Repost: Middlebrook’s Crew Has a Close Call

This post was first written back in May 2016. Today, we’re bringing it back for another read.

 

Sleep was eluding the men of the 38th Bomb Group on the night of May 14/15, 1943. They were rudely awakened by a Japanese raid on Port Moresby, which destroyed a tent of Norden bombsights and slightly damaged two B-25s. At 2AM, the all-clear was sounded and the men headed back to bed, only to be woken up a short time later for a mission at 3AM to Gasmata. To top things off, weather between Port Moresby and Gasmata was very stormy. It was not a good morning.

After being assigned to fly EL DIABLO II, 2/Lt. Garrett Middlebrook was especially not looking forward to this mission. This plane was an unmodified B-25C hand-me-down that had been designated as non-combat only. Unlike the other B-25s flying this morning, this one was not equipped with wing tanks that could hold 300 gallons of extra fuel for the long flight. Middlebrook’s protests about flying this plane were dismissed, so he and his crew got in their plane and began the bumpy 300-mile trip to Gasmata.

Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943

This map shows some of the airdromes and landing grounds around New Guinea as of February 1943. The route between Gasmata and Port Moresby is highlighted in yellow.

Climbing to 13,000 feet, the crew began crossing over the Owen Stanley Mountains. The B-25, as well as all of its crew other than the pilot and co-pilot, were tossed about in the turbulent weather. At one point, the aircraft was caught in a downdraft that sent it into a 2000-foot dive. Navigator Lt. Vincent A. Raney wrapped his arms around the steel plating behind Middlebrook’s seat and stood on the ceiling to brace himself until the pilot and co-pilot were able to pull the aircraft out of its dive. The skies were filled with lightning, which created halos around the propeller edges. One bolt lit up the scene in front of them: a mountain. Middlebrook pulled up sharply and the crew was spared an untimely death.

That was to be the last bit of severe turbulence for the trip, though the plane was still tossed around a bit afterwards. The B-25 ascended to 14,000 feet and continued to Gasmata. There was one problem: all the turbulence left the crew disoriented and no one was able to determine exactly where they were. After crossing the mountains, they descended to 800 feet, then to 300 feet in search of the water somewhere below them. Still, even if they could find the target, there would not be enough fuel to get them back home. They decided that the best thing to do was to head home, even if it meant going back through the storm.

The flight was once again very bumpy, but they did not have any further close calls with mountains. Eventually, the stormy weather was left behind as the crew flew along the south coast of New Guinea, 250 miles west of Port Moresby. By this time, fuel was low and Middlebrook didn’t want to risk flying over the Gulf of Papua, which was the shortest route back to base. Instead, he flew 175 miles to a shoreline covered with sand dunes and made a wheels-down landing, keeping the nose up as long as possible to minimize the chance of getting caught on one of the dunes.

Once the B-25 landed and the crew got out, they saw several natives walking towards them. One, a boy, could understand a little English and told the men that some Australians were stationed about half a day’s walk from the crash site and that he was willing to guide them to the Australians. Three of the crew set out with the boy while the rest stayed to secure the plane and destroy the I.F.F. (Identification Friend or Foe) transponder in case the plane fell into enemy hands.

Soon enough, the three men returned with good news: they were to be picked up by the Australians that night at the mouth of the Kapuri River. They spent the night resting at the Australian camp and were picked up by a C-47 at noon the next day. EL DIABLO II was also picked up and repaired, then transferred out of the 38th.

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3 More Stories from the 312th

HOT SHOT CHARLIE’s Final Flight
Back in March 1944, A-20G #43-9480 joined the 387th Squadron. A year and two months later, it had been designated the oldest A-20 in the squadron with 600 hours put on the original engines. By that time, it was a difficult aircraft to fly, as it was extremely unstable (possibly due to a bomb blast or hard landing damaging the frame) and black smoke would pour out of the right engine.

On the 5th, 2/Lt. Warren H. Phillips had been assigned HOT SHOT CHARLIE on a mission to Solano. He reported smoke coming from his engine after coming off the target, which wasn’t surprising. The engine, however, finally reached its end life and stopped running. As Phillips continued home on the single working engine, the dead engine burst into flames and Phillips and his gunner, Cpl. Douglas Shafer, were forced to bail out of the A-20.

