R&R for the Ground Crews

As World War II continued in 1945, a new program was put in place: two men a month from each ground echelon of an air unit were permitted a 30-day leave to the States. It was a nice thought, but completely detached from the reality of an active combat unit like the 345th Bomb Group. More than 600 men in the 345th were eligible for leave. Many of them hadn’t had a proper break from the action in more than 20 months, and an alternative solution was needed. Majors Maury Eppstein and Everett E. Robertson, as well as two sergeants, set out for Manila by order of Col. Coltharp to rent the two largest houses in they city for leave centers.

It was a hot, dusty 90 mile trip on February 4, 1945 that kept the men on their guard as they watched for Japanese stragglers hiding near the roads. When they reached the city, they were stopped at a checkpoint and questioned by the Military Police. Manila itself was currently engulfed in a bloody and greatly destructive battle that would continue through March; troops had liberated 4000 American and Allied civilians from Santo Tomas University only one day before. The MPs were reluctant to let the members of the 345th into the war zone, but they eventually relented, giving them handwritten passes and directions to the university located two miles away.

Even on the relatively safe pathway they took, the men were shot at once on the way to the university. Shortly after they arrived, the very presence of the men drew a crowd of excited people. None of them had ever seen a jeep before. Nearly two weeks earlier, the Japanese cut off the food supply and the conditions at the school had been deteriorating. People had been surviving on whatever they had. Children often received a significant share of their parents’ rations, and there was a stark difference between the health of the children and adults. Seeing this, the members of the 345th gave the extra rations they brought to those in charge of doling out food to the civilians. Everyone was very grateful for their contributions.

For the next two days, the men searched for suitable houses within Allied-controlled territory. They encountered relieved civilians who had been hiding from the Japanese. The father of one family even dug up a bottle of brandy that he buried in the backyard to toast the Americans. Other neighborhoods were crossed off the map, still occupied by Japanese soldiers. Burning tanks, dead bodies and artillery pieces were scattered all along the route to the neighborhood they were going to look at. Once they found three or four acceptable houses, it was time to head back to San Marcelino.


As soon as Manila fell to American forces, a small reconnaissance team from the 345th Bomb Group visited the capitol and made arrangements to rent two luxurious villas to use as rest and recreation centers. This photo shows the two-story home used as the “leave mansion” for the 345th enlisted men in Manila. (Maurice J. Eppstein Collection)

After returning to their base and reporting on the conditions witnessed in Manila, the 345th decided to pack a 6×6 truck with food, water, medicine and other aid for those at Santo Tomas. They dropped off the supplies, and then returned to the two locations that were chosen for leave houses to negotiate a rental agreement with the owners. The first house, which was easily secured, was owned by an architect and won a design award six years earlier after it was built. Approximately 40 enlisted men would be able to stay there at a time. At the second house, the leasing process took an interesting turn, as the mansion belonged to the governor of one of the provinces. The lady looking after the house, Dorothia, couldn’t agree to anything without the governor’s permission, so the group spent the night at the house, then went back to San Marcelino the next day.

Again, members of the 345th returned to Manila. This time, it was a much smaller group consisting of Maj. Eppstein and Capt. Stephen N. Gilardi, the 500th Squadron’s Ordnance Officer, who was an attorney before the war. Eppstein wanted to be sure that renting the governor’s mansion was formalized legally and wouldn’t result in any issues for the governor or the 345th Bomb Group. They picked up Dorothia, who agreed to show them the way to the governor’s town. The Americans were greeted warmly and a rental agreement was soon finalized. The governor also threw a banquet for the men. Later on, they went back to Manila, where they dropped off Dorothia to get the house ready, then drove on to San Marcelino.

The houses were quickly prepared for the officers and enlisted men, and it wasn’t long before they were occupied by men on leave. They leased these houses until July, after the 345th moved to the Ryukyu Islands and it wasn’t feasible to fly all the way back to Manila. Colonel Coltharp’s idea provided an incredible boost to the morale of his unit.


Read the full story in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Caught Offguard: Attacking the Manila Airbases

Some months prior to December 1941, Major Lester Maitland thought it would be a good idea to prepare for an enemy attack on Nichols Field in Manila, Philippines by digging trenches. Although this task was carried out, his idea was mocked and given the nickname of “Maitland’s folly.” Around the base and Manila as a whole, the idea of the Japanese attacking this island seemed to be incomprehensible.

