Calamity Charlie

CALAMITY CHARLIE was one of the original 18th Recon Squadron Marauders that was piloted overseas by 1/Lt. (later Maj.) Ralph L. Michaelis during the initial deployment of the Group. After traversing the ferry route between Hawaii and Australia, it arrived at Brisbane on April 22, 1942, in company with three other aircraft from the Squadron. Immediately upon arrival in Australia, Michaelis continued on to Reid River, where the renamed 408th Squadron had set up camp. There the engineer, Sgt. Centabar, continued his stateside job of supervising maintenance on the plane, assisted by Sgt. Jack S. Hirschbein. Centabar flew only a mission or two before all crew chiefs were grounded from combat flying.

The nickname was chosen during the fall of 1941, after the aircraft was assigned to the Michaelis crew while they were stationed at Langley Field, Virginia. Charlie was the nickname of Michaelis’ wife, and Calamity was a take off on “Calamity Jane,” a famous female muleskinner and personality from the American old west. Initially, only the name was stenciled on the nose of the Marauder, but after consultation with the crew, the design for the artwork, a modification of a Walt Disney cartoon bee, was chosen. This was painted on both sides of the nose before the plane left for California on the first leg of its deployment to the Pacific.

Michaelis and his crew flew their first mission on April 30th, in the Squadron Commander’s aircraft, but thereafter flew many of their missions in CALAMITY CHARLIE. The members of the crew during this period were 2/Lt. (later Capt.) Wade H. Robert, Jr., co-pilot; 1/Lt. Edwin R. Fogarty, navigator; 2/Lt. Arthur C. King, bombardier; Cpl. (later Sgt.) Stanley A. Wolenski, engineer; PFC. Havis J. Barnes, radio operator; Pvt. Daniel C. Perugini, gunner; and S/Sgt. Jack B. Swan, photographer. The plane was also flown by several other Squadron pilots during its career with the 408th.

This Marauder was scheduled to fly its first mission on May 16th, but this was scrubbed due to poor weather conditions. Its combat debut was made over Rabaul on May 24th with Michaelis at the controls although he was leading a different crew on the mission. Over Vunakanau Airdrome it sustained AA damage to the right wing and hydraulic system, but it eventually landed safely at Port Moresby on one engine. On this mission, three members of Michaelis’ original crew, King, Wolenski and Swan, went down while flying with another crew. Wolenski apparently died in the crash; King was captured and apparently died in Japanese hands, while Swan died of his injuries after an extended period on the run from Japanese forces on New Britain.

Calamity Charlie

The artwork on CALAMITY CHARLIE, a 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group B-26 Marauder, was painted on both sides of the nose. This aircraft transferred to the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group during the spring of 1943, and continued its career with the Silver Fleet until the beginning of 1944. During that period it displayed an unusual tally system on its mission scoreboard, which can be seen in a photo appearing in Appendix IV of Revenge of the Red Raiders. (Laverne L. Limpach Collection)

 

After repairs, CALAMITY CHARLIE was back in action by mid-June and thereafter flew regularly until its last combat mission with the 408th, which took place on November 27th. It played no role in the last six weeks of B-26 operations by the Group, probably because of the need for a major overhaul. On November 2, 1942 Michaelis was transferred to Port Moresby to become an Operations Officer in V Bomber Command. At the same time several Squadron officers transferred out to staff the recently arrived 38th BG.

The profile illustrates this aircraft as it appeared during September 1942, with ten mission markers on its scoreboard. When it completed its tour with the 408th, this was updated to reflect a total of 27 flown, including ones aborted for weather or mechanical reasons. By the time of its last missions with the 408th, the top of the vertical stabilizer had been tipped in the Squadron color, Kelly Green.

As with other 22nd BG planes, CALAMITY CHARLIE was overhauled during the spring of 1943, and the camouflage paint was removed. It was one of only two B-26s still assigned to the 408th at the beginning of June, 1943. The nickname and artwork were repainted on both sides of the nose in a revised format. The plane was transferred to the 19th Bomb Squadron’s “B” Flight by July, 1943, where it started the second phase of its combat career with the Silver Fleet.

