For each of our books, we carefully go through our various collections and pick out the best images for publication. For one reason or another, some of them simply don’t fit our criteria, but we want to share them because they’re still very interesting to look at. Recently, we ran across one such image, a map of the Japanese-occupied Salamaua area dated December 1, 1942. We believe the map’s data came from prewar sources as well as scouting commando units, as it appears to have prewar housing and military posts marked. At the time, the majority of the attention was on the brutal fighting in the Buna-Gona area, located south of Salamaua.
Some humor out of the Pacific Theater. The following poem was included with a diary from Robert Pickard of the 71st Squadron, 38th Bomb Group.
Letter From New Guinea (Australian author unknown)
Dear Joe, – – You ought to see me
In my shanty on the rise,
With the great mosquitoes buzzing
And the hordes of ants and flies.
You should see the snakes and scorpions,
And the centipedes and bugs,
And they’re not brought on by drinking
From old black quart pot mugs.
We’ve seen these things in Aussie
In the good old droving days,
And they often looked much bigger
Gazing through a drunken haze.
All these monsters in New Guinea
Were a curse and pest at first.
They’re now commercialised by Army,
So the Jap can do his worst.
You couldn’t kill these mossies
If you used a bullock yoke.
So they use them now as bombers
When they’re properly tamed and broke.
The ants are much more docile,
Rather sluggish for a hack,
But they used a mob as pack mules
On the Owen Stanley Track.
The flies are rather flighty
And they take some breaking in,
But send them after Zeros, and
The flies will always win.
The snakes are used by sappers
On the flooded river ground:
They use them there as bridges
For the soldiers northward-bound.
The scorpions, Joe, are streamlined,
They’re bullet-proof as well;
They carry eighteen-pounders
And they blow the Japs to hell.
How to get stores over the mountains
Had the ‘Big Shots’ at a loss
‘Till they used the mighty centipede
To tow the stores across.
The bug’s a handy scout car
And he very seldom jibs,
But be careful when you touch him
Or he’ll kick you in the ribs.
The rats are wild and snorty
Like that blooming mare you sold,
But the ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzies’ ride ’em
To deliver ‘Guinea Gold.’
We thought we’d do something a little different this week and show you some of the furry, four-legged friends that were adopted by various men during their stay in the Pacific Theater.
By August 1944, months of Allied advancement in the Southwest Pacific had forced the Japanese back to the port town of Utarom and its airdrome, Kaimana, their only major airfield left on New Guinea. On the 11th of that month, 24 A-20 crews from the 386th and 387th Squadrons were briefed by Maj. William Pagh, who told the men that there were multiple antiaircraft guns guarding Kaimana and pointed out their locations. He recommended that they stay out of the range of the guns. Targets for the mission were mainly barges just off the Utarom coastline.
Arriving over Utarom with Pagh in the lead position, the pilots spread out as they looked for targets. Pagh spotted a couple of barges off Kaimana’s shoreline, and, ignoring his own advice from earlier, made a run on them. As he pulled up and exposed the belly of his aircraft, an antiaircraft position on the north end of the runway opened up. The right engine of Pagh’s A-20 was fatally damaged, leading the plane to drop and cartwheel into the water. Pilots who watched the scene said that the “hill north of the strip looked like a solid sheet of flame from 8 to 10 M/G machine gun] positions there.”
Utarom was nothing but chaos. Pilots were flying in every direction, making it more difficult to make any sort of attack run without worrying about being hit by an antiaircraft gunner from below or accidentally damaging a fellow crew’s A-20. At some point, the A-20 flown by 1/Lt. Frank W. Wells was hit and he issued a mayday call. While 1/Lt. Frank Hogan had spotted Wells’ plane about half a mile ahead of his own, he did not note any hits. Hogan lost sight of the A-20 soon after and it is speculated that Wells crashed into the sea.
