Bombs Away

This excerpt comes from a memoir written by 1/Lt. Robert Mosley of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group.

 

Our planes at the Mindoro strip were parked along the taxi way but each parking spot was surrounded by a pile of dirt, about a wing tip height, around the side and rear of the airplane. These were called revetments and the purpose of the dirt was to protect the planes as much as possible from bomb damage from the enemy and particularly from any strafing attacks. One day I was getting ready for a mission and the whole area was alive with activity as one would expect prior to a squadron going on a combat mission. Now, I must digress a little to explain briefly how the bomb release switches work in an A-20. That is, there were a number of switches you could activate so you could release the bombs in singles, pairs or pretty much whatever order the pilot wanted. There was also a salvo switch. To operate the salvo switch there was a small, maybe 2 inch long, lever like thing that you rotated from about the 6 o’clock position (it had a pin next to it on the right side, sticking out of the panel to keep you from trying to rotate it to the left) almost 360 degrees around until it hit the pin from the other side. This salvo switch was on there to allow you to drop all of your bombs at once if that is what you wanted to do but we also used it on the final pass of a mission to make sure we had dropped all of our bombs. The bomb release panel was down near the floor of the cockpit, just above where your left foot would go up under the instrument panel on  to the left rudder pedal. It was not a good position for it because you had to look down near the floor to set up what ever configuration you wanted on the bomb panel, which meant momentarily taking your eyes off of where you were flying the airplane. And, it was dark down in that low spot in the cockpit, especially when being in bright sunlight and then trying to see down there in the shadows.

Well, this particular morning I had gotten in the cockpit and went through my pre-start checks but did not notice that the salvo switch was in the full salvo position. In my defense, when the lever was in the SALVO position it was no more than an eighth of an inch from the position it would have been in when in the OFF position; i.e., it was just over on the other side of a 16th inch pin. But I should have noticed it as well as the people who loaded the bombs. In fact I never quite figured out how they could have loaded the bombs with it in the salvo position but they had.

SO– when I turned on the battery switch, that plane gave a big lurch as every bomb on the plane dropped right there in the revetment. At that moment I was not sure what had happened but what I saw soon confirmed my suspicions. For what I saw was ass holes and elbows going in all directions away from me. Guys were going over the dirt walls of the revetment like the walls were not even there. My gunnery sergeant came casually around from his position in the back of the plane (as stated earlier, Sgt. Rogers was about 5 years older than me and was not impressed with Lieutenants). He looked up at me in the cockpit and said with total disgust, “What in the hell did you do?”

You would have to have been around bombs a lot to know that these iron bombs were really not all that dangerous, when not armed (these bombs had to have a little propeller on the nose of the bomb, activated by the air stream when dropped from a plane, to screw the firing pin into position to become armed) because I have seen the ground crews just drop them from the plane onto the ground beneath the plane as a expeditious way of unloading them as opposed to doing it with a winch as they should. So I was not concerned about them going off. I was just embarrassed. What was an unknown though, was what the two huge tanks of Napalm, one under each wing, would do because they dropped also. No one had ever tried dropping one of those onto a PSP surface before (and they were armed differently than the iron bombs). It can be concluded from the face that I am here to tell this story that they will not go off either.

Shortages in the Pacific Theater

Paul T. Jones enlisted in the Army in October 1940 and made the journey overseas with the 43rd Bomb Group. For much of the war, the U.S. adopted a policy of putting the fight in Europe ahead of all other theaters, leading to a lot of anger and frustration from the men in the Pacific who felt they were not getting the resources and relief needed to fight the Japanese. The shortage of men and equipment was often noted in diary entries like these.

April 6, 1943 — Sometimes I wonder, I have mentioned before how badly we need planes. Some of our combat crews have over 300 hours combat. Seems like if they are going to keep us over here they could send us some new planes and men. Gen. Kenney went to Washington to see what could be done and I understand they are sending some damn senator over to look things over. A hell of a lot he knows about it. I believe the people at home think this front is a joke. If they could be here working to keep these ships in the air and then seeing them take off and come back with some of their buddies missing it would cease to be so. At times you can’t help but get disgusted with the whole thing. Then again I know a lot of fellows and myself included wonder how things will be when we get back, taxes, and a thousand other things. Well I guess things will straighten out in due time.

