The Fight for Mindoro

Expanding a little more on last week’s post…

As 1944 was wrapping up in the Pacific Theater, units continued their march northward with the invasion and seizure of the island of Mindoro and continuing attacks on Clark Field, Luzon. Mindoro was considered a strategic asset for continued attacks and the eventual push towards reclaiming Luzon from the Japanese. The Japanese knew this, and even though they were driven off Mindoro on December 15th, they weren’t going to give up easily.

Two airfields were constructed on Mindoro within 13 days of the Allied takeover in preparation for the invasion of Luzon. Admiral Masatomi Kumura did not want to see these airfields become usable by the Americans and he assembled eight ships to sail from Vietnam on December 24th to Mindoro in hopes of disrupting the building efforts. It wasn’t until the 26th that their presence was detected some hours south of San Jose and U.S. ship crews hurried to vacate the harbor before the arrival of the Japanese. Men at Mindoro’s airfield sent a message to Tacloban asking for any help they could get to defend their new airbase.

Unknowingly, the Japanese had picked the perfect moment to strike. The two airfields were almost out of resources, with only a couple dozen bombs and anemic fuel stocks. The air units present on Mindoro (the 8th and 58th Fighter Groups, and the 110th and 17th Reconnaissance Squadrons), were flying fighter aircraft, except for the 17th, which had B-25s. None of these aircraft were capable of tangling with a cruiser safely, and even if they were, none of the crews were trained for night-flying operations. And the U.S. Navy, which had previously been in charge of protecting this advance base, were a day’s voyage away.

The worst-case scenario was invasion. If the Japanese force successfully landed infantry, San Jose would certainly have been overrun. Therefore, every available plane was mobilized, despite the lack of ordnance, the mismatched combat capabilities and the darkness. (There were no landing troops aboard these ships, but the Allies didn’t know that.) Since the fields on Mindoro had to stay under blackout conditions, the aircrews were told to land at Tacloban, almost 300 miles to the east. At 2100 hours, the Japanese ships were in range, and over 100 American aircraft scrambled.

Among them were two aircraft that had responded to the distress call: B-24 snoopers of the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. The 63rd was a night operations group, and two of their aircrews, headed by 1/Lts. Dickinson and Samuel L. Flinner, happened to be in Tacloban when the distress call was received. They had been ordered to make multiple passes from 6000 feet and drop one bomb at a time in order to make it sound like multiple B-24s were overhead.

Instead, Flinner dove down to 1000 feet while strafing the light cruiser Oyodo to drop his bomb more accurately. It looked like his bomb knocked out a couple of the heavy guns aboard, and Flinner went to pull away for another run. Except he couldn’t. PUG’s rudder cables were completely severed by antiaircraft shells and Flinner’s tail gunner was wounded. The B-24 began to descend, nearly hitting the water before Flinner regained control of the plane. He salvoed his remaining bombs and turned for Tacloban. Dickinson, meanwhile, made his runs and damaged the destroyer Kiyoshimo with two direct hits.

Once the crew was away from the fighting, they set about administering first aid to the tail gunner and the engineer, T/Sgt. Bill Schlereth, tackled the rudder cables. He found the two ends of the severed cables in the large mass of wires overhead, then enlisted Sgt. Don Tuley to help him isolate them. Schlereth spent the remainder of the flight clamping and reweaving spare wire to the rudder cables to the point that Flinner was finally able to control the rudders for landing. They waited out an additional five hours by circling Tacloban in order to burn off fuel and make a daylight landing for safety’s sake.

In the end, PUG landed safely with more than 200 new holes than she took off with. The groups at Mindoro had suffered severely: three B-25s, 10 P-47s, six P-40s, and seven P-38s had been lost during the battle. The Japanese withdrew from the area around midnight after doing little damage to the airstrip and harbor with one less ship, the Kiyoshimo, which had been severely damaged by Dickinson’s crew.

 

If you want to read about the battle from the ground perspective, check out Rocky Boyer’s War.

