Crash Landing at Gusap

Nadzab was drenched by heavy rain the night before Fifth Air Force’s big raid on Hollandia on April 16, 1944. When the men of the 22nd Bomb Group rose on the morning of the 16th, they were greeted with overcast skies and plenty of humidity. Six B-24s from each of the four squadron were to be sent to Hollandia, but takeoff was delayed by an hour after the sun broke through the low clouds.

Lieutenant Raysor took off with the 408th Squadron around 0900 hours and everything was running smoothly. About 80 miles in, the Squadron passed Gusap and Raysor pulled away from the rest of the 408th. His airplane’s engines were having trouble and he had to get back to Gusap. The engineer, Sgt. Milford H. Cummings, was told about the engine trouble and jettisoned the bombs and closed the bomb bay doors as the B-24 descended. Cummings warned the crewmen to ready themselves for a crash landing (they were too low to safely bail out), then went back to the cockpit where Raysor told Cummings that he had shut down three of the four engines because the superchargers weren’t working properly.

Cummings knew the pilot had made the wrong decision: the superchargers were not as important to the engines at low altitudes. Unfortunately, it was too late to fix the mistake and the single working engine couldn’t keep the plane in the air. The aircraft kept losing altitude and crashed about a mile from the north end of the runway. Cummings was ejected from the plane and not seriously injured. Only two other crewmen survived the crash. The rest, including Raysor, were killed.

408th Squadron B-24 crash

The 22nd Bomb Group dispatched 24 Liberators on another major Fifth Air Force strike against the Hollandia area on April 16, 1944. Although predicted weather conditions were marginal when the planes departed, the raid was deemed essential since Hollandia was targeted for a surprise invasion by ground forces on April 22nd. Raysor pulled out of the 408th formation with mechanical problems shortly after takeoff and tried to land at Gusap. The plane flew into the ground a mile short of the strip, killing all but three aboard. (Milford H. Cummings Collection)

These men would be the first casualties in what was to be a dark day in the history of Fifth Air Force, although this was the only crash in the 22nd Bomb Group not affected by the terrible weather later that day. Click on the Black Sunday tag if you want to read more stories from the 22nd or other units that were involved on the April 16th Hollandia raid.

 

This story can be found on p. 237 of Revenge of the Red Raiders.

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Book Review: They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans

They Did It for Honor book cover

Kayleen Reusser is back with her second book of World War II veterans stories. This one, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans, has an aptly chosen title. Many of the veterans are quoted as saying they were proud to serve their country and considered it an honor to do so.

As with her first book, Reusser collected stories from many units and fronts, giving the reader a well-rounded picture of life in different parts of the world during World War II. Thirty-four of them, to be precise. Not only does she include stories from the Pacific, North African and European theaters, she includes a tale from the Aleutian Islands and the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. Some of the more fascinating stories we read were about a black veteran’s experience aboard the USS Yorktown, one man who was present at the surrender signing on September 2, 1945, the story of a man who served in the 326th Glider Infantry (which is incredibly rare), the five women veterans’ stories (one SPAR, one WAC, two nurses, one Naval officer) and a photographer who was assigned to document the impact of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It was interesting to read the parts of their experience that each veteran chose to discuss. The stories are concise, which gives the reader insight into their service from the veteran’s point of view. Due to the horrors that were experienced by many soldiers, it can be tough to talk about the difficult memories. Reusser did a good job of making the veterans she interviewed comfortable if they chose to go into such detail.

This is another excellent compilation of stories for anyone interested in World War II. Our only complaint was the change in photo format. We enjoyed the “then and now” photos of the previous book. Still, she includes a photo of each veteran she interviewed, which is nice to see. We applaud Reusser’s mission to interview as many World War II veterans as possible. Buy your copy of They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans on Amazon.

“People of the Philippines, I Have Returned”

It had been more than two years since General Douglas MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines as the Japanese captured the islands. At the time, he promised to return, and he fulfilled his word on October 20, 1944 when he waded to the shore of Leyte. Back on New Guinea, the 312th Bomb Group and other units began receiving lectures and booklets about the Philippines. It wouldn’t be long before they would pack up and move to the islands.

Below is some footage from the landing as well as Gen. MacArthur’s speech to the Filipino residents.

 

 

Attacking Wewak

Weather was interfering with Fifth Air Force’s plans in October 1943, specifically on October 16th. Instead of targeting Rabaul, the 345th Bomb Group was sent to hit the Wewak airfield complex instead after finding out that the Japanese were rebuilding their air power there. All four squadrons as well as a squadron of fighter cover were to first attack Boram Airstrip, then fly the two miles to Wewak where their main strike would occur. Four of the Group’s B-25s were unable to complete the mission for various reasons, including one unusual occurrence: a turret canopy broke and fell off.

The Japanese were ready for the 345th, filling the sky with antiaircraft fire and fighter aircraft prepared to attack their enemy. Separating into squadron formations, one flew off to release parafrags over the antiaircraft batteries dotting the shoreline. Once over the runways of Wewak, ten B-25s dropped 100-pound wire-wrapped bombs in hopes of destroying the runway, aircraft on the ground, supply dumps and more. Meanwhile, the Japanese were fiercely fighting back and some of their bullets were hitting crucial points of the B-25s. BOOM-BOOM’s nose guns were knocked out of action when the electrical connections were severed, and it received several other hits that took it out of the 500th Squadron for several weeks upon return to Port Moresby.