Shafer landed with cuts and bruises, and Phillips with a broken leg after he slammed into the vertical stabilizer when he bailed out. The pilot was sent to a hospital at Lingayen, then went home. His gunner returned to the 387th.

Hot Shot Charlie

1/Lt. Edward E. Bretch (on the right) of the 387th poses with Capt. Wann V. Robinson in front of HOT SHOT CHARLIE. The Squadronʼs oldest A-20, it was known for its stability problems and questionable engine performance. On May 5, 1945, 2/Lt. Warren H. Phillips flew it to bomb and strafe Solano, in northern Luzon. After leaving the target, one engine stopped running and burst into flames, forcing Phillips and Cpl. Douglas Shafer to bail out. Shafer returned to the Squadron with only cuts and bruises, but a fractured leg sent Phillips to the hospital at Lingayen, and eventually, back to the States. HOT SHOT CHARLIE crashed and burned near Mangaldan. (Wann V. Robinson Collection)

Most Memorable War Experience
In early May 1945, pilot Charles W. Stricker and gunner Ernest R. Reisinger were aboard an A-20 on an especially cloudy day. They were diverted from both their primary and their secondary target due to the bad weather. They flew on to the tertiary target, then headed home to Floridablanca on this much longer flight. As they flew back, Stricker tried to talk to Reisinger over the radio, but his gunner wouldn’t respond. Other pilots told Stricker that Reisinger was hunched over, leading the pilot to believe that his gunner was either severely wounded or dead. Upon landing, Stricker checked on Reisinger and discovered he was fast asleep. “He was astonished that I could sleep through all that,” said Reisinger.

Bringing Home a Souvenir
At the end of May 1945, the 387th and 389th were sent to strike Echague Airdrome. Edward L. Rust, a relatively new pilot in the 389th, used most of his ammunition over the target area. As he flew over a meadow, he saw muzzle flashes coming from a tree at his right. He headed for the tree, using his only working gun, which sounded a lot like a typewriter when he fired it. After he returned to base, his crew chief pulled a sapling half an inch in diameter from a wing. That was when they also noticed that the last eight inches of the propeller blades had been stained green by cut grass. Rust had been so focused on his target that he didn’t realize how low he was flying, nor did he see the tree he hit.

 

Find these stories in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Moving Day

Throughout the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific, units had to pick up and move from one base to another as they drove the Japanese northward. Just like a household move, it was organized chaos. Personal items and equipment used by the different sections were packed up into crates, hauled down to a beach and loaded into a waiting Landing Ship Tank (LST). Vehicles were driven on board and tarps were placed over stacks of crates.

Loading LSTs

Airmen of the 312th load Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) in preparation for the voyage to Leyte in November 1944. (Russell L. Sturzebecker Collection)

After a day or two of getting everything and everyone not flying a plane to the next base on board, the men settled in for their sea journey, which could last a week or more. Sleeping quarters might be somewhere below deck or up top, under a tarp. Navy food was typically much better than what the airmen were used to, and on one trip, Adrian Bottge of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group noticed how the sailors “look much healthier than we do. Never realized before how beat up, underfed and jaundiced looking we are.”

On a good trip, the men were able to move to their new location without Japanese interference. There was one terrifying trip when the 345th Bomb Group was attacked by kamikaze pilots on the way to Leyte in November 1944. Tragically, 111 members of that group were killed in that attack.

Upon arrival at the new base, it was time to unload and set up camp. Unloading was always a frenzy. The shipcrews were on a strict schedule, rain or shine, and anything left on board would be taken away when the LST departed. The 312th Bomb Group was also subject to Japanese raids the night the men arrived on Leyte on November 19th. This particular move was not easy for the 312th. Besides the raid, they expected to stay at their temporary camp for a few days, not seven weeks in the rain. Twenty-three inches of rain fell that month, the food was terrible and there was no mail delivery. It took until the end of December for the 312th’s base at Tanauan to be ready for the men.