Night Action off Mindoro

A 63rd Squadron B-24 attacks a Japanese ship near Mindoro during WWII

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 16″x21″

Paper Size: 24″x26.5″

On the night of December 26, 1944, this radar-equipped B-24M night intruder, piloted by Lt. Samuel L. Flinner of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group attacked and immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy Yugumo-class destroyer, Kiyoshimo, off the Philippine island of Mindoro, where it was left behind and sunk by a PT boat. Leaving Tacloban, they had been informed that a Japanese task force might try to retake the area so orders were given to try to locate it. After departure, they skirted a squall line only to find that Mindoro’s night sky was being lit up by shelling and flares. Scouts for ships with radar produced several targets. While being showered with heavy tracers and antiaircraft fire, a low altitude bomb run at 1000 feet was made on a vessel that was three miles off shore. All three of their bombs produced large explosions. After the run on the ship, the B-24 became the center of attention for the Japanese as it dove to the deck in a hard turn. Two shells hit the plane, one in the tail turret, injuring the tail gunner, and another exploded in the midsection behind the waist gunner, cutting the rudder cables. Splicing the cables together, they flew back through the squall line to Tacloban and circled until daylight to land. A ground inspection revealed over 200 holes. Lieutenant Flinner accumulated 24 missions and 412 combat hours. He and his crew were given credit for the kill. This artwork will be published in our next book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume II.

Buy your copy of this dramatic artwork by aviation artist Jack Fellows on our website.

Diary Excerpt: Paul Jones

We wanted to share some fascinating insights as well as some thought-provoking questions in a diary entry written by Paul Jones, a ground crewman who served in the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. Jones was with the 43rd when they left the United States in early 1942 and he returned to the States on November 1, 1944.

January 23, 1944

The other night I went out to the line to check the airplanes, as I always do every night after they are loaded. When I find anything wrong it means extra duty for the crew chief who is responsible. It is a rare thing to find anything amiss but occasionally the boys get lax on details. A few nights previous I had found a fuze unsaftied in Strang’s ship. You should have heard the howl he put up when I reprimanded him.

Anyway I was checking Sam’s ship — one of the tail fuzes had a 8-11 sec. detonator where it should have been 4-5. For an instant it flashed through my mind, “You can change that ‘set’ and say nothing about it.” “Nobody will know the difference.” Naturally I didn’t follow that impulse. At times like this it has to be soldier first and brother second. When I came in and told him about it all he said was, “Yes. I guess I checked them for color instead of reading each one.” It meant a lot to me that he offered no excuse. I told him of my first thoughts and he said I’d have been a hell of a soldier if I had done that.

Tonight I was at church. It is in the open as a lot of soldiers are having their services under the sky. The chaplain is praying, asking that out of all this bloodshed and destruction comes a better world. In the middle of the prayer one of our ships takes off that we had just finished loading an hour or so before. The sound of its engines rises in volume, full blowers on, it passes over and the sound dies out. The chaplain hasn’t faltered in his prayer. We had loaded those ships to kill and there we were sitting at church. What a mixed up world this is, I and millions all over the world pray that out of this will come good. God must have a plan for the whole affair but it is not for us to understand.

We all over here wonder how it will be after the war. I know people at home wonder the same. What difference will this war make on people living a hundred years or even fifty years from now. Will it bring security for the generations of children to come or will, in another twenty years or so, the world be at it again? Only pages of some future history hold the answer.

Mom’s letters come regularly and are a big lift to us both. She says when we get home she is going to cook a whole pound of scrapple and she and Sam will sit down and stow in away. Raleigh is still in school and doing well according to his letters. If they go behind in their marks for one month out they go. I hope Pal is fortunate enough not to have to go overseas.

Outta My Way!

Wewak and Boram were the targets of the 38th and 345th Bomb Groups, respectively, on November 27, 1943. Leading the 500th Squadron over Boram was Assistant Operations Officer Capt. Bruce Marston. The strike started off well enough when B-25s flying over the hillside caught the Japanese by surprise. As they neared the airfield, pilots opened the bomb bay doors to drop parafrag clusters on the runway. Marston in his B-25 HITT AND MISS, was followed by 1/Lt. Alfred J. Naigle on his left in BUGGER OFF. On Naigle’s left was a B-25 nicknamed WATTUM-CHOO.

Just as Naigle began to unload his parafrags, his co-pilot diverted his attention to the sudden shift in WATTUM-CHOO’s location from next to BUGGER OFF to right above it, with bomb bay doors open. Naigle quickly radioed the pilot to not release his parafrags and attempted to get out of the way of the B-25. White parachutes began leaving WATTUM-CHOO and Naigle ducked as a parafrag cluster shattered the cockpit canopy, nearly cutting the aircraft in two pieces as it dragged the astrodome and turret dome down through the fuselage. Naigle and gunner S/Sgt. Wayne W. Hoffman were injured, with the pilot only conscious because he was wearing his steel helmet as the top of the cockpit came crashing down on him.