By late November 1941, members of the 27th Bomb Group had arrived in Manila and noticed the peculiar attitude toward defense and cautionary measures. Lieutenant Harry Mangan of the 27th observed that “A strange sense of impending war was evident in small personal ways, but not in military ways that I could easily see…Dependents of military and certain civilian personnel had been sent to the United States…but there were no air raid shelters, gun emplacements, nor revetments at Fort McKinley, or at Nichols Field that I could see. There was a strange mixture of awareness, but still an attitude on the impossibility of war. Military dress was expected in the Officer’s Club after 5:00 p.m., and we actually got a lecture from the Fort McKinley Post Commander on his distaste for our airmen wearing Flight Line clothing during the day…”

News of the attack on Pearl Harbor came quickly on December 8th (the other side of the International Date Line) and Group C.O. Col. John H. Davies roused his men to give them the news. No one knew what to do, or had the planes to fly in the event of an attack, so they just went back to bed, where sleep would soon be hard to come by: several false alarms woke them up, and was eventually followed by a real attack on Nichols Field. It sent men running for the trenches. Others were given jobs as radio operators, antiaircraft gunners and whatever else was needed during the chaos. Eight hours later, Fort McKinley was attacked as well. With so few antiaircraft guns at the bases, there was very little that the U.S. troops could do to fend off the Japanese.


Water-cooled machine gun

Lieutenant Harry Roth sits with a .30-caliber water-cooled machine gun. With this type of light weaponry to serve as their air defenses, the Allied airfields and installations around Manila were all but helpless against the heavy Japanese attacks beginning on December 8, 1941. (Harry Mangan Collection)


“In morning found Japs had hit Nichols Field and destroyed hangars. Also hit the PAA radio station near McKinley. Was issued a service type gas mask. Had two more raids near us at 1045. Ibea, a small pursuit field, has been completely wiped out. Japs dropped tons of bombs on it. At noon bombs hit in officer’s mess—killed lots. Some of the men are now assigned to our group—they’re all bomb happy. Almost everyone has moved and is living in the jungle at the edge of post.” Dick Birnn wrote.

About half the available B-17s and P-40s at Manila were destroyed. Men were left reeling from the ferocity of the Japanese attacks. The 27th suffered its first casualty, PFC. Jackson P. Chitwood, who had been manning a machine gun at Nichols Field when a bomb burst nearby. These raids wound up being the first of many on the bases at Manila and Clark Field, which was located to the northwest of Manila.

The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six WWII Bases Then and Now

This week, we wanted to take a look at how much several World War II bases from the Pacific Theater (as well as one from the U.S.) have changed since the war ended.


Hunter Army Airfield
Located in Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Field was originally a municipal airport built in 1929. It was named Hunter Municipal Airfield in May 1940 after a World War I flying ace from Savannah, Lt. Col. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter. Soon afterwards, an Army Air Corps base was built and several units, the 3rd and 27th Bomb Groups as well as the 35th Air Base Group, would call it home for a short time. The 312th Bomb Group was another unit that did their aircraft training at Hunter Air Base (so renamed on February 19, 1941). Today, there are about 5000 soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield, including the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah.

Hunter Army Airfield Then and Now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left,  taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the base where bomb groups such as the 312th were activated. At right is Hunter Army Airfield today, taken from Google Maps.


RAAF Base Amberley
What is now the Royal Australian Air Force’s largest base was under construction during most of World War II. Amberley, located southwest of Brisbane, was named by an immigrant farmer in the 1850s after his hometown in England. Airport construction began in 1939 and continued through 1944. During the war, the base briefly housed many Australian and U.S. units, including the 22nd and 38th Bomb Groups.

RAAF Base Amberley: Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left is airfield at Amberley during the early part of WWII, taken from Revenge of the Red Raiders. The image on the right is a current view of RAAF Base Amberley, taken from Google Maps.


Corregidor Island
Originally Spanish territory, the island of Corregidor was incorporated into U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War. It stayed that way until Japanese forces invaded the island in 1942, leading to the unconditional surrender of the Allies in the Philippines on May 6, 1942. Finally, in early 1945, the Allies took back the island. These days, Corregidor is part of the Philippines National Park, with several historic landmarks scattered about the island.