Unloading LSTs

A section of the 43rd Bomb Group unloads their cargo. Judging by the muddy conditions, this was probably taken at Leyte. (Leon D. Brown Jr. Collection)

Mickey

Delivered to the AAF on July 8, 1944, this “H” model went into service with the 389th Squadron in March 1945. The pilot was Maj. James M. Wylie, the 389th Squadron C.O., and he named the aircraft MICKEY, after his wife’s nickname. When S/Sgt. Orian E. Hackler, the crew chief, asked about a tail identifier, Wylie replied that it would be nice to have “X,” for “X marks the spot.”

Wylie claimed this aircraft was a “pilot’s dream,”, and he flew most of his missions in it. On one, he almost lost control of it over Nichols Field on February 6, 1945. An unexploded 20mm shell tore through one wing and the plane swooped towards the ground before Wylie regained control and returned his damaged mount to Mangaldan. Afterwards, the aircraft received only occasional small arms hits. The profile painting shows MICKEY at Mangaldan during April 1945, with 67 missions arranged around the large spade scoreboard. This aircraft carried a skull and crossbones on the nose, and the crew ID panel, done as a scroll, stated: PILOT ~ MAJ. J.M.WYLIE; on a second line: c.c. T/SGT HACKLER.

In June 1945, Wylie transferred to Headquarters, Far East Air Forces. Seventy-five of his 77 combat missions were flown in MICKEY. The aircraft was assigned next to 1/Lt. Lloyd A. Wilson, but details are lacking. Yet a third pilot also flew the plane before the war ended, and it is his name, “PILOT ~ CAPT. BEARDSLEE” that now appeared on the ID panel, reversed to white lettering on a black background that was on the plane when it was used as a backdrop for Squadron photos taken in late July 1945. By this time, the scoreboard from Maj. Wylie’s service had been removed from inside the spade design, and the name MICKEY had been replaced by LITA~BONITA. The port machine gun also was enhanced with a black background, with the forward half of the area decorated in white. It is this version that is shown on the port insert profile. Probably at this time, but perhaps earlier, a large spade was painted in a similar position on the other side of the plane, incorporating a pin-up girl from a Gil Elvgren work entitled “Fun House.” This is the image on the second profile insert. After the war ended, LITA~BONITA was flown with the rest of the Squadron’s aircraft to Biak, where it was scrapped several years later.

Some of Wiley’s significant missions in MICKEY, all in 1945, were: Tuguegarao, 2/14; Corregidor, 2/16; San Fernando, 3/11; Eiko, 3/29; Saiatau, 3/31; Ipo Dam, 4/25; Mt. Ayaas, 5/13; and Tuguegarao, 6/13.

View the color profile on page 208 of our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

389th Squadron officers

Officers of the 389th Squadron assembled for this photograph at Floridablanca in late July 1945. The 389th gained A-20 pilots from the 387th Squadron when that unit prepared for the projected B-32 conversion. However, that conversion had not been completed before the war ended. From left to right, the men are: (back row) 1/Lt. Charles L. Reynolds, 1/Lt. Everard Holske, 2/Lt. Leonard Eisen, 2/Lt. Dwight L. Gnepper, 1/Lt. Kenneth L. Brown, 2/Lt. Walbert C. Brooks, 2/Lt. Joseph C. Wallman, 2/Lt. John K. Schreiber, Capt. William T. Walsh, 2/Lt. Clough H. Blake, Jr., 2/Lt. John B. Price, 1/Lt. EinoA. Salo, 2/Lt. Howard S. Britton, 2/Lt. Elmer O. Jones and 1/Lt. Henry G. Dacey; (middle row) Capt. Chester H. Hummell, 2/Lt. Thomas P. Mulrooney, Capt. Raymond W. Beardslee, W/O Charles W. Stricker, 2/Lt. George F. Howatt, 2/Lt. Frances P. Delaney, 1/Lt. Frank M. Martin, Capt. Cecil W. Shelton, 1/Lt. Lawrence O. Feldkamp, Capt. Lloyd A. Wilson, 2/Lt. Hugh T. Mulhern, 1/Lt. Joseph C. Benet, Jr., 2/Lt. Elliot W. Wooldridge, F/O William A. Bartles, III and Capt. Leonard G. Dulac; (front row) 1/Lt. Donald K. Longer, Capt. Philip H. Schaaf, F/O Jack R. England, 2/Lt. Martin E. Heck, F/O Glenn V. Walters, 1/Lt. Martin Sobel, 2/Lt. Lawrence R. Poythress, 1/Lt. Harry T. Sharkey, 1/Lt. John G. Moore, Capt. Frederick H. Wood and F/O Guy P. Clark, Jr. LITA BONITA, formerly MICKEY, is the subject of Profile #28 in Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s. Capt. Lloyd A. Wilson renamed the aircraft, which Capt. Raymond W. Beardslee also flew. (Eino A. Salo Collection)