Once it was time to head back to Hollandia, Hogan looked for the other A-20s in his squadron, picking up Capt. Joseph B. Bilitzke flying in BABY BLITZ. Both pilots circled the area, looking for any sign of Wells or any other 386th aircraft that still might be in the area. BABY BLITZ was suddenly hit by flak, damaging both the rudder and vertical stabilizer, and knocking out most of Bilitzke’s instrument panel. Hogan and Bilitzke then headed for the nearest base, Owi, and Bilitzke made a hair-raising landing with four armed bombs still in his bomb bay. The bombs, three of which were secure and the fourth hanging precariously, were defused the next day.
Reflecting on the day’s losses, pilots realized that the location of the barges may have been a trap meant to lure pilots towards shore gun installations. While the briefing prior to the mission discussed the locations of the biggest antiaircraft guns, it’s possible that the locations of other nearby antiaircraft guns had not been mentioned. Pilots were also inadvertently putting their lives and the lives of their gunners at risk by exposing aircraft bellies to antiaircraft fire. Overall, the mission to Utarom was painful for the 312th.
Not long after the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Allied forces began focusing on Wewak, a Japanese-held base where the 4th Air Army was located. Six B-17s from the 64th Squadron took off on the evening of March 14, 1943 to attack a convoy that had been located the previous night some miles north of Wewak. The crews, which had battled some of the worst weather they had seen yet, soon split up: three returned to Seven Mile, three continued on towards the convoy. Of the three in search of the convoy, only two reached its location and bombed it without results. Before reaching the target, pilot 2/Lt. Arthur L. McMullan in the last B-17 called “HELL FROM HEAVEN MEN” decided that it was time to turn back before running out of fuel.
Surrounded by billowing cumulonimbus clouds, McMullan struggled with turbulence and icing wings for four hours. The bombs were salvoed and instead of heading for Seven Mile, McMullan began flying towards Dobodura. A little while later, they men knew they were near Buna, but visibility was nearly zero. They dropped flares to find out if they were over land or water and saw the flares hit the water below them. Not having the time to ditch the plane on land, the men prepared for a water landing.
A message received at 0230 at Port Moresby said, “Out of gas going down for water landing.” Seven minutes later, another one stating, “Am okay near Buna.” was received. By this point, the plane was 15 miles northwest of Buna. Out of fuel, one engine quit. That was soon followed by one last message: “Going down.”
The B-17 nose-dived into the ocean at more than 100mph. It is unknown whether that dive was due to poor visibility and not being able to see the water’s surface or the wind flipping the plane at the last moment. Fortunately, four or five of the men were able to escape the plane before it sank a few seconds after hitting the water.
Staff Sergeant Robert L. Freeman, 2/Lt. Howard G. Eberly, and 2/Lt. John M. Dawson were able to find each other and began the six or seven mile swim to shore. The tide was with them, but it was an exhausting trip. Four hours into their swim, Freeman became too tired to continue. He decided to float to shore and told Eberly and Dawson to continue without him. Reluctantly, they did so, but not before telling Freeman that they would send someone back to help him when they got to shore. It would be the last time they ever saw him.
Within the hour of sunrise, the tide turned and the men, who were now gaining the attention of passing sharks, began swimming parallel to the shoreline. More than 12 hours after landing in the water, they finally reached land at the mouth of the Kumusi River, about 24 miles northwest of Buna Mission. For half an hour, Eberly and Dawson lay in the sand, regaining their strength. Once they were able to stand, they began walking and came upon a native who was fishing on the beach. A few minutes later, a U.S. infantry patrol arrived. This patrol had been sent out to look for the downed crew. Natives were sent to look for Freeman, but he was not found.
Dawson and Eberly were sent to a local hospital, then transferred to a hospital at Port Moresby a few days later. Both men made a full recovery. In all, Freeman, McMullan, 2/Lt. MacJilton Sargent, Sgt. Wayne G. Sprecher, Cpl. Milburn J. Glanville, PFC. Hermann Bender and Pvt. James M. Grahl were lost on that fateful mission to Wewak.