Corregidor Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. (Left) A 43rd Bomb Group strike photo of Corregidor after it was bombed by the Group, taken from the IHRA archives. (Right) This satellite image of the island shows how it has changed since World War II. Image taken from Google Maps.


Manila, Philippines
Manila was also a Spanish territory that was given to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War. From 1935-1941, it was Gen. MacArthur’s base during his time as a military advisor. The city was attacked by Japanese on December 8, 1941, and, after repeated bombings, it fell into Japanese hands in January 1942. Three years later, the U.S. returned to Manila and fought a bloody month-long battle to recapture it, destroying much of the city in the process. This picture was taken at the tail end of the conflict. The city has since recovered and is now a major urban center in the Pacific, the capital of the Philippines, and has a population of over 1.5 million people.

Manila Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left, taken from the IHRA archives, shows the destruction after Manila was bombed. At right is a satellite image of a rebuilt Manila taken from Google Earth.


Wakde Island
Before the Japanese set foot on Wakde Island in April 1942, it may have been inhabited by a small native population. Over the next year, much of the foliage on the island was cut down to make space for a runway that was 5400 feet long and 390 feet wide. The Japanese leveled more of the island to build 100 pillboxes, bunkers and other defenses. On May 15, 1944, the fight over Wakde began. All but four Japanese soldiers stationed there fought to the death. Wakde was further expanded by the Allies, almost completely clearing the island of vegetation in the process.  Today, the island is uninhabited.

Wakde Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left,  from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, shows Wakde Island after its development as an Allied base. The image on the right is from Google Earth.


This base, located north of Lae, started out as a tiny native village that was eventually populated by German Lutherans of the Gabmatzung Mission in 1910. A small airfield was later established. The Japanese captured Nadzab in 1942 and occupied it until early September 1943 when Gen. MacArthur ordered Operation Postern to be carried out. Once Nadzab was in Allied hands, it was expanded into a huge airbase with five airstrips. As the war wound down, Nadzab was redesigned as an aircraft boneyard. Today, it serves as a small regional airport.

Nadzab Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left, four of Nadzab’s five airstrips can be seen in this photo from IHRA. Today, the only sign of this former base is the single runway seen slightly left of center. The satellite image is from Google Earth.



Sources and additional information about these WWII sites:

Battle of Manila: Softening Corregidor

In the weeks before the Battle of Manila began on February 3, 1945, ground troop commanders requested the help of heavy bombers to knock out some of the Japanese defenses built on Corregidor and Grande Islands. The two islands would be of strategic import in the coming battle, particularly Corregidor, which sits at the mouth of Manila Bay. General MacArthur approved of this on January 22nd, causing the 22nd Bomb Group to spare the Japanese airfields and give some attention to Luzon.

Liberators from the Group took off on the 24th, each loaded with five 1000-pound bombs. Many targets were marked out, including two large coastal defense guns and ammo installations scattered about Grande Island. Results were excellent, with several bombs hitting a powder magazine and and ammunition storage area. They flew back to base without incident.

On the 26th, the 22nd was scheduled to hit Corregidor Island. Approximately 6000 Japanese men were estimated to be occupying the island at the time. This was a more difficult target from 10,000 feet, as the men, along with two coastal defense guns, were hidden in buried concrete bunkers and underground tunnels. The crews did what they could to hit the guns, but to no avail. Taking out the guns would have to wait until another time.

Corregidor Island

The 22nd Bomb Group repeatedly bombed Corregidor Island in Manila Bay to soften it up for a combined airborne and sea invasion on February 16, 1945.


The next day, the Group went back to Grande Island to focus down two coastal defense guns on the southeast corner of the island. Planes from the 2nd Squadron successfully destroyed the guns by dropping their bombs between the gun emplacements.

January 28th brought another mission to Grande Island. The 22nd were hoping to repeat their success on the two coastal defense guns on the southwest corner of the island. Due to all the secondary explosions and fires, the Group couldn’t quite tell if they had knocked the guns out of commission. This was the final mission for the 22nd during January 1945.

On the ground, Gen. Krueger’s 37th Division reached the east side of Clark Field. They seized it from the Japanese and moved into Fort Stotsenburg. To Krueger’s north, the Eighth Army (there to reinforce the Sixth Army) landed at Lingayen on the 27th. With the extra men available to him, Krueger began the march towards Manila.