 

Oral History: Doolittle Raiders

Not long after the daring Royce Raid occurred, the Allies would surprise the Japanese with another raid that wound up on the front page of newspapers across the U.S. With the anniversary of the Doolittle Raid next week, we wanted to share a couple of stories from The National WWII Museum’s interviews of two men who were there.

Bombing Clark Field

After a successful day of bombing Clark Field on December 22, 1944, the 22nd Bomb Group returned to the area on December 24th. There, they were going to target Japanese aircraft located in revetments and parking areas. Several miles outside of Clark Field, the B-24s and their P-47 fighter cover were jumped by 20-40 Japanese fighters. Two Zeros dropped air-to-air bombs, which did not damage any of the B-24s, and neither did the phosphorus bombs that were dropped by the Japanese fighters. Above the 22nd flew a lone Betty bomber, which was most likely radioing airspeed and altitude information to the antiaircraft batteries at Clark Field. This proved to be a problem for the B-24s, as they were greeted with heavy, accurate antiaircraft fire from the Japanese.

Right after 1/Lt. Cameron B. Benson released his bombs over the airfield, his B-24 was rocked by an explosion in the rear fuselage that also damaged the tail section and the hydraulic lines. The explosion nearly broke the aircraft apart, instantly killing the radio operator, T/Sgt. Paul Deis, who had been manning the right waist gun. At the left waist gun, T/Sgt. Vernon J. Farup, an assistant engineer, sustained injuries to his legs from shell fragments. Ammunition aboard the plane began going off and members of the crew rushed to toss the boxes of ammo out the windows.

B-24 flak damage

On December 24, 1944, this 2nd Squadron, 22nd Bomb Group B-24 was damaged over Clark Field after an exploding 75mm antiaircraft shell blew out the side of the plane, killing T/Sgt. Paul Deis, the radio operator, and badly injuring T/Sgt. Vernon J. Farup, the assistant engineer. Both men were manning the waist guns. Despite the instability caused by the damage, 1/Lt. Cameron B. Benson, the pilot, brought the plane in for a successful emergency landing at Tacloban Strip on Leyte Island. (Robert W. Hulme Collection)

None of the 2nd Squadron’s six aircraft escaped Clark Field unscathed. Lieutenant Scott’s aircraft was hit multiple times by flak, one of which damaged the gears for the bomb bay doors. Once Scott made it back to base, he had to land with the bomb bay doors open. Lieutenant Barron left Clark Field with a hole in the right wing between the two engines that punctured the fuel tanks and leaked 600-700 gallons. Both Benson and Barron were able to land safely at Tacloban.

Back at Clark Field, the 19th Squadron was attacked by about two dozen Japanese fighters before they began their bombing run. They were able to fend off the attackers and make their runs. Only two out of the five B-24s from the 19th made it through unscathed. Captain Hume and his crew managed to escape serious injury and aircraft damage when a shell went through their plane, then exploded above it. Two of the 33rd Squadron’s B-24s were damaged, though none of it was severe. Gunners managed to pick off three attacking Zeros with a fourth probable. Three of the 408th Squadron’s aircraft were holed, but also without any serious damage.