On August 18, 1943, Maj. Ralph Cheli led a strike group from the 38th Bomb Group in an attack against the Japanese airstrip at Dagua, New Guinea, as a part of an all-out low-level B-25 strafer attack against the four airfields in the Wewak complex. Already fighting bad weather across the northern coast of New Guinea, Maj. Cheli’s unit was attacked by roughly ten 59 Sentai Oscars. Soon thereafter, one of the fighters made a five o’clock pass at the lead B-25, its fire ripping into the right engine. Maj. Cheli’s wing burst into flames and he rapidly began losing power as black smoke poured from the engine nacelle and wing. Despite a severely damaged aircraft, Cheli selflessly refused to relinquish leadership of the formation, and continuing his attack across the target, strafing and dispersing his load of parafrag bombs as he went. Only when the attack run was well underway, did he finally turn way out to sea where he quickly ditched the flaming aircraft. His crew was soon captured by the Japanese, and all were eventually executed. Maj. Cheli was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions that day, continuing to lead his force in the attack even though his aircraft was fatally damaged.
This limited edition print can be purchased on our website.
This week, the US National Archives posted a rare video that was shot and later put together by Lt. Col. Ken Gerrish of his time in New Guinea from 1942-1944. Head over to the National Archives blog for the back story and watch the video either here or on their blog.
Men from the 38th Bomb Group scrambled for cover as the Japanese raided Port Moresby’s airfields on the night of May 14, 1943. Once the red alert was lifted, it was approximately 0200 hours on the 15th, and not a good night to get some sleep. The air crews were roused from their beds a short time later when they were informed that they would be heading out on a mission to Gasmata at 0300. They were ordered to take out the approximately 40 Japanese fighters and bombers before the Japanese could send them to raid Dobodura around sunrise.
Due to the bad weather over the mountains and the Solomon Sea, crews were told to fly separately instead of trying to maintain some semblance of a formation in the weather. This was to be a long flight, resulting in most of the planes being equipped with wing tanks to give the B-25s an extra 300 gallons of fuel. EL DIABLO II, an unmodified B-25C, had been designated a non-combat plane until this mission when it was assigned to 2/Lt. Garrett C. Middlebrook. Because it had not been fitted with wing tanks, Middlebrook objected to his assigned plane but was told he still had to fly it.
As Middlebrook and his crew took off and headed over the Own Stanley Mountains on a bumpy ride, EL DIABLO II was suddenly caught in a downdraft and fell 2000 feet. The pilots regained control of the plane and the crew continued on in the electrical storm. Halos formed around the edges of the propellers and sparks flew threw the plane whenever lightning struck. At one point, the lightning saved the lives of the crew as it lit a mountain dead ahead. Middlebrook executed a climbing turn and avoided the mountain. By this time, the men weren’t sure of their exact location because of the turbulent weather they were flying through. Middlebrook reasoned that it would be best to fly north for 30 minutes, then over the sea. They finally found calmer air at 800 feet an hour before sunrise, but did not find land from this altitude.
An hour later, the B-25 descended as Middlebrook and his co-pilot, 2/Lt. William F. Noser looked for water, which they finally spotted from 300 feet. There wasn’t enough fuel to get them to the target and back home, so the crew decided to turn around and head back to base. It wasn’t long before they encountered turbulent weather and ascended to avoid downdrafts that could plunge the plane in the ocean and the mountains that were buried in the clouds. The crew did their best to stay out of the bad weather and finally reached the coast north of the Fly River, which was 250 miles away from home. There wasn’t enough fuel left for them to fly back to Port Moresby, so Lt. Middlebrook began looking for a safe place to land. Sand dunes scattered along the beaches were a potential hazard to the plane and the crew, but EL DIABLO II was nearly out of fuel. As Middlebrook buzzed the beach, he noticed a section of 1200 to 1500 feet of flat ground that would be ideal for landing.