Its first mission with the unit was flown on August 13, 1943. During its service with the 19th, CALAMITY CHARLIE did not have a regular pilot although 1/Lt. Jesse G. Homen flew it on ten missions during its last three months with the Squadron. Mission reports indicate that ten different crews flew the plane at least 24 times before it ended its combat flying on January 4, 1944. The members of the ground crew assigned to CALAM1TY CHARLIE during this period included T/Sgt. Frank L. Cain, crew chief; S/Sgt David M. Crawford, his assistant; and mechanic Sgt. Ed Schwietzer.

A unique aspect of the plane’s markings while with the Silver Fleet included a mission scoreboard done in a system of tally marks, which were recorded in groups of five on both sides of the fuselage. Photos taken at the time it was retired from service show the aircraft with 75 tally marks, which far exceeds the 45 combat missions known to have been flown by the aircraft. It is these markings that are depicted in the insert profile. As with the other Marauders remaining in service in the theater, CALAMITY CHARLIE was declared “War Weary” in January, 1944, and flown to Brisbane where it was scrapped during the spring.

Among the missions flown during 1942 were: Rabaul, 5/24 (Michaelis); Kila Point, 6/16 (Ellis); Buna, 7/22 (Augustine); Lae, 8/6, 9/13, 9/19 (Michaelis); Buna, 11/24, 11/27 (O’Donnell); and 11/27 (Ellis). During its service with the 19th Squadron in 1943, missions flown included: Lae, 8/13 (Hathaway), Lokanu Ridge, 8/25 (Burnside); Bogadjim, 8/27 (Rugroden); Cape Gloucester, 9/2 (Higgins); Cape Gloucester, 9/3 (Burnside); Lae (abort), 9/8 (Steddom); Lae, 9/9 (Steddom); Finschafen, 9/18 (Hathaway); Wonan Island, 9/21 (Burnside); Cape Hoskins, 10/2 (Homen); Alexishafen, 10/14 (Homen); Faria Valley, 11/5 (Homen); Satelberg, 11/19 (Irwin); Satelberg, 11/24 (Forrester); Kamlagidu Point, 12/2 Burcky); Cape Gloucester 12/3 (Flanagan); Wandokai, 12/8 (Irwin); Kelanea Harbor, 12/16 (Homen); Sag Sag, 12/24 (Homen); Madang, 12/26 (Homen); Cape Gloucester, 12/29 (Homen); Bogadjim,1/31 (Homen); and in 1944: Erima Point, 1/2 (Homen); and Nambaaron River, 1/4 (Homen).

Read more about CALAMITY CHARLIE and the rest of the 22nd Bomb Group in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

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Interview with WWI US Navy Veteran Lester Hillegas

While Veterans Day is always a time for us to honor those who have served in wars, this November 11th is especially notable because it also marks the 100th anniversary since the end of World War I. Instead of posting an interview with a World War II veteran, we wanted to share a superb interview posted by YouTube user ly776 that was recorded in the 1980s. Lester Hillegas served in the U.S. Navy during World War I and died in 1989.

To all of our veterans, we want to extend our sincerest appreciations for your military service.

Repost: One Minute in Hell

Seventy-five years ago, Fifth Air Force units set out to strike the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul. Artist Steve Ferguson illustrated one moment of that mission below. This print was first shared last year.

A painting of a 38th Bomb Group B-25 over a Japanese ship during WWII

On November 2, 1943, Fifth Air Force launched a massive low-level attack by B-25 strafer-bombers against harbor installations and shipping at the major Japanese fleet anchorage and base at Rabaul, New Britain. In the vanguard of the 71st Squadron’s strike, 1/Lt. James A. Hungerpiller flying SLEEPY TIME GAL and 1/Lt. J. E. Orr can be seen engaging their targets at mast-top heights. In the face of the hundreds of antiaircraft guns, Lt. Hungerpiller opened fire on two destroyers, scoring a direct hit with one of his bombs. Meanwhile, Lt. Orr opened fire on a harbor merchant ship while Lt. Hungerpiller’s aircraft quickly began to lose altitude because of severe AA damage. Recognizing the plight of this aircraft, he made a sharp right turn toward to heavy cruisers anchored just off the western shore of the harbor.