In spite of the heavy opposition from the Japanese, the 22nd left Clark Field knowing that their attack was a success. Many of the Japanese planes on the ground were damaged and at least 15 were destroyed. A total of four Japanese fighters were shot down, with a few more probables. The 22nd refueled at Tacloban, with Benson’s, Barron’s and a third crew distributing themselves among the rest of the B-24s that were capable of flying back to Angaur. Farup stayed behind in the hospital at Tacloban. That night and the next day, the 22nd rested and celebrated Christmas. They would return to Clark Field the following day.

 

This story can be found in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Working With the Low Altitude Bombsight

About halfway through 1943, the United States developed new radar technology that allowed heavy bombers to attack shipping targets at night. Shortly thereafter, the 1st Sea Search Attack Group was formed at Langley Field, Virginia. Most of these crews were brand new, and as they learned flight basics, they were also trained on how to use the Low Altitude Bombsight (LAB). Two of the three squadrons were sent to the Pacific Theater for night bombing missions. One, the 868th Squadron, operated independently. The other was integrated into the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. One member of the 63rd Squadron wrote about the way the LAB was used on a mission.

Typical Sea Search Mission
by Richard M. Salley, 63rd Squadron Radar Mechanic

The Radar was the SCR 717A, 10cm wavelength, and had a 200 mile range at about 3000 ft. altitude. The bomb sight was on RC17 Low Altitude Bomb sight (LAB) and had to be adjusted for a specific altitude and bomb configuration. I would usually set it up for a 400 feet altitude drop and a 500-1000-500 (pounds) bomb configuration. A radio altimeter would maintain the altitude through the auto-pilot with no need for hands-on by the crew.

A search would be made at max range (about 3000 feet altitude), and when a target was sighted, and IFF [Identification Friend or Foe] interrogation revealed an enemy, the run would begin. Gradually dropping in altitude to keep the target at maximum range would prevent enemy radar (which was less sophisticated than ours) from picking us up. After a period, we would be at minimum altitude, with the bombardier in charge of the plane. His job was to keep the target between crosshairs which maintained azimuth [the angle of the aircraft] and allowed the electronics to separate the target and a voltage pip correctly. At the exact start range for the bombs, the voltage pip would come up and intersect the target pip. The increased voltage would trigger the intervalometer and drop the bombs automatically.

 

The following page may have appeared in CROSSHAIRS magazine in the late 1980s or early 1990.

LAB

The Old Man’s Ordeal

The Old Man’s Ordeal a B-17 painting by Jack Fellows

Limited Edition of 200 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 25″ x 19.5″

Paper Size: 30″ x 24″

On March 8, 1943, a 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group B-17 named THE OLD MAN was on a long-range photo-recco mission over Gasmata airstrip on New Britain when it was jumped by three Zeros. The battle was on. One Zero pilot shot several bursts into the nose of the aircraft, wounding pilot Melville “Dutch” Ehlers. Bombardier Thomas Lloyd “Breezy” Boren released four 500-pound bombs and the long-range bomb bay auxiliary fuel tank to lighten the craft as they frantically clawed to gain airspeed. They limped back to the Dobudura airfield complex, on the north side of Papua New Guinea, and the crew (also including co-pilot Joseph “Indian” Cochran, navigator Warren “Doc” Bryant, engineer Willard R. Madison, gunner David J. Eckholt, radioman William A. Boly, ball gunner Michael R. Andrade, tail gunner Joseph Ferriola, and photographer Leonard Williams) was credited with five aircraft destroyed. This artwork is published in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume I and is available for purchase on our website.

 

23 Days at Sea

After a three-day break from combat missions, the 345th sent six planes each from the 498th and 500th Squadrons on March 10, 1945 to patrol the east coast of French Indochina. It promised to be an eventful patrol when the 500th Squadron encountered two Japanese ships, one of which was the 5239-ton tanker Seishin Maru. This, along with a 10,000-ton freighter, were attacked and strafed. The Seishin Maru was sunk and the freighter was severely damaged.