The landing gear was lowered, the fuel and power cut, and the pilots landed the plane in the sand. While it was a bumpy landing that broke the nose wheel, no one was injured. The crew got out to inspect the plane and were greeted by a few natives who appeared to mean the crew no harm. After a little while, the crew tried talking to one of the boys who spoke a little English. It was established that an Australian detachment was half a day’s walk away from the crash site and the boy was willing to lead the downed airmen to the Australians. Two of the crewmembers went with the boy while the rest of the men secured the plane’s guns and destroyed the I.F.F. (Identification, Friend or Foe) radio set. Later that afternoon, the two men returned to the crew with a message that the Australians would pick them up by PT boat at the mouth of the Kapuri River that night.
The crew spent the next two days with the Australians before they were picked up by a C-47 that returned them to Port Moresby. EL DIABLO II was later recovered by a barge team, repaired and transferred out of the 38th Bomb Group roster.
For nearly three weeks, the 312th called the S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam home. This ship was originally a Holland-America luxury liner that carried 800 passengers from Southampton to New York in six days. When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the Nieuw Amsterdam was sent to Nova Scotia and turned into a troop ship.
The S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam would take the 312th to Australia.
The 312th was crammed aboard this ship with a Dutch crew of 600 and over 7000 other men. Officers slept in staterooms, and the enlisted men slept wherever they could– on deck, below in hammocks, or on mattresses. Life on the ship consisted of two meals a day, a news broadcast, playing poker, reading, and whatever other activities the men could think of. There were occasional life boat drills and heated discussions as well. On November 19th, 1943, after a two month journey, the Nieuw Amsterdam docked in Sydney, Australia.
Once the 312th reached Sydney, they were taken to the tent camp Warwick Farms Racetrack, where they stayed for two days. On the 21st, half of the Group traveled to Brisbane, 600 miles to the north. There they waited for a couple of days before the other half of the Group joined them at Camp Moorooka. The men had to get used to spring weather (since they left autumn behind in the norther hemisphere), driving on the opposite side of the road in the right side of a vehicle, beer being served at room temperature, and the conversion between the American dollar and Australian pound.
About the same time the 312th made it to Australia, the unassembled P-40Ns made it to Archerfield, the main airport in Brisbane.
Richard A. Wilson of the 386th Squadron in his P-40N at Gusap.
The 312th relocated to Archerfield because they would be flying these planes to New Guinea. The N model was a lighter, faster version of the P-40 that was good to fly for fun as well as for combat. It also had smaller, lighter undercarriage wheels, head armor, four wing-mounted guns and aluminum radiators and oil coolers. The 386th Squadron was the first of the Group to receive this plane, and they wasted no time becoming proficient in flying the P-40s. On December 10th, the Squadron set off for Gusap. They reached their destination on the 13th without incident.
Meanwhile, the 389th had arranged to share P-40s with the 49th Fighter Group. They left Brisbane by rail to Townsville, where they climbed aboard a C-47 bound for Port Moresby and arrived there on the 13th. While flying with the 49th, the men learned patrol and escort mission procedures, practiced their dive-bombing skills and experienced antiaircraft fire on fighter sweeps to Finschhafen.
By the end of 1943, the Group was reassigned from dive-bombing to light bombardment. This became official on December 21st, but the Squadrons got these orders over several weeks. The 386th transferred on the 21st, the 387th on the 27th, followed by the 388th and 389th on January 8, 1944. During this change, the Group would keep flying the P-40s until they got new planes.
The ground echelon was still at Camp Moorooka in November, and they prepared for the journey to Port Moresby. After arriving on December 21st, the men realized they were in a war zone with the half-submerged S.S. Macdhui (bombed by the Japanese in June 1942) as a constant reminder. The men got settled at Seventeen Mile, also called Durand, Airdrome, a drier section of New Guinea, located away from the rain belt of the Owen Stanley Mountains.
Even though they were in a drier area, the men still had to take precautions against malaria by taking Atabrine tablets on a regular basis. Living conditions were fairly rustic and the men would bathe by pouring water into their helmets and then washing and rinsing with the same water. The ground echelon wouldn’t join the air echelon at Gusap until the very end of December 1943.