Update on Ken’s Men Vol. II

They’re here! After a two day weather delay, our books arrived late on Thursday and we started shipping out orders on Friday. If you ordered a book (or two), keep an eye on your inbox for that notification email saying that your order has shipped. We have quite a backlog, but we’re working through it as quickly as possible. For the rest of you who haven’t ordered yet, head over to our website and buy your copy now! If you haven’t purchased Volume I, we’re running a deal through the end of the year of $10 off when you buy Ken’s Men Vol. I and Ken’s Men Vol. II. As always, thank you for supporting IHRA as we share the stories of the men who fought in the Pacific Theater.

A photo of Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol II

 

Finding Kagi

For the last 50 years, Japan had been occupying the island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan). Their occupation provided an excellent element of control over the sea lanes between Formosa and the Japanese islands. They built sugar and alcohol plants on the island, which gave them a very useful byproduct: butanol. This flammable liquid was used to make aviation fuel and acetone for explosives. The island also had oil, iron, copper and aluminum, all of which were used by the Japanese. To destroy these industrial plants, U.S. crews first had to make it through the “flak belt,” the heavily-armed southern part of Formosa.

Approximately five million people lived on the island at the start of World War II, and these people were not as anti-Japanese as those on the Philippine Islands. Aircrews going down on Formosa were less likely to find individuals to help them get back to the Allied forces. Still, all eyes were on Formosa being the next stepping stone to the islands further north.

In March 1945, the 312th Bomb Group began flying its first missions to Formosa. First up was a mission to Kagi Airdrome, located in the southern half of the island. It was going to be a very long day: the flight would be more than 1000 miles round trip, which was near the limit of the A-20. About 200 miles of the flight would be over open ocean.

On March 2nd, 36 A-20s from the 386th, 387th and 388th Squadrons met up with they P-38 escorts over Mangaldan for the trip to Kagi. After making the journey to the island of Formosa, the formation began searching for Kagi in the cloudy weather. They found a target, bombed and strafed it, then formed up to head home. Something wasn’t quite right, though. As written in the 386th Squadron mission report, they bombed what they “believed to be Kagi dummy airdrome, which is at Shirakawa 5 miles S. of Kagi town…when the attack was made the pilots were not certain which drone was hit but thought it to be the dummy from available information on the drone…The revetments around the strip were reported as being in perfect condition—almost too perfect.”

It turns out that they didn’t hit Shirakawa, either. Instead, they hit Mato Airdrome, located 25 miles to the south. Years later, Maj. Richard Wilson, leader of that mission, remembered that it was overcast over the South China Sea and he could not see the waves below, which would have helped him determined the direction the wind was blowing. After flying out of the cloud bank, Wilson realized that they were too far west. He turned east, crossed the coast of Formosa and decided to attack the first airfield he saw. Joseph Rutter, who was also on the flight, had a feeling that the flight leader was lost. They were making too many turns, “roaring around over the countryside for what seemed to be half an hour, or at least much too long…”

The mission also claimed the lives of two members of the 387th Squadron. Second Lieutenant Bruce E. Nostrand’s A-20 was hit by ground fire on the return flight. It was damaged enough that Nostrand needed to ditch his plane two miles off the coast of Cape Bojeador, on the northwest point of Luzon. Neither he nor his gunner, S/Sgt. Lyle A. Thompson, made it out alive. A second A-20, flown by 1/Lt. James L. Temple, was also hit by ground fire. He and his gunner made it back to Magaldan without a hydraulic system and crash-landed without injury. A third A-20, flown by 2/Lt. Frederick C. Van Hartesveldt, hit a tree during the attack. While the tree damaged the elevator, bomb bay doors, inner left wing and stabilizer, he and his crew also made it back to base without injury.

 

Read this story in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s.

Letter From New Guinea

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.’

Repost: No More Spam

First published on our blog in 2015, this story will appear in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. II.

 

Throughout World War II, the subject of food was regularly brought up, usually because it was so terrible and the occasional good meal was worth writing home about. While the 43rd Bomb Group was staying in Port Moresby, they put up with field rations that included canned mutton, powdered eggs and “corn willy,” which was Aussie slang for canned corn beef.

Obviously, visits to the mess hall left much to be desired. There was one chef in the 403rd Bomb Squadron who decided to have a little fun with the menus each day and began writing up items such as “Spam ala King,” “Spam Peking,” “Sweet and Sour Spam,” etc. One day, he ran out of ideas and wrote “Just Plain Ole Hairy Spam.” We do not know if scenes similar to Monty Python’s Spam skit played out in the mess hall.