One B-25, #561, had fallen behind the rest of the 500th Squadron’s formation with a damaged engine. Aboard the aircraft, Lt. Donald Stookey was doing his best to keep his plane in the air. With one engine out of commission and the other losing power, it wasn’t long before he had to make a water landing ten miles down the coastline and three miles off Cape Moem. The crew escaped their B-25 and swam for the raft that they ejected before the crash. Overhead, three B-25s from the 501st Squadron and several P-38s circled the downed crew, dropping two more rafts before their fuel began to run low and they had to head home. Stookey and his crew rowed toward land, where they were eventually captured and killed by the Japanese.

Downed 345th Bomb Group B-25 near Wewak and Boram

B-25D-1 #561 of the 500th Squadron was hit in the right engine by intense AA fire a mile from Wewak on October 16, 1943. Lieutenant Donald Stookey made an excellent water landing three miles northeast of Cape Moem. The plane remained afloat for only 90 seconds. This photo was taken from a 499th Squadron aircraft just after the tail lifted and a few moments before the plane sank. This nose-down attitude was typical of ditched B-25s. The crew was later captured and all died in captivity at Wewak and Rabaul.

Back over Wewak and Boram, two B-25 pilots discovered their own unpleasant surprises when their bombs wouldn’t release because the bomb racks malfunctioned. Leaving the bombing to the other B-25s, they strafed the target area instead. STINGEROO sustained damage from bullets through the hydraulic system and gas tanks, which made for a tense flight home. The pilot made an overnight stop at Nadzab to get the damage repaired before heading back to Port Moresby. After doing extensive damage to the two airfields, the remaining 345th aircraft formed up and headed home.

Overall, the mission was deemed a success. Photography taken from the B-25s cameras helped determine 25 confirmed aircraft destroyed on the ground or in the air, with another seven probable. While a break would have been welcome news, the 345th would be back in the air on the 18th, heading for the dreaded stronghold of Rabaul.

 

Find this story in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

One Minute in Hell

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

On November 2, 1943, the 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 Britian. 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 background, 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.

How to Make a Volcano Explode (or not)

In late March 1943, Rabaul was (unsurprisingly) still the top target of Allied raids. For two days, March 20th and 21st, the 65th Squadron was on alert to fly a mission to Vunakanau Airdrome, and the mission was cancelled each day because of less than optimal weather. All four of the 43rd’s squadrons were put on alert on the 22nd for another Rabaul raid, and they were able to take off from Seven Mile on the night of the 22nd, which would have them arriving over Rabaul on the 23rd.

The B-17s made their appearance known by dropping bombs on Rabaul before sunrise. Since there was no daylight, the crews could not observe their results, but searchlights were following the B-17s everywhere. While several planes were holed by antiaircraft fire, none were seriously damaged and all returned to base without issue.

Rabaul was the proverbial thorn in Fifth Air Force’s side and it’s possible that more than a few men were wishing for a quick way to shut down this Japanese stronghold. Several of them came up with a theory to test out: using Matupi Volcano to their advantage, specifically by using bombs to make it explode, thereby wiping out Rabaul. Major Carl A. Hustad took off with his bombardier on the 23rd to carry out this mission. The two 2000-pound bombs were dropped into the crater with no results. Afterwards, personnel realized how silly the idea was in the first place.

 

Rabaul Volcanos

Taken in 1941, this photo shows the topography of the Rabaul area. Matupi Volcano can be seen in the background.

This story can be found in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire.

An Impromptu Mission

It was 0930 on April 25, 1942 when Captain Ronald D. Hubbard and his crew were attempting to start their B-25. Three starter fuses in the left engine had blown and a Japanese air raid on Port Moresby was imminent. Hubbard’s crew was supposed to be heading to Horn Island, but they had to get off the ground first. The gunners and flight engineer, S/Sgt. Fred Bumgardner, then began to hand-crank the inertia starter, hoping that would get the engine going. Still, the stubborn engine refused to start up. Bumgardner had another idea. He filled a quart can with fuel and, after disengaging the crank, flung the fuel down the air intake and ran. “I hit the switches and thought the plane had blown up,” Hubbard recalled. “Flames shot eight or ten feet out of the air intake and out of the exhaust stacks. The engine coughed a couple of times and then caught with a roar as I pushed the throttle forward. The right engine started easily.”

The crew hurried aboard and Hubbard took off from Port Moresby. Once they were safely away from the area, Hubbard said that they would be making a detour to Lae in order to not waste their bomb load. This idea was met with approval and the lone B-25 flew on towards the Japanese-held Lae. Given the approximate 30 aircraft at Lae, the crew was prepared to be intercepted by the Japanese as they flew over the base. The surprise visit by the B-25 went fairly well for Hubbard and his men. Antiaircraft fire was inaccurate and one bomb was noted to hit the runway. Others landed in the dispersal area and headquarters buildings.

Three Japanese fighters that had already taken off intercepted Hubbard’s B-25, with one on the let and two on the right. He rolled to the left, then to the right in hopes of throwing off some of the gunfire from the Zeros. It worked and, in turn, hits on one of the Zero were claimed. The remaining two fighters came in for a second pass, with the gunners hitting one of them and sending it back to Lae. Hubbard headed for the clouds as the last Zero made a third pass. As the B-25 reached the clouds, its right vertical stabilizer took a hit and the fighter was also hit, then fell away.

Once it was determined that they wouldn’t be attacked by any further Japanese aircraft, the navigator plotted a course for Horn Island. The rest of the trip was uneventful and the men landed safely, spent the night, then flew on to Charters Towers the next morning. For the mission, Hubbard was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second one that month, the first for the Royce Raid) and the rest of the crewmen were given the Silver Star. All were decorated by Lt. Gen. George Brett.