This painting depicts Lt. Hungerpiller’s SLEEPY TIME GAL, trailing a plume of fire and smoke, crossing beyond the bow of the heavy cruiser Haguro. In the foreground, Lt. Orr is opening fire on the Japanese merchant ship. With his left engine on fire and the aircraft severely damaged from a fuel tank explosion, Lt. Hungerpiller soon lost control his aircraft and plunged into the sea.

 

This painting, part of a limited edition series by Steve Ferguson, can be purchased on our website.

Repost: The Squadron Misfits

This post was first published on April 3, 2015.

 

By June 1943, there were some changes being made in the 38th Bomb Group’s established squadrons, the 71st and 405th. Major Ezra Best took over leadership of the 71st and both squadrons were seeing an influx of new men. The 822nd and 823rd Squadrons had recently arrived in Durand, giving the 71st and 405th a chance to pass along their troublemakers to the new squadrons. The 823rd Squadron leader, Capt. Barney Johnson, suspected that something like this would happen and refused to let most of the men into his squadron. As a result, they ended up with Maj. Walter Krell in the 822nd Squadron.

“Fortunately,” Krell later wrote, “I had been an Infantry officer on active duty before becoming a Flying Cadet. Familiar with the type, and having glanced over their records, I called together about nine of them and had them sit around in a circle. I sat down on top of one of those Army safes that opened at the top and I simply told them that I didn’t want to read their records and didn’t want anyone else to read them either. They would all be given a fresh start with no holdover from previous black marks. I went on about regarding them as the very best men available to do a top job in getting this new outfit off to a good start, and I would always feel this way until they did something to change my mind.” Afterwards, he locked their records in a safe and threw the key into an overgrown ravine. The men were asked to take the safe somewhere out of the way. As time passed, Krell never had a problem with the now-former troublemakers of his squadron. That doesn’t mean they didn’t make things interesting for him once in a while.

Both the 822nd and 823rd set to work building their camps, which consisted of latrines, mess tents, armament storage, ammo dumps, operational and medical headquarters. The 822nd was still missing their officers’ and enlisted men’s clubs, but building supplies were hard to find.

Soon, news got around that General MacArthur would pay Port Moresby a visit. Building supplies were acquired for his quarters and the location was guarded to prevent any filching of materials. Krell’s former troublemakers found out where the supplies were being kept and devised a plan to procure them. One night, they woke Maj. Krell to get permission to borrow a couple of trucks. Krell got out of bed and looked down the hillside. There were 18-20 trucks along with all the non-commissioned men in the 822nd. One look at the scene below told him that his men were getting into mischief. He said, “I’m not going to ask any questions, you haven’t got my permission but I’m not going to stop you. Whatever you’re going to do, you’d better do it right because if you get this outfit in a jam you’ll wish you’d thought it over.” They assured him that they had and went on their way. Krell went back to bed.

When Krell met with General Roger Ramey at Port Moresby the next day, chaos reigned over the news of MacArthur’s building supplies being stolen. The guards had been offered profuse amounts of alcohol and gotten drunk enough to not remember what happened. Krell never mentioned the previous night’s encounter with his men. For the next few weeks, “…there emerged two very nice buildings: clubs for the non-coms and officers,” Krell continued. “Bit by bit, there appeared a few two-by-fours here, a few sacks of cement there. I was always grateful to think we had the right people on our side.”

Pacific Powerhouse

Painting of a 3BG B-25 during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 28″ x 19″

Paper Size: 32″ x 24″

In less than a year, Fifth Air Force emerged from providing target practice for Imperial Japanese Army and Navy pilots and humorous material from Japanese radio broadcasters to an overwhelming and merciless adversary. This was proven beyond dispute at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, an Allied air action against a large Japanese Naval troop and supply convoy which sought to reinforce the Imperial Japanese Army Garrison at Lae, New Guinea on March 2-4, 1943. In this strategically important battle, Fifth Air Force fielded heavy, medium and light attack bombers with superior fighter cover to pulverize the convoy as it made its way from the Japanese-held bastion at Rabaul, around the island of New Britain and across the Bismarck Sea.