The men grew tired of the bad-tasting, nutritionally-deficient food they had to eat every day and it also lowered their morale. Before long, unit mess officers started up programs to ferry fresh food from northern Australia. Men would contribute money to a fund that would go towards purchasing fruit and vegetables as well as fresh meat, dairy and eggs. Planes typically used for these trips had been designated as war-weary and removed from combat service. They were often known as “fat cats,” possibly adopted from an early 3rd Bomb Group B-25 called Fat Cat that was repurposed as a ferrying aircraft in late June 1943.

Unlike most trips, the plane returning from Australia this time was a brand new radar-equipped B-24 carrying supplies and fresh food such as a side of beef, watermelons and cases of eggs. As the plane touched down at Seven Mile Airdrome, the left tire blew out, causing the B-24 to swerve to the left. Pilot F/O Clarence Molder did his best to straighten out the landing by applying the right break and increasing the power to the left outboard engine, but to no avail. It finally came to a stop in a ditch, with the nose twisting and the outboard props being torn away. Luckily, the aircraft did not catch fire.

B-24 crack up

The B-24 after it stopped in the ditch.

Before the landing went awry, radio operator T/Sgt. Charles G. Meinke had been sitting on the floor with one foot on a case of eggs. After the crash, he feared he was injured and bleeding when his foot was forced through the case and he felt liquid in his shoe. It turned out that he was not seriously injured, but the eggs had broken and the yolks had seeped into his shoe.

Second Lieutenant John P. Harmon scrambled out of the plane and noticed fuel leaking from a ruptured wing tank and another stream that was running onto a hot turbocharger. The turbocharger was so hot that it vaporized the gas as it poured down. Harmon ran for the fire extinguisher to cool down the turbocharger, then took the emergency axe to rescue his crew members still trapped inside.

Several of the other men finally got out through the plane’s windshield and helped Harmon until crash trucks and ambulance crews arrived. To the joy of the onlookers that had gathered, they soon freed the rest of the crew. As happy as the men were to see the crew make it out alive, a 501st Squadron Adjutant was upset to see his large purchase of fresh food littering the runway.

Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. II is now available for preorder!

Cover for Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. IIThe official publishing date will be October 28, 2019. Press proofs have been approved and returned to the printer for publication. Allowing a few days for shipping from the printer, we expect to begin shipping out orders by the first week of November. The primary authors on this volume are Lawrence J. Hickey and Col. James T. Pettus, USAF (Ret). Colonel Pettus was the last commander of the 43rd BG during World War II, and flew B-24s with the unit during almost the entire time the aircraft served with the unit.

Because the 43rd Bomb Group’s history was split into two volumes, we’re also going to offer a limited sale for retail orders only until December 31, 2019 at $10 off when you order both volumes. To be clear, this sale is only for our 43rd Bomb Group books and you must purchase one of each to get the $10 off. Separate orders of either book will be $75 for Volume I (published in 2016) and $80 for Volume II. All orders received after January 1, 2020, will be at the regular price.

As far as we know these combined volumes contain the most comprehensive history of an air unit in combat ever produced. This includes a detailed narrative text, an outstanding collection of black and white and original color photography, extensive maps showing the unit operating areas, bases, missions and losses, and incredible artwork, including 56 aircraft color profiles and seven full color battle scene paintings done by world renowned aviation artist Jack Fellows. Nothing like this has ever been produced before in aviation literature.

All of our books have hardbound full color covers with sewn bindings. High quality enamel coated paper stock is used throughout to hold the best quality imagery for photos.

Here are the specifications for Volume II, which covers the B-24 era of the unit from October 1943 to the end of the war in 1945:
464 pages of new material
32-page color section
32 B-24 color aircraft profiles
4 color combat paintings
677 black and white photos

Between the two volumes, there are:
880 pages
48 color pages
56 B-17 and B-24 aircraft color profiles
7 color combat paintings
1200+ black and white photos

My deepest appreciation for all your support over the many years of this project.

Lawrence J. Hickey

Co-Author and President of
International Historical Research Associates

Lieutenant Zastrow’s Series of Unfortunate Events

Throughout the war, different technology was developed and improved so that the Allies and the Axis could find out what the other side was up to. The U.S. began to experiment with radar countermeasures—one involved a radar set installed in a B-24 heavy bomber capable of pinpointing enemy radar stations on the ground. A 403rd Squadron crew, 1/Lt. Erwin C. Zastrow’s, received one of these B-24s. Because the equipment on board was so secret, it was ferried from the States with a 24-hour armed guard. Upon arrival, Zastrow’s crew was told it was the only one that would be flying that particular aircraft, which was named THE DUCHESS OF PADUCAH.

The crew spent about three weeks in training then was sent out on the first mission on January 30, 1944. Along with the crew, observers and technicians also boarded the aircraft so they could see how this B-24 performed in a mission environment. It turned out that there were still plenty of issues to deal with. The first test was a few passes over the newly-acquired Finschhafen. Nearing the airfield, the lights went out below them and Zastrow’s crew joked that there must have been an air raid. Then the searchlights went on, antiaircraft guns went off and everyone realized that they were the raid. Only later did someone realize that their new Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) device wasn’t backwards compatible with the older IFF devices in the Allied equipment.

