Finding Kagi

For the last 50 years, Japan had been occupying the island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan). Their occupation provided an excellent element of control over the sea lanes between Formosa and the Japanese islands. They built sugar and alcohol plants on the island, which gave them a very useful byproduct: butanol. This flammable liquid was used to make aviation fuel and acetone for explosives. The island also had oil, iron, copper and aluminum, all of which were used by the Japanese. To destroy these industrial plants, U.S. crews first had to make it through the “flak belt,” the heavily-armed southern part of Formosa.

Approximately five million people lived on the island at the start of World War II, and these people were not as anti-Japanese as those on the Philippine Islands. Aircrews going down on Formosa were less likely to find individuals to help them get back to the Allied forces. Still, all eyes were on Formosa being the next stepping stone to the islands further north.

In March 1945, the 312th Bomb Group began flying its first missions to Formosa. First up was a mission to Kagi Airdrome, located in the southern half of the island. It was going to be a very long day: the flight would be more than 1000 miles round trip, which was near the limit of the A-20. About 200 miles of the flight would be over open ocean.

On March 2nd, 36 A-20s from the 386th, 387th and 388th Squadrons met up with they P-38 escorts over Mangaldan for the trip to Kagi. After making the journey to the island of Formosa, the formation began searching for Kagi in the cloudy weather. They found a target, bombed and strafed it, then formed up to head home. Something wasn’t quite right, though. As written in the 386th Squadron mission report, they bombed what they “believed to be Kagi dummy airdrome, which is at Shirakawa 5 miles S. of Kagi town…when the attack was made the pilots were not certain which drone was hit but thought it to be the dummy from available information on the drone…The revetments around the strip were reported as being in perfect condition—almost too perfect.”

It turns out that they didn’t hit Shirakawa, either. Instead, they hit Mato Airdrome, located 25 miles to the south. Years later, Maj. Richard Wilson, leader of that mission, remembered that it was overcast over the South China Sea and he could not see the waves below, which would have helped him determined the direction the wind was blowing. After flying out of the cloud bank, Wilson realized that they were too far west. He turned east, crossed the coast of Formosa and decided to attack the first airfield he saw. Joseph Rutter, who was also on the flight, had a feeling that the flight leader was lost. They were making too many turns, “roaring around over the countryside for what seemed to be half an hour, or at least much too long…”

The mission also claimed the lives of two members of the 387th Squadron. Second Lieutenant Bruce E. Nostrand’s A-20 was hit by ground fire on the return flight. It was damaged enough that Nostrand needed to ditch his plane two miles off the coast of Cape Bojeador, on the northwest point of Luzon. Neither he nor his gunner, S/Sgt. Lyle A. Thompson, made it out alive. A second A-20, flown by 1/Lt. James L. Temple, was also hit by ground fire. He and his gunner made it back to Magaldan without a hydraulic system and crash-landed without injury. A third A-20, flown by 2/Lt. Frederick C. Van Hartesveldt, hit a tree during the attack. While the tree damaged the elevator, bomb bay doors, inner left wing and stabilizer, he and his crew also made it back to base without injury.

 

Read this story in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Targeting Formosa

Throughout the campaign to drive the Japanese back to Japan during World War II, bomb groups would be ordered to fly ground support missions. This typically meant targeting ammo dumps, Japanese troops and supplies, antiaircraft gun locations and flying night harassment missions.The A-20 was an effective tool for these missions due to its ability to pack a punch and its light, maneuverable design.

At the beginning of April 1945, the 312th Bomb Group carried out missions to support Filipino guerrillas as well as the 33rd and 37th Infantry Divisions. In Formosa, the list of prime targets included rail yards and alcohol plants, which produced some dramatic photography. Compared to the earlier missions flown by the 312th, there was relatively little interception from Japanese pilots. As a result, the American pilots attacked various targets with gusto, destroying warehouses, repair facilities and other buildings, and damaging rail yards and alcohol plants. They used 250-pound parafrags and 100-pound napalm bombs, which started large fires that were still smoking when the 312th was 20 miles out from the target area.

Their results caught the eye of General Kenney, who awarded the 312th with a Distinguished Unit Citation for an “outstanding performance” over the cities of Kyoshito, Eiko, Saiatau, Shinei, Banshiden, Tamazato and Suan Tau. Long distance missions like these pushed the A-20 fuel range to its limits and Kenney praised all those involved in the preparation and execution of the missions. He also commended the pilots and gunners for their target accuracy “at roof-top level with a suddenness and fierceness that prevented the Japanese from offering more than feeble opposition to the devastation bombing and strafing runs…”

Rail yards at Shinei, Formosa

The 388th and 389th Squadrons flew the 312th Bomb Group’s fifth mission to Formosa on April 2, 1945. Their targets were the rail yards and the alcohol plant at Shinei, 45 miles northeast of Kyoshito, and 20 miles southeast of Eiko. Major Joseph B. Bilitzke, C.O. of the 388th, led the mission. Nine planes from each unit carried 250-pound parademos and 100-pound napalm bombs. Shinei was a key target for two reasons: the alcohol plant, and the fact that Japanese military supplies entered and exited Shinei by rail.