As the last bombs fell from B-17s and B-24s at 7000 feet, 13 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Bristol Beaufighters swept in, strafing at deck-level and 12 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers led a skip-bombing attack, followed by Douglas A-20 Havocs which also skip-bombed and strafed. One RAAF 30th Squadron Beaufighter can be seen here, having just strafed the destroyer Arashio, as the 3rd Bomb Group’s Capt. Robert Chatt in his B-25, nicknamed “CHATTER BOX,” newly modified with eight forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns, “skipped” a 500-pound highly-explosive delay-fused bomb into the bridge of the destroyer. This fatally damaged the ship which then, out of control, veered wildly to port and collided with the IJN supply ship, Nojima, visible just beyond the Beaufighter. The resultant collision sent both ships to the bottom. The B-25s and A-20s were the embodiment of the legendary Paul I. (“Pappy”) Gunn’s minimum altitude, gun-toting “Commerce Destroyer” strafers. This artwork by Jack Fellows is available for purchase on our website.

The First Major Attack on Rabaul

As the Allied forces looked beyond their current situation in October 1943, they were determined to neutralize the threat presented by the Japanese at Rabaul in order to keep moving northwest toward the Philippines. It was time to initiate a series of heavy attacks on the area, the first of which was scheduled for October 12th. Over 100 B-25s from the 345th and 38th Bomb Groups, three P-38 squadrons, 40 planes from the 3rd Bomb Group, and more than 80 B-24s from the 90th and 43rd Bomb Groups joined forces with RAAF P-40s, Beaufighters and Beauforts. They were up against a powerful foe made up of almost 300 aircraft spread out on the airfields surrounding Rabaul as well as nearly 400 antiaircraft guns. A number of ships were also sitting in the harbor at this time.

This formidable Allied force was to split up in order to tackle the defenses on each field: the 345th and 38th would attack Vunakanau, the 3rd would take on Rapopo, Beaufighters were to hit Tobera, then the B-24s would take care of the shipping in Simpson Harbor. As the formations flew toward their specific target areas, they knew the best thing for them at the start of this strike would be the element of surprise. It worked.

Flying over the hillside, the 498th Squadron began firing on the rows of Japanese aircraft sitting on Tobera’s airfield. Maintenance workers that had been working on planes quickly ran for cover and men in the B-25s noticed that the antiaircraft guns were still covered up and pointing the wrong way. The B-25s also disrupted the takeoffs and landings of several Japanese planes. As the 498th worked over its target area with machine guns and parafrags, Japanese antiaircraft gunners started firing back and dislocated part of the right aileron on 1/Lt. Kenneth C. Dean’s B-25. Dean and his crew were able to return to base without further incident.

Under Attack at Vunakanau

This Japanese “Zero” fighter was caught on the main runway during the October 12th attack on Vunakanau. It was strafed repeatedly by the waves of aircraft as they passed overhead but shows little evidence of damage in this photo taken from aircraft #220 of the 38th Bomb Group’s 71st Squadron. Strafing damage rarely showed up in belly camera photography. Two squadrons from the 38th attacked Vunakanau immediately behind the 345th. (John C. Hanna Collection)

Among the Japanese on the ground was 18-year-old Petty Officer Masajiro Kawato, who had been assigned to 253 Kokutai. That day, he was at Tobera to deal with some paperwork for his unit. Instead, he wound up defending the airfield from the Allied attack. His experiences during the strike can be found in Warpath Across the Pacific.

With each squadron’s attack on the airfields, the Japanese defenses increased as Rabaul turned into a fully armed and operational battle station. Japanese fighters attacked the enemy aircraft, with the fiercest attacks directed at the new wave of Allied aircraft: the B-24s. Two were shot down. Once the Allies left the area and began to analyze claims and photography, it was clear that this raid was a success. Approximately 100 Japanese planed on the ground were destroyed and 26 more were shot down. Several ships and harbor facilities also sustained damage.

