A Convoy Meets Its End

Around the middle of March 1944, Allied intelligence was monitoring reports about the movements of the 21st Wewak Resupply Convoy. Three subchasers were escorting three medium-sized merchant ships and a small “sea truck” from the Palau Islands for Wewak. The convoy’s position was accidentally betrayed by the Japanese, who did not know that the Allies had intercepted their communications, then detected by a couple of radar-equipped B-24s that had been sent to destroy the convoy before it reached Hollandia. The B-24s put one ship out of commission and the rest continued on to Wewak, reaching the base on the 18th, six days after leaving the Palau Islands.

With their location compromised, the Japanese worked through the night to quickly unload supplies and nearly 400 troops, then reload the ships with soldiers moving rearward to Hollandia early on the 19th. They hoped to avoid any further run-ins with Allied aircraft, as the convoy was carrying valuable cargo. In addition to the large number of passengers (1000), aboard one of the ships was a new radar system to detect enemy aircraft that was being moved to Hollandia, where the Japanese were building up their forces. At that time, the Japanese had very few of these radar systems.

B-24 crews from the 90th Bomb Group arrived at Wewak later that morning, only to find an empty harbor. They flew on, staying near the New Guinea coastline, and eventually found the convoy about 50 miles west-northwest of Wewak. Bombing the convoy from a medium altitude turned out to be mostly unsuccessful, although the crews may have sunk one of the escorts. Crews from the 22nd Bomb Group caught up to the convoy later that morning and were greeted by puffs of flack that stood between them and the convoy.

A three-plane element from the 19th Bomb Squadron attacked the Yakumo Maru, dropping 72 bombs around the ship, some of which landed within 50 feet of the ship. The 19th’s first attack was followed by an attack by the 33rd Bomb Squadron, then the 19th once again. Japanese fighters joined the fray in an attempt to defend the convoy below. During the chaos, the B-24s of 2/Lts. Ralph L. Anderson and G. Hill and 1/Lt. Chester G. Williams were holed by fighters. Hill’s plane suffered the most damage with a hit to the turbo-supercharger, damage to the outer left engine, the left wing and vertical stabilizer, as well as damage from a 20mm cannon shell to the fuselage.

Destroying the 21st Wewak Resupply Convoy

Following the sinking of the Yakumo Maru by the 22nd Bomb Group on March 19, 1944, the Taiei Maru picked up survivors from the sunken ship, and, along with a small transport and two escorts, resumed the dash for Hollandia at top speed. A-20 and B-25 units back at Nadzab scrambled around noon and raced each other to the scene, where a wild engagement with almost no flight discipline. This photo shows the Taiei Maru after being set afire by bombs dropped by a B-25 from the 345th Bomb Group. Note the attacks from several directions at once.

After the fighters let up their attacks and the B-24s had dropped all their bombs, an explosion rocked the Yakumo Maru, which began listing dangerously. The two squadrons left the smoking convoy behind as they departed the area. Word of the convoy spread through Fifth Air Force and about 80 B-25s and A-20s converged on the convoy that afternoon. This time, the attacks on the convoy were completely uncoordinated. As an A-20 from the 3rd Bomb Group made its attack, it was accidentally shot down by an overexcited B-25. The 3rd also lost another A-20 after it hit the ship’s mast and had to ditch nearby. Both the pilot and gunner were rescued by a Catalina the following day.

In the end, the convoy was thoroughly destroyed, with only three members surviving the attack. As a result of the attack, the Japanese ceased sending convoys to reinforce the Japanese 18th Army, now trapped in northeastern New Guinea.

Lt. Clifford Taylor Goes to Wewak

Because we like you readers so much, we’re bringing you not one, but two excerpts from Lt. Clifford Taylor’s diary this week. He was a member of the 3rd Bomb Group’s 13th Squadron.