 

Attack on the Shinei alcohol plant

The 312th Bomb Group’s unsparing attack left the Shinei alcohol plant enshrouded in a thick smoke. (Selmon W. Wells Collection)

 

Attack on the Suan Tau sugar factory

The 312th returned to Formosa on April 4, 1945. This time the target was the Suan Tau sugar factory, west of Kagi. When the 387th, 388th and 389th Squadrons left Suan Tau, the entire factory area was ablaze.

Trouble in Formosa

Near the end of May 1945, the Japanese had been pushed back to the island of Formosa and the 345th Bomb Group was flying regular raids over Japanese territory. Their targets typically included alcohol and sugar refineries as well as rail yards. A mission on May 27, 1945 was no different and 24 B-25s took off from Clark Field to destroy these targets once more. The 499th and 500th Squadron focused on the plants at Kobi, leaving raging fires behind them. Two planes had one engine each shot out, causing the pilots to break off any further attacks as they flew to the emergency airfield at Lingayen. Lester W. Morton safely landed there, while 1/Lt. Charles J. Cunningham had to make a water landing 50 miles away from the north coast of Luzon. He and his crew were rescued half an hour later by a Catalina.

Flying in the 501st Squadron was 2/Lt. Ted U. Hart, a pilot who typically approached targets by skimming treetops and telephone wires. He and the rest of the 501st had been tasked with destroying rail yards at Ensui, which, due to a navigational error, didn’t happen that day. Instead, the Squadron focused on attacking Mizukami’s sugar refinery. It was on this run that the left engine of the B-25 Hart was flying, APACHE PRINCESS, was hit by fire from an antiaircraft gun.

After releasing his bombs, Hart feathered the burning engine, only to have his right engine run away and a fire start in the bomb bay. Clearly, APACHE PRINCESS would not be in the air much longer. Shortly afterwards, it landed roughly in a rice paddy, knocking the pilot unconscious. When he woke up a minute or two later, he hurried out of the plane and joined three crewmen standing nearby. The turret gunner, Sgt. Bever, was the only one still in the plane. Hart went back to look for Bever, finding him slumped over and resisting any help to move. Soon, the heat of the fire spreading from the bomb bay to the rest of the plane drove Hart outside.

 

Paul Haller and B-25 Apache Princess

T/Sgt. Paul E. Haller was the crew chief of the 501st Squadron’s B-25 APACHE PRINCESS, which was shot down near Mizukami, Formosa on May 27, 1945. Second Lieutenant Ted U. Hart and three crewmen were captured and spent the rest of the war as prisoners at Taihoku. Haller is shown in front of the plane’s colorful insignia at Tacloban in January 1945. (Frank Hansen Collection)

 

Ted Hart

Second Lieutenant Ted U. Hart was photographed at Clark Field just a few days before he and four of his crewmen were shot down and captured on May 27th. He was brutally tortured and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp at Taihoku, Formosa. (Ted Hart Collection)

 

As hard as it was to leave their crewmember behind, they knew they had to withdraw from the area before they were captured by the Japanese. They jumped into a dry ditch and walked for about an hour, then stopped to look around. As they poked their heads out of the ditch, they realized they were surrounded by soldiers and civilians with weapons. Disarmed, the men were paraded through the nearby village before paper bags were put on their heads and they were loaded onto a train bound for Taihoku. On the two day trip to Taihoku, the men ate little or nothing and drank cups of tea.

Hart and his crew arrived at the Military Intelligence Headquarters in Taihoku, Formosa on May 29th. They were stripped of their personal effects and questioned, then taken to individual prison cells. The next day, Hart was taken to another room where he was interrogated by Capt. Yoshio Nakano. At first, Hart refused to give any information other than his name, rank, and serial number. As Nakano grew angry with Hart’s lack of cooperation, Hart figured they already knew about his final mission and subsequent shoot down, so he gave Nakano the details of it, then remained silent as the questioning continued.

Three men who were also in the room with Hart and Nakano were told to tie Hart’s hands, then put him on the floor and restrain him. Nakano then waterboarded Hart until he lost consciousness from a lack of air, before reviving him and waterboarding him again. Hart passed out six times while he was tortured, then Nakano’s superior officer arrived and ordered the torture to stop. His swollen hands were unbound, and sobbing, he told the officer everything he knew. During the crew’s imprisonment, that was the only time anyone was tortured. The rest of their stay was spent in their cells. Sometimes, a friendly guard would let Hart walk around the courtyard for 15 minutes or give him a little extra rice to eat.

Corporal Beck, the radio operator from Hart’s crew, discovered that another 345th member was also a prisoner there. This was Cpl. John Shott, who was the only survivor after his B-25 crashed on May 17, 1945. He and Beck would communicate using Morse code when the prison guards were out of earshot. Weeks passed and any hope of being rescued waned. On August 21, 1945, almost three months after Hart and his crew were shot down, the prisoners were gathered and transported to Prisoner of War Camp #6. Upon arrival, they were told the war was over and on September 7th, they began their journey home.

Ehlers, Hart, Gatewood released from POW camp

Three emaciated 501st Squadron officers relax aboard the escort carrier U.S.S. Santee shortly after being released from the Japanese military jail at Taihoku, Formosa. They are from left: 2/Lt. Karl L. Ehlers, navigator, 2/Lt. Ted U. Hart, pilot, and 2/Lt. Henry Gatewood, co-pilot. Each of the officers lost about a third of his weight while a prisoner of war. (Ted Hart Collection)