Damage to Bugger Off

With 1/Lt. Alfred J. Naigle struggling with the controls, BUGGER OFF came off the target at Wewak on November 27th with heavy damage. The plane off Naigle’s wing overflew him during a bomb run and dropped a string of parafrags on top of him. This photo shows some of the damage to the cockpit and fuselage of BUGGER OFF. A piece of the iron fragmentation wrapping around one of the bombs can be seen sticking out of the window of the fuselage at lower right corner of the cockpit window. (Alfred J. Naigle Collection)

The B-25 itself was also severely damaged. The left engine was vibrating enough to potentially break the plane apart, the left nacelle and propeller had also been damaged and the rudders were gouged and dented. Naigle pulled away from Wewak to jettison the rest of his parafrags and feather the propeller. Seeing the impaired B-25, several 38th Bomb Group planes formed up to escort Naigle and his crew as far as they could go. Naigle was able to fly more than 200 miles to Dumpu, where he made a successful landing. He was followed by one of the 38th B-25s, who took Naigle’s crew back to base. The pilot was taken to an Australian field dressing station, then sent on to Nadzab.

 

 

Find this story and many others in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

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

Port Moresby

The town that would later become the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, was a major staging base for the Allies during World War II. Port Moresby’s air fields, named for their distance from the city, included: 3 Mile (Kila Kila), 5 Mile (Ward), 7 Mile (Jackson), 12 Mile (Berry), 14 Mile (Schwimmer), and 17 Mile (Durand). It was crucial for the Allies to hold onto this territory, as it was the last piece of land between the Japanese to the north and Australia to the south. The city’s occupants were subject to many Japanese bombing raids until September 1943. Postwar, Port Moresby transformed from an Australian territory to the Papua New Guinea capital in 1975. Today, all that remains of World War II are artifacts and steel matting from the runways.

Port Moresby then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the Port Moresby complex as it appeared in December 1942. At right is Port Moresby today, taken from Google Maps.

Floridablanca

Translated from Spanish as “white flower,” Floridablanca was settled as a Spanish mission in 1823. Not much is known about the area’s history, but it was taken over by the Japanese during World War II, then liberated once the Allies moved that far north. The 312th Bomb Group and 348th Fighter Group both used the air base on Floridablanca for a short time. The Philippine Air Force now uses the base and it has been renamed Basa Air Base.

Floridablanca

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Floridablanca as it appeared in 1946. At right is Floridablanca today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Owi Island

Owi’s only inhabitants before World War II consisted of two families, one at each end of the small island. Shortly after the arrival of Allied forces in 1944, the natives left. It took about three weeks to build the airstrip, which consisted of coral, a difficult surface to land on when it was wet. Owi was used between June and November 1944, then abandoned as U.S. forces pushed north. Traces of the runway can still be seen today.

Owi then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo at the top, taken from an upcoming book, is Owi Island as it appeared in August 1944. Above is Owi Island today, taken from Google Maps.

Finschhafen

In 1885, Finschhafen was settled by the German New Guinea Company. About 15 years later, it was abandoned after disease spread rapidly among the settlers and resulted in the failure of two different colonization attempts. At some point before World War II started, Lutherans built a mission station on Finschhafen. The Japanese took over the area on March 10, 1942 and held it until Australian forces moved in and captured Finschhafen on October 2, 1943. Allied forces expanded the base and used it until the end of the war. After the war ended, a huge hole was dug and much of the leftover equipment was buried. These days, Finschhafen is a quiet location.

Finschhafen then and now

Click to enlarge. In the undated photo at the top is Finschhafen sometime around World War II. Above is Finschhafen today, taken from Google Maps.

Gusap

Previously uninhabited, Gusap was built up into an eight-runway airfield by U.S. Army engineers. It was used from October 1943 to July 1944 by several units that included the 49th Fighter Group and 312th Bomb Group. This location was ideal for staging missions by fighters and light bombers. After the war was over, remaining aircraft were scrapped. Today, only one of the eight strips is still being used by aircraft and is noted by the balloon in the right image. The rest of the area has been turned into a cattle ranch. With the radical transformation of Gusap, the exact location of the airfields seen in the left image has become unknowable.

Gusap then and now

Click to enlarge. In the top photo, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is part of Gusap’s airfields as they appeared in December 1943. Above is Gusap today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_port_moresby.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Port-Moresby

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/philippines/floridablanca/index.html

http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php/Floridablanca,_Pampanga

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owi_Airfield

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/owi/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_finschafen.html

http://engineersvietnam.com/engineers/WWII/owi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finschhafen

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/papua-new-guinea/morobe-and-madang-provinces/finschhafen-area/introduction

https://www.britannica.com/place/Finschhafen

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/gusap/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusap_Airport

Beyond the Bomb Group

If you are familiar with the movements of the 43rd Bomb Group during World War II, you know that their B-17s were phased out in 1943 as Fifth Air Force made the decision for heavy bomber units to fly the B-24. What happened to the trusty B-17s that were transferred out of the 43rd? Below is the story of one aircraft, CAP’N & THE KIDS (Profile #21 in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I), with information from the book Claims to Fame: The B-17 Flying Fortress.