August 17, 1943— Today we went on a mission that was right out of the books & one of the most successful. We were briefed in the morning & found our target to be Wewak, a trip of over 1000 miles. Our take-off time was 615 & we were in slot #9. I was with “Gerry” & we were loaded with 12 clusters of 3 23 lb. parachute frags. Our real target was the Boram strip just off the Wewak strip, where a hundred fighters and bombers were reported, and we were to destroy as many as possible. On this raid we took off knowing that 20 percent of our aircraft were expected not to return due to ack-ack & expecting to get “hopped.” Overhead we had the comforting sight of 50 P-38s & weren’t too worried about “Zekes.” We headed up the south coast of New Guinea past Yule Island & then headed over land. After two hours & forty minutes we arrived at our target. Everything seemed to be in our favor, the clouds went down to 900 feet & we had a nice hill to come around to complete the surprise.

As we dropped thru the clouds we opened our bomb bays came up abreast & started opening fire with our .50s. We were 8 B-25s & between us had 64 guns firing simultaneously. The raid was completely unexpected & the Japs were caught napping. As we came over the drome lines of Zekes were all over. It reminded me of an inspection day at a training school. Before we got over the planes I saw six break into flame & explode by out bullets. As we went over the drome we dropped our para-frags & the strips was completely covered. In our strafing run we caught quite a few Japs still at their planes. I saw two break & run and after running about 25 feet, I saw them stop & crumble in their tracks. A few  less to contend with! We were forced to continue across Wewak strip, as if we turned our bellys toward the ack-ack they would have a better shot at us. About this time we started catching the ack-ack. I saw tow lines of tracers criss-cross over our nose, but by the grace of God we got thru it. As we turned away our biggest worry was  keeping from hitting each other & getting up over the small mountain.

We started climbing & hit some clouds & went on instruments for about 15 sec., as we came out of the clouds we were no more than 25 feet from a B-25 up front. We were quite happy to have missed him. We then headed overland climbing up to 14,000 to get over the mountains. The return trip was uneventful & we landed six hours later, tired yet successful. One B-25 was lost!

 

 

August 18th— Today we drew the supply depots up at Wewak. Our take-off time was 645 & I went will Bill Beroch. We were loaded with we 100 lb. 8-11 second delay bombs. We went up with 11 other planes from our squadron, but three had to turn back due to trouble with their planes. We had P-38s as top cover but we knew that this mission would really be rough. Preceding us up to the targets were the “heavy-boys” & our element of surprise was nil. To make matters worse, visibility was down to a half mile & the ceiling lay at about 100 feet. We arrived north of the target & came back over advertising that we were coming down for an attack. We went out the harbor a ways & turned to make our run in.

About this time all hell broke loose from shore. I could see hundreds of places where machine gun fire was coming up from & all around us black puffs of ack-ack kept bursting making us realize how close it was coming. We came in over the peninsula & strung our bombs north of the runway. About this time we caught a burst of ack-ack & threw our left wing up & put us in a sharp turn to the right. I thought sure our right engine had caught it & we were on single engine. I looked out & she was still going, so I breathed a real sigh of relief. We were still flying thru a curtain of ack-ack that was the heaviest I’ve seen. We continued down over the Wewak strip right on the deck & got them there unscathed. As we pulled up away from the target, five “Zekes” stopped our group. One “Zeke” made a pass at an 8th Sqn. ship & put the right engine & nose on fire.

He immediately fell off into a spin & crashed about five miles from Wewak. We later found out it was Sheppard, a boy we came across with. The P-38s then got to the “Zekes” & took care of them, shooting down quite a few. We then headed for home, waiting for a flock of Zeros to come barreling for us. Things went along okay & we got back without further happenings. When we got on the ground, the station had gotten a plot on 200 “Zekes” searching for us, from Lae to Wewak. What saved us was the overcast. Our ship was hit in a couple of places & Craig’s had been hit one inch from their gas line. When we got the reports we found that 2 B-25s were shot down, 4 B-24s & 2 P-38s were also lost. However things weren’t unbalanced as we (all groups combined) destroyed in air and on the ground a total of 272 Jap aircraft. We got complete credit for the Boram strip & of 106 planes there, we destroyed completely 72 and damaged others. Quite a blow to Tojo!