Leaving Finschhafen unscathed, a fire soon broke out in the nose turret of the B-24. It was brought under control, but also shorted out the power system. The navigator, who was using a special radar device on board to calculate their position, also lost their location when the power went out. Somehow, the observers and techs had fallen asleep during the mission. The crew had to act quickly to contact an Australian station for bearings, which required the installation of a radio tuner. Once this was done, Zastrow got the crew home without any further excitement. After that mission, Zastrow’s crew requested a transfer. “We told them goodbye and good luck. We would rather haul bombs,” wrote S/Sgt. Robert Roth.

While her first mission was a disappointment, THE DUCHESS OF PADUCAH would serve a long and successful career attached to the 43rd Bomb Group (and, at times, the 380th).

Zastrow crew

This photograph, from October 1943, shows the Zastrow crew with the 65th Squadron’s B-24J GERALDINE. They are, from left to right: (kneeling) 1/Lt. Erwin C. Zastrow, pilot; 1/Lt. Harold G. Thompson, co-pilot; 1/Lt. Leland R. Loughrey, navigator; 1/Lt. Fred D. Vessels, bombardier; (standing) S/Sgt. Philip C. Travers, Jr., assistant radio operator; T/Sgt. John D. Uland, engineer; T/Sgt. William J. Solomon, radio operator; S/Sgt. Robert P. Roth, gunner; S/Sgt. Paul L. Kaylor, gunner; and S/Sgt. Miron R. Dukes, assistant flight engineer. (Erwin C. Zastrow Collection)

A Map of Australia During World War II

One of the indirect consequences of World War II was the rapid expansion of Australian infrastructure. American, British and Australian war plans all assumed that the defensive line would be held at Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, and that the bulk of the fighting would occur in the Central and North Pacific regions. When the line was broken, thousands of troops and millions of pounds of war material had to be rerouted through Australia, which did not have the capacity to handle the sudden growth. Construction was soon underway and formerly quiet Australian cities expanded to accommodate Allied soldiers training for war. This undated map shows the extent of the projects.

Map of Australia during WWII

(Lex McAulay Collection)

 

First Pictures Inside Bomb Blasted Japan

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. This video from United News shows the damage done by both atomic blasts and some earlier firebombings, and contains footage that demonstrates the ending of World War II: Allied prisoners leaving a POW camp in Japan, President Truman attending a baseball game on September 8, 1945 (first time for a U.S. president to do so since the war started) and Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright returning to the States after surviving three years as a prisoner of war.

Repost: Knocking Out the 403rd

During the war, there were times when a squadron wound up out of commission for one reason or another. This story, first published in February 2014, covers an event that led to a squadron’s temporary removal from combat.

 

On January 17, 1943, four B-17s from the 43rd Bomb Group’s 403rd Squadron had taken off from Milne Bay for a mission to Rabaul. When the crews returned home later that day, they found smoke, a partially destroyed camp, and that the other three B-17s belonging to their squadron had been destroyed as well.

While the four crews were gone, the air raid sirens went off around midday. This was fairly common at Milne Bay and some of the personnel didn’t take it too seriously. For ten minutes men waited in nearby slit trenches. Nothing happened. The crew of FIRE BALL MAIL was getting ready to take the plane up before the alarm, scattered when it went off, then started going back to the plane. They soon heard what sounded like twin-engine bombers and looked up to see 23 Japanese bombers with 48 fighters flying over the base. The crew quickly ran for cover.

B-17 #540 Burns

The 403rd Squadron’s B-17F #41‑24540 smolders after it was hit during the raid at Milne Bay.

C. E. O’Connor, the co-pilot for that crew, later recalled the raid: “After the first bombs hit the rest followed in unison, working up to us like an avalanche and then pounding on past. This seemed like an eternity between the time the first bombs hit and the last—actually it must have been about 35 seconds … When those first bombs hit I started what might be my last act of contrition. I have never felt so close to death. At the same time realizing that I would never know what hit me.” Thankfully, no one at Milne Bay was killed or seriously injured that day.

Camp at Milne Bay after raid

What was left of the 403rd Squadron’s camp after the raid.

The damage from this raid put the 403rd Squadron out of commission. For several weeks, V Bomber Command had been monitoring the 403rd’s situation as it was continually weakening due to combat losses and disease. Approximately a third of the 403rd’s personnel were being treated for malaria at the time. With three more of their B-17s in ruins, the remainder of the Squadron was sent to Mareeba, Australia to regroup and reequip with B-24s.

 

Read this story in Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Volume I.