After flying 90 missions as an active combat aircraft, CAP’N & THE KIDS was transferred out of the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on October 18, 1943. It entered armed transport service with the 54th Troop Carrier Wing in November and was sent to the 433rd Troop Carrier Group, where it was given the nose number 371. The 433rd was kept busy, not only by transporting troops, but also hauling supplies, equipment, and evacuating wounded personnel and civilians.

CAP’N & THE KIDS was damaged on February 19, 1944 after a C-47 taxied into the plane. It was promptly sent out to the 478th Service Squadron for repairs, then went to the 69th Troop Carrier Squadron four days later. From there, the B-17 as well as another former 43rd B-17, THE LAST STRAW, were flown to Finschhafen for Detached Service. These aircraft would become part of an eight B-17 formation that would drop supplies to the men at Momote on March 1st. CAP’N & THE KIDS made three supply drops, then flew over to the Japanese-held territory and made three strafing runs. Momote was a contested beachhead, and the B-17 attacks also served to distract enemy troops from attacking US soldiers as they grabbed the supplies.

The next day, the crew’s supply mission got a little more interesting when CAP’N & THE KIDS was jumped by three Japanese fighters as it was approaching Momote. The first fighter, a Tony, made a pass, then dove away as the right waist gunner returned fire. Next, a Zero attacked the B-17 from below and did not hit the aircraft. At last came another Tony, which made a couple of attacks as the B-17 pilot flew towards cover provided by nearby American destroyers. The left waist gunner hit the Tony in both the engine and right wing and the attacking aircraft fell away smoking, then hit the water below. Once the fighters stopped attacking the B-17, the crew finished their ammo supply drop mission. After they landed and inspected the plane, they discovered two bullet holes in the tail and they were missing an antenna, which had been shot away during the attack.

More than a month later, CAP’N & THE KIDS joined the 317th Troop Carrier Group to support the landings on Hollandia. The B-17 was used to drop supplies to troops until their airdrome at Cyclops was functional. In May, the aircraft was sent on a mission to Biak, where 7000 pairs of shoes were dropped for the men clearing out the island. August 10, 1944 marked the end of the plane’s service as an armed transport, as it was transferred to the U.S. Eighth Army the following month for a new job as Lt. General Robert L. Eichelberger’s B-17. By this time, Major Charles Downer was a former 403rd Squadron Commander, and he was asked to fly Eichelberger’s aircraft, which had been renamed MISS EM after Eichelberger’s wife, Emaline.

B-17 MISS EM and crew

After its service with the Group, CAP’N & THE KIDS was transferred initially to the 433rd Troop Carrier Group. It continued to serve as an armed transport until August 1944, when it was overhauled and turned into a VIP aircraft. The nose of the plane was adorned with a red rose and it was renamed MISS EM, after the wife of the 8th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, who used it as his personal transport. Maj. Charles B. Downer, former C.O. of the 403rd Squadron, became Eichelberger’s pilot, heading a crew of 43rd Bomb Group veterans. From left to right: Maj. Charles B. Downer, pilot; 2/Lt. Sidney Webb, co-pilot; Capt. Thomas E. Porada, navigator; M/Sgt. Charles R. Cole, crew chief and engineer; S/Sgt. Alfred Goldman, radio operator; Sgt. F.T. Sullivan, waist gunner; S/Sgt. Brian J. Marcorelle, assistant engineer and tail gunner. (Howard K. Anderson Collection)

Downer and the rest of the flight crew thoroughly enjoyed flying MISS EM. It was a reliable aircraft that took them all around New Guinea, the Philippines, and, among other locations, the occasional trip down to Sydney. The crew had an excellent view of operations that were carried out, including the recapture of Corregidor and Manila. MISS EM’s final flight with Eichelberger and his crew may have been August 6, 1945. It was transferred to the Eighth Army and went on to make 160 flights, with 63 of them classified as combat missions. CAP’N & THE KIDS/MISS EM’s long career in the Pacific Theater ended sometime afterward and the aircraft was scrapped at Tacloban in April 1946.

