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)

 

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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.

Bombs Away

This excerpt comes from a memoir written by 1/Lt. Robert Mosley of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group.

 

Our planes at the Mindoro strip were parked along the taxi way but each parking spot was surrounded by a pile of dirt, about a wing tip height, around the side and rear of the airplane. These were called revetments and the purpose of the dirt was to protect the planes as much as possible from bomb damage from the enemy and particularly from any strafing attacks. One day I was getting ready for a mission and the whole area was alive with activity as one would expect prior to a squadron going on a combat mission. Now, I must digress a little to explain briefly how the bomb release switches work in an A-20. That is, there were a number of switches you could activate so you could release the bombs in singles, pairs or pretty much whatever order the pilot wanted. There was also a salvo switch. To operate the salvo switch there was a small, maybe 2 inch long, lever like thing that you rotated from about the 6 o’clock position (it had a pin next to it on the right side, sticking out of the panel to keep you from trying to rotate it to the left) almost 360 degrees around until it hit the pin from the other side. This salvo switch was on there to allow you to drop all of your bombs at once if that is what you wanted to do but we also used it on the final pass of a mission to make sure we had dropped all of our bombs. The bomb release panel was down near the floor of the cockpit, just above where your left foot would go up under the instrument panel on  to the left rudder pedal. It was not a good position for it because you had to look down near the floor to set up what ever configuration you wanted on the bomb panel, which meant momentarily taking your eyes off of where you were flying the airplane. And, it was dark down in that low spot in the cockpit, especially when being in bright sunlight and then trying to see down there in the shadows.

Well, this particular morning I had gotten in the cockpit and went through my pre-start checks but did not notice that the salvo switch was in the full salvo position. In my defense, when the lever was in the SALVO position it was no more than an eighth of an inch from the position it would have been in when in the OFF position; i.e., it was just over on the other side of a 16th inch pin. But I should have noticed it as well as the people who loaded the bombs. In fact I never quite figured out how they could have loaded the bombs with it in the salvo position but they had.

SO– when I turned on the battery switch, that plane gave a big lurch as every bomb on the plane dropped right there in the revetment. At that moment I was not sure what had happened but what I saw soon confirmed my suspicions. For what I saw was ass holes and elbows going in all directions away from me. Guys were going over the dirt walls of the revetment like the walls were not even there. My gunnery sergeant came casually around from his position in the back of the plane (as stated earlier, Sgt. Rogers was about 5 years older than me and was not impressed with Lieutenants). He looked up at me in the cockpit and said with total disgust, “What in the hell did you do?”

You would have to have been around bombs a lot to know that these iron bombs were really not all that dangerous, when not armed (these bombs had to have a little propeller on the nose of the bomb, activated by the air stream when dropped from a plane, to screw the firing pin into position to become armed) because I have seen the ground crews just drop them from the plane onto the ground beneath the plane as a expeditious way of unloading them as opposed to doing it with a winch as they should. So I was not concerned about them going off. I was just embarrassed. What was an unknown though, was what the two huge tanks of Napalm, one under each wing, would do because they dropped also. No one had ever tried dropping one of those onto a PSP surface before (and they were armed differently than the iron bombs). It can be concluded from the face that I am here to tell this story that they will not go off either.

Surviving in a Japanese POW Camp

Early on June 26, 1943, 13 planes from the 65th and 403rd Squadrons were sent on a night mission to bomb Vunakanau. Aircrews saw several explosions and fires as a result of their strike and considered their mission successful. It wasn’t until they returned to base that they discovered they were short two B-17 crews, one from each squadron. Both of the B-17s, TAXPAYER’S PRIDE and NAUGHTY BUT NICE, had been shot down by a night fighter piloted by SFPO Shigetoshi Kudo.

That night, on the way to Vunakanau, 1/Lt. Donald D. McEachran was the pilot aboard TAXPAYER’S PRIDE. He reminded his crew that there could be night fighters patrolling the skies over Rabaul and to keep an eye out for them as best as possible. After dropping their bombs without incident, they turned toward home. It wasn’t long before waist gunner Cpl. Joel W. Griffin spotted a plane near the tail and reported the sighting to McEachran. Shortly afterwards, TAXPAYER’S PRIDE was under attack by Kudo. Griffin heard what sounded like gravel being thrown against the fuselage, but was actually shell fragments from 20mm cannon rounds. A wing was set on fire, which was brought under control a few minutes later.