3 Short Stories from the 22nd

A Nerve-Racking Flight on SO SORRY
Captain Gerald J. Crosson was leading B-26s from the 2nd Squadron to Lae on January 3, 1943, where they were to bomb sailing vessels in the area, or the airdrome if the boats couldn’t be found. The aircrews thoroughly searched the area between Lae and Cape Cretin and failed to find the boats. They turned for the airdrome and were met by flak sent up by the alert Japanese antiaircraft gunners. Before Crosson’s bombs were released, his B-26 SO SORRY jolted around and there was a sound of rattling metal in the cockpit. SO SORRY nosed upward in an unanticipated climb and Crosson worked frantically to right the plane. Bombardier T/Sgt. T.J. Smith saw that the bomb bay doors were still open, then noticed that the bombs were still in their racks. He carefully eased himself onto the catwalk where he manually jettisoned the bombs.

Meanwhile, Crosson and his co-pilot struggled to maintain a level course as they dealt with a cut elevator cable, bomb bay doors that wouldn’t close and dragging flaps. SO SORRY dropped out of formation and flew on at about 700 feet in bad weather. The crew was happy to spot Dobodura 50 minutes later, but everyone knew they were in for a rough landing because the aircraft was so unstable, the landing gear wouldn’t lower and the aileron controls were damaged. In spite of everything, Crosson brought the B-26 down safely, and, remarkably, without injury to the crew.

The Rise of the Silver Fleet
Since the early days of the 22nd Bomb Group’s formation and involvement in World War II, the unit was designated a medium bomber unit and the men flew B-26 Marauders on missions. This would last until April 1943, when three of the four squadrons were told that their B-26s would be phased out and replaced with B-25s. At a meeting, the 19th Squadron pilots said they preferred flying the B-26 and the Marauders were given to that squadron. They were stripped of their camouflage paint, which increased their speed by a few miles per hour, as well as given a complete overhaul for optimal performance. First Lieutenant James C. Houston came up with the “Silver Fleet” nickname and an accompanying logo. The 19th would remain the silver fleet until January 1944 when the B-26 was completely phased out of the Pacific Theater and the 22nd Bomb Group was redesignated a heavy bombardment group and transitioned to the B-24.

Silver Fleet

For a short time, the 19th Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group was know as the “Silver Fleet.” This nickname referred to the fact that the unit was flying the only combat aircraft in the theater in a natural metal finish. This insignia and nickname were the work of bombardier 1/Lt. James C. Houston, who adapted it from the model railroad with which he played during his youth. Here, the 19th Squadron Line Chief, M/Sgt. Raymond D. Fuller, and Maj. Walter H. Greer, the Squadron C.O., can be seen posing with the new insignia on the tail of B-26 #40-1488, which carried the nickname HOOSIER MISS during its service with the Silver Fleet. (J. William Brosius Collection)

The Practice Bomb Squadron
After several reports of poor bombing records from the Silver Fleet, the squadron was removed from combat in late July 1943 for three weeks so crews could receive additional training. Not only did accuracy leave something to be desired, there were bombs handing up in the racks. When the 19th Squadron returned to combat, one crew discovered the additional training paid off: all ten bombs were dropped in the target area and hit crucial targets.

 

Read these stories in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day 2018

Posting a tweet in a blog like this is a first for us. We felt the video was so well done that it had to be shared. Click on the link that starts with pic.twitter.com to watch the DPAA at work and remember those who have not yet returned home. A couple of those stories can be found here and here.

 

Repost: The Last Voyage of the Amatsukaze

We’re heading back to the blog archives once again to bring you a story we first posted in January 2016 about the disabling of a Japanese ship, the Amatsukaze.

