Black Sunday: Part 2

The little-known 25th Liaison Squadron was instrumental in the rescue of many downed crews, especially on Black Sunday. Mainly enlisted men flew Stinson L-5 Sentinels and Piper L-4A Grasshoppers, which could takeoff and land on much shorter runways than the bombers. Piper L-4A Grasshopper

The L-5 JUG HAID.

Because of this capability, A Flight, the group based at Gusap, received the nickname of the “Guinea Short Lines.” Their symbol of a kangaroo was very fitting for this squadron that hopped all over New Guinea. The “Guinea Short Lines” would play a key role in the rescue of three Roarin’ 20’s crews.

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Out of the four crews that had not been accounted for by the end of April 16th, one would never make it back. After ditching in the sea near Yalau Plantation, Smart and Music waited to be picked up by a Catalina. They were never seen or heard from again. The other three crews, 1/Lt. Glen Benskin and S/Sgt. Winifred F. Westerman of the 387th Squadron, 2/Lt. Joseph E. Gibbons and Cpl. Orville J. Rhodes of the 388th Squadron, and 2/Lt. Charles H. Davidson and Sgt. John J. McKenna also of the 388th, had their own stories of survival in returning to the 312th.
Lt. Benskin was flying back from the Hollandia raid with the rest of the 312th when he discovered his radio did not work and he lost contact with his wingmen. Benskin spotted Smart’s plane, THE TEXAN, and followed him for awhile. Smart soon appeared to head for Wewak as he turned towards the Ramu River, so Benskin thought Smart might be lost and flew off on his own. Benskin’s gunner, Westermann, told Benskin that their aircraft BENNY’S BABY did not have much fuel left and that they needed to land. Benskin made a gear-up landing and set down in a kunai grass swamp 200 yards from the Ramu River and 20 miles north of the Japanese-occupied village of Annenberg. The grass spun their plane around and the nose ended up bent sideways, which did not let the canopy of the cockpit open. Benskin was helped out through a window by Westermann. The landing site of BENNY'S BABY

Benskin’s plane in the kunai grass.

The two men spent the night battling mosquitoes and leeches in the swamp. The next morning, a search plane spotted the men and dropped supplies. With that came a note saying they should walk west ten miles to a native village, but that was nearly impossible due to the thick kunai grass that was up to ten feet tall in some areas.
While the men were building a shelter a few hundred yards away from the crash site, Benskin accidentally cut his knee with his folding machete. It wasn’t long before the wound became infected. At this point, the chance of being rescued was not good. With the Japanese so close by, a rescue plane could not risk landing on the river. After some searching, a suitable site that could be turned into an improvised landing strip was spotted about a mile and a half downstream. The area was cleared by P-40s from the 49th Fighter Group dropping belly tanks and setting them on fire with tracer rounds and then the men received supplies for making the 225-foot strip. Fifteen days after Benskin had landed in the swamp, the men were back at Gusap. They were rescued by S/Sgt. Walter A. James of the 25th Liaison Squadron. James first took Benskin to Gusap and then returned to the crash site for Westermann about an hour later. Benskin had scrub typhus, malaria and blood poisoning due to his leg wound and spent six weeks in the Gusap Field Hospital. His gunner fared much better and was in good condition when the two were rescued.

Lt. Benskin

Lt. Benskin recovering at Gusap.

It’s not over yet. Read part three of the Black Sunday raid.

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