The B-17 then went into an uncontrollable dive. Griffin couldn’t make contact with the cockpit, so he decided it was time to bail out. After he jumped out of the aircraft, he looked for other parachutes and saw none. TAXPAYER’S PRIDE crash into the jungle, presumably killing the rest of the crew. As Griffin continued his descent, his chute got snagged in the branches of the tall trees. He managed to unbuckle himself and work his way to the ground, walked several hundred yards away from the parachute, then settled down and fell asleep.

B-17 Taxpayer's Pride wreckage

Piloting an Irving night fighter, Petty Officer Shigetoshi Kudo shot down B-17F #41-24448, TAXPAYER’S PRIDE, over New Britain on the same night he shot down NAUGHTY BUT NICE. Japanese army personnel were soon guided to the crash site by local natives and investigated the wreckage of the plane. Photographs of the smashed bomber, seen here, were soon published in the Japanese magazine Ashaigraph. The only survivor of the B-17, Cpl. Joel W. Griffin, was taken prisoner and sent to Japan, where he survived until the end of the war. (Justin Taylan Collection)

When he woke up, he checked himself over and discovered a couple of head wounds as well as an injured ankle that could still take a little weight on it. Limping into a clearing, he was found by some local residents, one of whom spoke English and asked if he was an American. At that point, he knew he would be turned over to the Japanese. After he was captured, he was taken by car to an Army hospital, where Japanese soldiers tortured Griffin by aggravating his injuries. Then a nurse stitched up his head without cleaning out his wounds.

He was interrogated in Japanese and beaten when he didn’t understand their questions and responded with his name, rank and serial number. So he started making up a story. Each day he was interrogated, he made up a story, leading to shorter interrogations that were no less painful than the first. After several days, he was transferred to Rabaul, where he shared a cell with seven other POWs. That number soon increased by one when Lt. Jose Holguin, the only survivor from NAUGHTY BUT NICE, was brought in. The men were prohibited from speaking to each other, survived on meager rations and were not given medical treatment. They were put to work building bomb shelters out of coconut trees, but could not use these shelters during air raids.

On November 13th, Griffin and eight other POWs were put on a hospital ship headed for Japan. Also in this group was Maj. Williston M. Cox, whose B-25 was shot down in August. They were sent to Omori Prison Camp, and Griffin was officially declared a prisoner of war. While the prisoners were fed better than when they were in Rabaul, the camp was infested with lice, among other things. He was put to work at a rail yard, where he loaded and unloaded train cars. There, he befriended Otis Black, who had survived the Bataan Death March.

At the rail yards, it was possible to divert some of the food from its intended destination to their bellies. Between Black, a Navy electrician and a few others, they managed to steal an electric iron, rice, copper plates and insulators, and a bucket. This contraption became a rice cooker that could make about a gallon and a half of rice in 30 minutes. It was so powerful that the camp’s lights would dim anytime they turned it on. Soon, they started trading rice with other prisoners for items from the Red Cross packages. This kept up through the end of the war.

As combat operations ceased in August 1945, the prisoners noticed more U.S. planes flying in the direction of Tokyo. They were not informed of the cessation by the Japanese. This may have also given some prisoners the courage to sneak up to the roof of a nearby building and write “POW” in large letters for the aircrews to note and drop supplies. On the 26th, the prisoners woke up and found that the guards had left the camp. After getting picked up by a U.S. barge nine days later, they were truly free once again.

 

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

Firefight at Dili

In early November 1942, the 22nd Bomb Group was ordered to fly a couple of missions to Dili, located on Timor Island. Australian ground troops had reported that the Japanese were using a Catholic cathedral as a supply dump, and that building was the primary target on the November 3rd mission. Shortly before noon, eight B-26s approached the island’s south shore. Aboard Lt. Harry O. Patteson’s B-26, co-pilot John Marcus noticed a very smoky fire on the shore. As the crews flew toward Dili, they noticed other smoky fires along the way, a basic signal to let the Japanese know that trouble was approaching.

By the time they arrived over Dili, any hopes of surprising the Japanese were dashed and Oscars from 59 Sentai were already taking off to engage the B-26s starting their bombing runs from 7500 to 8500 feet. The crews managed to score some direct hits on the first run, but then regrouped before going around for another run. At this point, 1/Lt. Charles I. Hitchcock’s B-26, #41-17593, was hit by two flak bursts that took out the landing gear and started a fire in the engine after tearing through the starboard nacelle. Noticing the stricken plane, the Oscar pilots took the opportunity to go after #593. Hitchcock activated the engine’s fire extinguisher and his co-pilot, Lt. Albert J. Pilkington used a hand fire extinguisher to put out the flames licking the instrument panel in the cockpit, then Hitchcock feathered the propeller.