A little further south, the 498th spotted a 2500-ton tanker anchored near the Qui Nhon shoreline, which was promptly attacked by the B-25 pilots. Second Lieutenant Benjamin F. Chambers skipped a 500-pound bomb into the ship, which, instead of exploding a few seconds after hitting the ship, exploded right as Chambers’ B-25 passed overhead. Bauduy Grier, the radio operator, likened the bomb blast to being hit on the bottom of one’s feet with a baseball bat. After checking over everything, it seemed like the aircraft was just fine, and Chambers began the 700-mile journey back to base. Trouble began about halfway through the trip when the plane started vibrating severely.

When Grier looked out a window, he saw smoke coming out of the back of the left engine. Apparently, a fragment from that bomb holed the oil line and the engine was beginning to overheat. Chambers shut down the engine to buy the crew some time, but the propeller started windmilling and dramatically reduced the aircraft’s speed. Equipment was tossed overboard to lighten the B-25 as much as possible, then the crew braced for impact before the plane hit the water.

Grier, who was knocked unconscious by the crash, woke up to water rushing into his compartment. He and the tail gunner, Sgt. James L. Lane, escaped the sinking plane and yelled the names of their fellow crewmen in hopes of locating them. Unfortunately, no one answered their calls. After grabbing a one-man life raft, Grier swam out and away from the plane with Lane. It took all of 90 seconds from when it first crashed for the B-25 to sink beneath the waves.

B-25 #43-36044

Plane #044 of the 498th Squadron, 345th Bomb Group was damaged by one of its own bombs during an attack on a merchant ship along the French Indochina coast on March 10, 1945. The pilot managed to keep it airborne for about two hours but was finally forced to ditch in the middle of the South China Sea. The radio operator, Sgt. Bauduy R. Grier, survived 23 days in a life raft before he was rescued during a chance encounter with an American submarine. This photo was taken shortly before the aircraft was lost. (Francis R. Breen Collection)

High above them, two B-25s circled for a few minutes before they were forced to head home. Before leaving, they radioed the coordinates of the downed airmen to a ground station. Back in the sea, the main life raft had inflated before the plane sank and began drifting away from Grier and Lane, the latter of whom was holding tightly to an oxygen bottle that popped up to avoid drowning. Grier knew they needed both rafts and told Lane to stick with him while he swam after the raft. Lane refused and Grier swam off, catching the raft after about five minutes.

He then climbed aboard and, calling for Lane, tried to fight the 12-foot waves to get back to his friend. After ten minutes of rowing, Grier realized it was hopeless. He broke down in tears, feeling frustrated and scared, not knowing how long it would be until he was rescued—if he ever was. Unbeknownst to him, the search for his crew had already started and continued into the next day. No sign of life was seen from the air and the 345th assumed all had been lost at sea.

Twenty-three days later, on April 2, 1945, Grier was still alive. He was badly sunburned, dehydrated, lost a third of his weight and had developed several salt water ulcers on his body, but he was alive. At this point, he was napping in the raft when a loud him woke him. Jumping up, he scanned the sky for aircraft, but the sky was empty. On the horizon, Grier saw a submarine heading his way. He found a whistle on the raft and started blowing an S.O.S. call. It was the U.S.S. Sealion, which was on its way to a rendezvous with the U.S.S. Guavina. The watch spotted Grier’s raft, and even though no one saw any signs of life, they decided to check it out anyway.

A rope with a weighted ball was thrown to the raft. The downed airman caught it and the raft was brought in. For the first time in more than three weeks, Grier got out of that raft. He was given a small amount of food and water, pills to help him sleep and some morphine for the pain. Soon after, he was back on dry land and in a hospital for treatment. It wasn’t long before he was out of the hospital and heading home to the United States.

Note: Due to space constraints, this story has been abbreviated from its original form in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Give ‘em hell Peanuts…we’ll see you are left alone

March 3, 1943 was the culmination of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. With a story each from the 38th and 43rd Bomb Groups already told, we wanted to highlight the participation of the 3rd Bomb Group. The following is taken from the 90th Squadron’s history and a diary entry from Lt. Lee S. Walter, who was a pilot with the 13th Squadron.

