and four 500 pounders aboard, we would be dead ducks.
I told the crew to prepare to bail out and stand by. Pete was being well taken care of by now. I found that my throttles were gone and the manifold pressure was at 35 inches. The props ran away. I knew I had to land so I started to let down to Gusap and to my horror I saw it being bombed by the Nips. Fires were burning fiercely and one C47 was hit. I decided to try to get first aid anyway and prepared to land. I dropped my wheels but they only came out of the nacelles and hung there limply. We tried the auxiliary hand pump, but that was shot away too. We used the emergency system and that too was gone.
I noticed a huge hole in my right wing thru the main gas tank. We were losing gas by the 10’s of gallons. I knew we couldn’t land at Gusap. Nadzab was only 50 miles away so we started out hoping the engines and gas would hold out and that we wouldn’t get jumped. I hopped from cloud to cloud for as much protection as possible. We came to Nadzab (we salvoed our bombs in the river) and flew over the field winking our red light to notify those that we had wounded on board.
I swung around and out to make a straight approach about 10 miles long. Brownie was in back and he, at my word, cranked down all the flaps and came forward for the crash. We had put Pete in the co-pilot’s seat and strapped him in and put cushions in front of him. I couldn’t decrease my throttles so when I was sure I could make the field I feathered both engines, cut the switches and slowly let down – we had opened our escape hatch over our heads on our approach so that we wouldn’t be jammed in. The crash and noise that followed was beyond description.
The plane slid sideways down the field and came to a stop in a cloud of dust and a terrific odor of gasoline. Norb went out first – Brownie next, Shorty after him and then I helped lift Pete out and then got out myself and started to run as fast as I could away from that fire trap. It took 5 of us between 3 and 5 seconds to get out and away. Pete was taken to the hospital right away. I stood by the operations shack. A Red Alert had just sounded. I was shaking all over now. The plane didn’t catch fire but just sat there pouring out gas and oil.
It was a sorry looking airplane. Both engines were torn off and lay about 300 yards down the runway. One main gear came off and was between the engines and plane. The nose had broken open and both nacelles ripped wide open. Hardly anything to salvage. We went to see Pete and he had quite a bit of shrapnel in both arms and his left leg. They had given him some morphine and he was getting groggy.
They moved him to another hospital so I went out to the plane and got out our personal stuff. I dispatched a message to my Base telling them our situation. We ate and then were fortunate enough to catch a ride back to Moresby in a C47 (which had a single engine failure on the way). No one was hurt in the landing – except for a few bruises and bumps.
What a relief to get back to our own outfit. I washed and went to church and then to bed. I forgot to mention that we were hit from forward and below by machine gun slugs and two 20 mm explosive shells. No one but my gunner saw the plane and he identified it as a P-40 or P-39. I don’t know what it was. I never saw it.
Note from IHRA: The official combat narrative refers to the plane as ‘a SSF [single seat fighter], thought to be a Tony [Allied nickname for the Ki-61 Hein].’ There is no way of knowing for certain which fighter hit Capt. Behren’s B-25. However, eight P-40s from the 8th Fighter Group are known to have engaged Japanese aircraft near Gusap, and one of the P-40 pilots briefly fired on Allied B-25s (mistaking them for Ki-49s, or ‘Helens’) during the engagement.
Fifth Air Force sent 100+ B-25s and Beaufighters and 87 B-24s in a decisive blow against Japanese air power in Rabaul on October 12, 1943. This was to be the first in a series of strikes that would last until mid-November to render ineffective Japanese air power in the area for the remainder of the war. The entry below was taken from the diary of Kenneth Rosebush, a 3rd Bomb Group pilot with the 90th Squadron.
October 12, 1943
The Attack on Rabaul. It was a big one: Rabaul. Rabaul was the Japanese Bastille of the southwest Pacific. Its very name struck fear into your heart. We had numerous false reports that Japanese Tokyo-express, aircraft carriers, and warships (only), were either leaving or going into Rabaul. Each time, over several months, we would be alerted and hat to sweat it out. This time it was a “go” for several Rabaul airgrounds, supply camps and personnel areas at Rabaul (in New Britian). At the briefing the night before, the question came up who would provide the cover for the 90th. True to form, John Johnson (C.O. of the 9th Squadron of P-38 fighters) volunteered. The 9th was our favorite fighter squadron and we had an excellent relation with them. The fighters really dread being caught down low, because the enemy then has all of the advantage. But, Johnny volunteered the 9th for low coverage, and I had a P-38 on my wing when we made our run on Arapahoe airdrome.
This reconnaissance photograph of the Rabaul area was processed by the 2nd Photographic Intelligence Detachment, Fifth Air Force, during September 1943
Col. Henebry was the flight leader of the whole strike force, and I was on his left with (with Lt. Chapin as my co-pilot). We were only part-way to Rabaul when my gunner came forward and told me our spare gas tank was leaking. This was a 500-gallon tin can designed to give us more mileage, but was a real hazard if hit by enemy fire. It spent most of the flight at the rear of the aircraft tightening claps, etc. I finally got the leak stopped. I’d be damned if I was going to turn back on this mission to Rabaul. Shortly before we reached our run on the airfield, a Japanese aircraft got in front of me. If I altered my course a bit I could’ve had him “dead to rights”. I started to do that, and then changed my mind. He belonged to that P-38 flying on my wing. I made my run on the airfield firing my 8 .50-caliber machine guns and dropping anti-personnel bombs. The run was made at our usual altitude of about 20 feet above the ground. We were expecting fierce antiaircraft fire and zero interception, but evidently we caught the Japanese completely by surprise. There were many reports of Japanese standing on their porch of housing looking around, as if it couldn’t happen here. And, mechanics and other service personnel were standing around by their planes, as if nothing was going on. We really caught them by surprise, and the damage to our aircraft was almost nil. I don’t know the exact damage we did to them, but on this mission it was significant.