Oct. 5, 1943 — A couple of days ago Gen. Kenney had us up to group for a little talk. The whole thing bills down to the fact that we can’t expect to go home in the near future. He can’t get any replacements over here. One percent a month is all for sick etc which isn’t enough. Combat men have good chances of going as they have, after 300 hours. Miserable ground men can expect to stay here until they are bush happy or physically unable. The Gen. said that he was working on a deal whereby we stay up here five months and go back to the mainland for one. It is rather plain that the German situation will have to be cleaned up before we can expect any relief…

June 17, 1944 — …The going home deal looks bad. Here it is the middle of June and the May men haven’t even left. [Jones was on the list for July.] Have been writing a few little shorts for the band in my spare moments. Shelton finished up his time and his going home orders are in. Good on him.

Jones would be transferred back home in October 1944, after almost 4 full years overseas.

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.

Diary Excerpt: Mathew C. Gac

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.

Striking Lae on June 26 1943

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.

July 9

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.

July 10

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.

Diary Excerpt: Paul Jones

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.

Housing, Hygiene, Laundry, and Food

This excerpt comes from a memoir written by 1/Lt. Robert Mosely of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group. Given the mention of the Philippines, the events below would have taken place in late 1944 or 1945.

 

As described earlier, our tent, up on a wooden floor, was a great improvement over out “housing” in New Guinea. I mentioned it earlier but when I got that air mattress in the Philippines it made a world of difference in my sleeping routine. Those Army cots, where I hung over at each end, made sleeping very tough. I must say, as stated earlier though, that I never had trouble sleeping the night before a mission, even on those Army cots; it was uncomfortable but I slept. I do not quite know how to explain it because I do not think of myself as being all that brave but that was the way it was in that war … You would think that knowing you might get killed the next day would make your heart beat a little faster.

While on the subject of housing, we had a happening one night in our area that was quite exciting. It involved centipedes; lots of them. It happened about 3 am one morning. I was awakened almost simultaneously with a sharp pain in my head and the noise of the other guys howling and lamps coming on throughout the area (we had lamps, no electric lights). It was raining and it was the first real hard rain at the start of the monsoon season and it probably flooded those big 4-inch long centipedes out of their ground nests. They then crawled the foundations of our wooden floored tents and into out bunks. They then started stinging the first thing that disturbed them. That was a real live nightmare. It was strange that it happened to all of us at almost exactly the same time. There must have been at least six of us that got stung. There was not much sleep the remainder of the night and there were all sorts of centipede stories the next day.

With regard to hygiene, in the Philippines, we showered in a makeshift thing that was made out of an old 50-gallon oil drum. It was mounted up on a scaffold like thing a little higher than our heads. A spout came out of the bottom of it. Somehow water was pumped up and into the barrel and stored there. You then would simply open the spout to take you shower. It sounds crude but I am almost ashamed to mention it when I think about those poor Army ground guys fighting those Japs in those nearby islands. I remember one period we were giving close air support to them when they were fighting on the island of Negros. They were all dug in there in their trenches which we could plainly see as we flew over. They would even wave at us. They would shoot artillery shells over into the area where the Japs were, to show us where they wanted us to attack. We would then set up sort of a traffic pattern going in at tree top level over them and then on over to the area they marked for us to attack. We would shoot and bomb anything that moved and if it did not move we bombed and strafed anyhow … after one of these missions I would go back to my tent and could have a drink of combat whiskey they would give us to steady our nerves if we thought we needed it (which I didn’t), take a shower, eat some kind of a meal, and then sleep on my air mattress with a clean sheet. Then the next day we might go back to the same target to help them out again and there would be those same guys down there in that trench waving at us again but you can only imagine what had happened to them in the meantime. You can bet that they had no whiskey, shower, food served on a plate, or a bed to sleep in. Additionally they were probably scared stiff that they might be overrun by Japs that night or that one might sneak into their area under cover of darkness and cut a few throats.

Squadron Shower

Dated February 1943, this photo shows the shower area that was built for one of the 3rd Bomb Group’s squadrons while they were in New Guinea.