 

 

On April 5, 1945, Allied intelligence detected a small convoy of Japanese ships sailing up the China coast, from Hong Kong to Amoy (now Xiamen). The short hop, only about 350 miles by ship, was being attempted by two cargo ships, protected by several frigates and a destroyer, the Amatsukaze. These ships were the remnants of the last convoy to attempt the 3000 mile journey from Singapore, off the southern tip of the Malay, to the Japan home islands, through waters patrolled by Allied submarines and aircraft. Already, they had lost a third of their number to bombing attacks. Now that they had set sail, the 345th Bomb Group could get their shot at sinking the convoy ships.

Twenty-four B-25 strafers were sent up to intercept the convoy, and discovered two frigates, Escorts #1 and #134, at 11:30, right where intelligence briefings had predicted. Captain George Musket led the 501st Squadron on a skip-bombing attack against one of the frigates. Musket dropped a bomb which bounced off the water and onto the ship’s deck, where it exploded. Another bomb opened a hole on the frigate’s side, causing it to sink within minutes. The 499th Squadron continued on to the second frigate. Lt. Lester Morton dropped a bomb that exploded just below the waterline, in the ships center. It blew a large hole in the starboard side of the frigate, and it rolled over soon after.

The 498th Squadron, seeing that both ships had already been sunk, decided to circle the second frigate and strafe the Japanese survivors in the water. One of them took this picture as he circled the capsized ship. Crewmen can be seen clinging to the side or bobbing in the water.

Frigate destroyed by 345th Bomb Group

The 500th Squadron missed the action entirely. They continued along the coastline, looking for more ships, and after a 10-minute hunt, spotted another promising shape in the water. 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt led his six B-25s on a low-altitude run. The ship was the Amatsukaze, which the B-25 pilots had mistaken for a merchant vessel, perhaps because of its small stature. The Amatsukaze had lost its bow and front stack to a torpedo attack by a U.S. submarine in January 1944. After it was towed to base, the ship’s aft end was patched up and fitted with a makeshift bow. Though the destroyer was only half as long as it had once been, it was still bristling with weaponry.

Amatsukaze April 1945

The Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze. Sailing with a temporary bow after its bow was blown off by a submarine, is seen under attack by the lead flight of the 500th Bomb Squadron off the China coast on April 6th. This photo was taken by 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt, the Squadron Leader, as he raced by the ship. The large splash at top left in thisphoto may have been the crash of Schmidt’s wingman, 1/Lt. Joseph Herick, who was hit in the cockput by a 40mm shell and crashed inverted into the sea near the destroyer. 2/Lt. Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 from the second flight can be seen lining up for its attack.

The B-25 pilots saw their target begin to flash, and suddenly the sky was filled with ack-ack. The formation bore on, undeterred. Schmidt and his wingmen, F/O Van Scoyk and Lt. Joe Herick, began firing on the ship, hoping to suppress the gunners on its deck. Herick’s plane took a direct hit from a 40mm round. It pitched forward and smashed into the water, upside down. Schmidt dropped his bombs, catching two direct hits on the Amatsukaze. The other three B-25s made their run, catching this photograph of the ship afire.

Amatsukaze Explosion

1/Lt. George R. Schmidt’s camera caught 2/Lt. Samuel W. Bennett’s B-25 pulling away from its attack on the destroyer Amatsukaze.

As the 500th Squadron B-25s headed back to base, the 498th Squadron plans came upon the burning destroyer. It was still moving at full speed, even as dark smoke billowed up from its hull. The B-25s broke into two flights of three, with one, led by Lt. James Manners, planning to use the smoke cloud as cover, and the other, led by Capt. Albin V. Johnson, arcing around the cloud. The Amatsukaze directed all of its fire on the latter flight. Johnson landed a direct hit on the stern, but was heavily damaged by flak, causing him to ditch as he pulled away. A search for survivors the next day turned up empty-handed.

Manners’ flight, coming from behind the destroyer, swept over the ship, strafing it from stern to bow. They bracketed the ship with their bombs, leaving it burning, dead in the water. The American pilots immediately headed out of the area. After dodging a brief fighter interception, they returned to Laoag, Luzon, out of fuel. The Amatsukaze was towed to Amoy, run aground, and designated as target practice.

Find this story and much more in Warpath Across the Pacific.