March 3d………..As long as there is a 3d Bombardment Group, this day, March the third will go down in everyone’s history as the most decisive day of its history……For on this day, the 90th probably set a record that no squadron has achieved in any single day of this war to date……

The morning broke clear and cool……12 ships were alerted…an early 6 AM breakfast of griddle cakes and coffee was had and then crews assembled at the Intelligence tent on the line……

At 7:45 the order of attack and general intelligence was given…..the dope….a twelve ship convoy was just off Finschaven on a heading of 200 degrees…obviously heading for Lae or Salamaua…the order of attack was then given to all combat personnel…..to wit: 27 B-17’s would lead the attack from 5-7 thousand feet; followed by a Squadron of B-25’s from the 38th Group; followed by the 13th Squadron of B-25’s; followed by another Squadron of B-25’s of the 38th Group; followed by the 90th Skip Bombing B-25’s; followed by Beaufighters; followed by A-20’s…..and protected overhead by a minimum of 35 P-38’s, and ample coverage of P-40’s and P-39’s…..all in all, 120 planes of various description and sizes were in on this coordinated attack….. The deadline was 8:15 AM…..the engines started turning over…….Cape Ward Hunt was the rendezvous for all planes….at 9:15 all the bombers assembled there at 7000 feet…….the designation for radio purposes, of the Bombers were “Peanuts”, the pursuit was “Pop-Corn”…..Heard over the radio at Cape Ward Hunt…..”Peanuts to Pop corn”, we are here, lets get going to the target….Go Ahead”…..The reply… “Pop-corn to Peanuts…Okay boys, hang on to your pants… we still are minus a few Pop-corn……Okay…Okay…I see them coming…I see them coming…its Okay…its Okay… give ‘em hell Peanuts…we’ll see you are left alone!”

Japanese ships burn on the Bismarck Sea

A ship from the convoy burns after it was hit by Allied forces during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Picking up the story, Walter Lee writes,

“It promised to be a very big show and the mass of airplanes was an exceptional sight by itself. The sky seemed almost black with them. Everywhere I looked I could see at least one flight of some type of airplane…We kept circling in one huge circle until it was certain everyone that was coming was there. Then the B-17’s headed out to meet the convoy and the circle we were in straightened out. Much the same as you would see if you took the loose end of a coil of rope and started pulling. This is undoubtedly the largest Allied air offensive ever put into the air at one time here in the South West Pacific. It must have affected everyone the same as it did me.

“Such mass of air power gives one the feeling of invincibility…As we were coming in the Japs battlewagons started swinging broadside so they could use all their guns on us…The first flight attacked the destroyers and cruisers, each selecting one in the order in which they flew. A destroyer is the most vicious thing to attack because they have so many pom poms and multiple machine guns. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation to see the whole side of one of those things suddenly burst with flame from one end to the other and watch those red tomatoes come out at you. They never did hit any of us though. Their range was slightly short…

“We approached [the target] at about twenty feet strafing and dropping two bombs. As we crossed the boat our left wing tip narrowly missed the mast. After we crossed, we got down on the water again and flew out always looking for our next target. On a turn to our left we observed the results of our bombing. Our first bomb hit the waterline and the second was a near miss, which is almost as disastrous. The ship had burst in flames; the bulk of it a great orange tower seventy-five to one hundred feet high. It was an exhilarating sensation to know that we could sink one with such devastating results…

“Capt Henebry started a fire on the bow in a group of barges and I dropped the last 500-pound bomb with only a near miss. I was somewhat disappointed by I still hope that the near miss cracked open a few plates. At twenty-five feet it should have done something. With our bombs all gone and most of our ammunition gone, we headed back towards land just as fast as we could.”

After all was said and done, General George C. Kenney sent the following message to all the bomb groups: “Congratulations on the stupendous success, air power has written some important history in the past three days. Tell the whole gang that I am so proud of them I am about to blow a fuze.”

The results of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea were devastating for the Japanese and a tremendous show of Allied air power. It was the first time skip-bombing had been put to the test on a large scale and the experimental tactic would be used by B-25s and A-20s for the remainder of the war.