 

With regard to laundry, we could get little Filipino girls, that were always around where there were troops, to do the laundry for a very small charge. (The native girls in New Guinea had done the same thing for us while we were in New Guinea). It was cute to watch the little Filipino girls doing the laundry. They would take the clothes down to a nearby stream and they would beat the bejeazers out of them over the rocks at the edge of the stream. I guess the rock was the equivalent of the old washboard. I do not think that they had any soap but the clothes always felt better when you put them back on than they did when you took them off.

With regard to food — It was always bad to awful and it got worse in the Philippines than it had been in New Guinea. But, it was likely a lot better than what that Army guy was getting in that trench down on the island of Negros. He was probably getting some of those K-rations that I saw the mountains of on the beach the day we landed on Leyte back in November. I often wondered why we never got any of those things because they would have been better than some of the stuff they were feeding us. They only time we ever got a decent meal was when our cooks would get some whiskey and go down to the docks, there by the airstrip, and exchange the whiskey and some of our bad food for some of that good Navy food. I cannot impress on you enough just how much better the Navy food was than ours. The deal on this whiskey swap thing (I was told) was that the Navy cooks could sluff off some of our bad food on their guys every so often and end up with a bunch of booze (that seemingly the Navy couldn’t get otherwise) and we would get one good meal every now and then, thanks to the cooks coming up with the booze for the swap.

One time the food not only got worse; there was hardly any of it (even bad food). Something must have gone wrong because we were basically out of food and that is not supposed to happen to us Air Corps guys. One day during this period I was down at the flight line and a Sailor walked into our area and said he would sure like to take a ride in one of our airplanes. In so many words I told him I would take him for a ride if he could get us some food. He said that was a deal and told me that if we would come down to his ship at a certain time that night we could come aboard and take all of the food, from down in the hold of his ship, that we wanted. Now, he was going to get his airplane ride but I had no guarantee that I was going to get any food. In fact it sounded like a fishy deal but we needed food so I put him up in that area where you could lay down behind the pilot in a A-20 and gave him a ride he probably never forgot and sent him happily on his way. That night Morgan, Smith and I got a Jeep and went down to the docks and found his ship and so help me there was no one around. It is hard to believe that in wartime such a thing was possible but that was the way it was. We went aboard and I went down in the hold of the ship and there were boxes and boxes of food. I started throwing boxes up out of the hold to Morgan who was on the deck and Smith was taking them off of the ship down to the jeep. I must have tossed 6 or more boxes to Morgan but suddenly Morgan was no longer there. I called for him and there was no answer.

After a bit I decided that something must have happened so I climbed out of the hold and found that I was the only person around; there was no Morgan, no Smith, and no Jeep. It was kind of like a bad dream. I was wondering what I was doing there. I knew what I went there for but suddenly being all alone I was beginning to wonder if what appeared to be happening was in fact really happening. I just stood there for awhile not knowing what to do. I had no transportation (and certainly had no business being on that boat) and wondered how I could get back to my camp, which was several miles away. So I just sat down on the barrier like thing, around the hold, and tried to think how to get out of that bad dream. I must have sat there for 5 or 10 minutes (still no one around) when I saw the lights of a vehicle approaching the dock. I could soon tell that it was a Jeep and shortly I could tell that it was Morgan and Smith. I hurried off of the ship and ran down to meet them and immediately started giving them hell for running off and leaving me.

They did have a half ass excuse, when Smith explained that on one of his trips to the Jeep, with a box of food, he saw the Shore Patrol coming. He in turn told Morgan and, without saying a word to me, they panicked and jumped in the Jeep and headed out down the road. The Shore Patrol saw them and started chasing them. They tried to turn off on a little side road and turning their lights off but the Shore Patorl was not fooled and caught them. The funny part was that the Shore Patrol somehow had the idea that they had whiskey in those boxes. When they found out it was just food they let them go without asking any further questions. So once they were free, they came back to pick up their old buddy who they had left down in the hold of that ship without so much as a word of warning. Well, I certainly got a glimpse of the true character of those two “buddies”. But I might have done the same thing (I really don’t think I would have) so I forgave them. For about a week we did not go near the mess hall. We ate off of our loot.

That completes Housing, Hygiene, and Food.

Breakfast Interrupted

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.

Surprise over Gusap

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.

Raiding Rabaul

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.

Rabaul in Sept 1943

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.