75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway

Next week marks 75 years since the decisive battle at the tiny island of Midway. We came across a great post by the U.S. National Archives about John Ford’s movies on this battle and recommend you head over there for some interesting information on the films. Take some time to watch the films while you’re there. Here’s an excerpt to get you started:

The Battle of Midway and Torpedo Squadron 8:

A Memorial to a Fallen Unit

On June 4, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked United States forces on the island of Midway. With four Japanese aircraft carriers sunk by the conclusion of the conflict, the battle was the first major victory for the US in the Pacific. But victory did not come without cost. More than 300 Americans lost their lives during the Battle of Midway, including all but one member of the bomber group Torpedo Squadron 8. Two films made by Oscar-winning director John Ford, now preserved at the National Archives, tell the story of triumph and sacrifice at Midway.

The Battle of Midway

Two years into John Ford’s war service, the Hollywood director had produced Sex Hygiene, the military’s frontline weapon against venereal disease—a threat to military readiness—and established the Navy’s Field Photo Unit. When Ford was asked to find a few cameramen for an assignment in the Pacific, he put his own name forward and headed to Midway, a strategically important island halfway between mainland America and Japan…

Continue reading at The Unwritten Record

YEAH! Goes Down

On this Memorial Day, we want to take some time to remember those who were killed in combat. Among them were several members of a B-26 crew from the 33rd Squadron. Their story is below.

On January 7, 1943, 1/Lt. Leonard T. Nicholson and his crew were flying to Lae with a couple of other B-26s to target ships in the harbor. As the three planes began their bombing run, the Japanese began sending up antiaircraft fire to discourage the American crews. The men flew on and released their bombs. As they turned, YEAH! was hit by two blasts of flak, one of which knocked out the left engine and damaged the hydraulic lines. YEAH!’s bomb bay doors fell open, causing an unsustainable amount of of strain on the only working engine.

Ground Crew Members with B-26 YEAH!

Two unidentified members of the ground crew stand beneath the Squadron insignia on the nose of YEAH!

By this point, nine Zeros had caught up to the B-26s and the pilots knew it was time to get out of there. Nicholson knew there was no way he would make it back to Port Moresby on one overheating engine and let the crew know that they should prepare to ditch the plane. The pilot landed in Hercules Bay, located north of Buna, and the crew hurried to get out of YEAH! Engineer Sgt. Jack G. Mosely and radioman S/Sgt. Joseph P. Papp unfortunately did not escape and went down with the plane. The rest of the men swam to shore, helping the severely injured navigator Lt. Norm E. DeFreese along the way. Once on the beach, gunner Cpl. Thomas A. Moffitt went off to find help for his crew. DeFreese did not live through the night.

The next day, three crewmen were walking towards Buna when they were spotted by Australian Beaufighters flying overhead. Food and a map were dropped to the men below. The relief that they must have felt was destroyed soon after by the sound of a gunshot. Bombardier S/Sgt. William M. Brown was killed by a Papuan Infantry Patrol that had mistaken the Americans for Japanese. The two remaining crewmen, the pilot and co-pilot, were separated during the chaos.

Co-pilot Lt. Jack I. Childers spent a couple of unbearable nights fending off mosquitoes in the open air and three days looking for someone who would help him get back to base. On the second day, Beaufighters espied him once again and dropped supplies. Childers’ situation changed on the third day when he spotted natives on the far side of the river and was able to flag them down. They took him to their village, where he spent a more comfortable night, then was taken to an Australian camp the following day. He soon learned that both Moffitt and Nicholson were alive and had been flown back to camp within the last couple of days. Childers would soon follow them and rejoin the rest of his unit.

This story can be found on p. 166 of our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.

Green Dragon Anthem

We dug up some more written work for all our readers. This poem or song comes from an unknown member of the 405th Squadron, 38th Bomb Group. We don’t know when it was written, but we hope you enjoy it.
Green Dragon Anthem

 

 

Since this one is a little harder to read, here’s the text in full:

Off we go, to meet the foe

Flying fast and flying low

as the Dragons go buzzing along.

 

The we bomb far from home

The Japs have lost another drome

As the dragons go Buzzing along.

 

For its Hi-Hi-He, a merry band are we

You’ll never meet another of our kind.

For where ere you go you will always know

That the Dragons are buzzing along.

 

On the trees, we’re at ease

Over land or over seas

As the Dragons go buzzing along.

 

Ack Ack here, Ack Ack there

Blast those Zeros from the Air

As the Dragons go buzzing along.

 

For its Hi-Hi-He, a merry band are we

You’ll never meet another of our kind.

For where ere you go you will always know

That the Dragons are buzzing along.

 

Down past Lae and Hansa Bay

Just another straffing day

As the Dragons go buzzing along.

 

There they are, at our feet

Watch those yellow Sons retreat

As the Dragons go buzzing along.

 

For its Hi-Hi-He, a merry band are we

You’ll never meet another of our kind.

For where ere you go you will always know

That the Dragons are buzzing along.