Bombing Timor

The 2nd, 19th and 408th Squadrons of the 22nd Bomb Group ended their period of stand-down on October 31st by sending a total of 12 B-26 Marauders to the norther coast of Australia to stage out of Darwin for a short series of missions against Dili, the capital of the Portuguese island of Timor. On the second Timor mission, November 3rd, 1/Lt. Charles C. Eberly, Jr., a 19th Squadron bombardier, placed a 2000-pound bomb on the cathedral, which was being used as a storage dump for ammunition. A large secondary explosion can be seen, as can less well-placed bombs that fell into the sea. (Jesse G. Homen Collection)

Down an engine, there was barely enough electricity to power the guns to fend off the attacking Oscars. Still, gunners reported shooting down two of the fighters. Below, an Australian guerrilla patrol watched the fight. The B-26 was falling far behind the rest of the formation and the Australians weren’t sure if it would even make it back to base. There was at least one hole in each propeller blade of the starboard wing and a substantial portion of the wing skin between the fuselage and the engine that had died. After a pilot in another B-26 noticed the plight of the Hitchcock crew, the rest of the B-26 formation turned around to fend off the Oscars and make sure #593 got home safely.

For the next two-and-a-half hours, Hitchcock and an escort flew back at much slower speed of 135 mph and at an altitude of 1000 feet. Then the working engine quit. The crew quickly got ready for a water landing and exited either by the force of the aircraft hitting the water or by swimming out of it. All but one man were bobbing on the water’s surface and Hitchcock made two trips back into the B-26. The first was to find the missing man, which he did, and the second was to release the life raft. Then the plane sunk. Sgt. Glenn A. Campbell, the severely injured crewman who Hitchcock rescued from the aircraft, died of a broken neck. He was buried at sea. Circling above them was Patteson’s B-26. His crew dropped a first aid kid and life raft, which were damaged in the fall. Low on fuel, he headed back to base.

A couple of hours later, the downed crew was visited by three more friendly aircraft dropping supplies and a note that a rescue boat would pick them up at 0600 hours. The men spent a sleepless night in the ocean and were overjoyed to see an Australian Navy tugboat coming to their aid the next morning.

 

Read this story in Revenge of the Red Raiders.

The Lone Survivor

After the atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan and before the country announced their surrender, units were still flying bombing missions over Japan. Airmen from the 345th Bomb Group weren’t particularly thrilled about doing this because their B-25s were still coming back damaged—if at all. None of the men wanted to be the last to die in World War II after they had survived so many previous raids on and by the Japanese. Still, they couldn’t refuse an order and climbed back into their planes for another flight.

It was three in the morning on August 12, 1945 when 1/Lt. Charles J. Cunningham took off from Ie Shima with 22 other B-25s to sweep the Southern Sea of Japan and Tsu Shima Strait for any shipping targets. In the radio compartment, T/Sgt. Foster A. Stanfield began reviewing codes and procedures for the mission. He was filling in for a radio operator who was out sick for the day.

Only about three minutes into the flight, the new B-25 jolted violently, the nose lifted and the engines revved up to full power. The plane stalled and fell to the right, and crashed into the water below when a wing caught the water’s surface. As the fuselage broke apart, it cracked at the radio compartment, dumping Stanfield into the sea, potentially saving his life. Coming to the surface, Stanfield was disoriented and he called for some of the other crewmen while trying to find a side of the B-25. No one answered.

As the weight of his predicament dawned on him, Stanfield inflated his life jacket, then took off his shoes and shirt to help him stay afloat better. He would have removed his pants, but he thought one of his legs was injured and wanted to contain the blood so as to not attract any sharks that may have been swimming nearby. Stanfield saw a light about five miles away and began the long swim back to shore.

Around the time that the B-25s were taking off, one man was making a trip to the latrine. He heard the takeoff and subsequent crash, and ran to alert someone. Within an hour after the crash, a Navy patrol boat was dispatched to the scene and began a sweep for survivors. Stanfield was spotted and hauled aboard, suffering from severe shock. As he was examined, it turned out that he had injured his elbow instead of his leg. He spent a week in the hospital.

No cause of the crash was ever settled on, though the incident was a source of speculation for the men. Much to their dismay, it wasn’t the only plane that went down on the 12th. A 500th Squadron B-25 disappeared and a 498th Squadron B-25 either crashed or was shot down while attacking a small coastal freighter. The official order to stand-down came through on the 15th.

 

Read this and other stories in Warpath Across the Pacific.

Rescued by a Hunch

In the early months of 1944, the Allies were figuring out the best plan of action to continue pushing the Japanese up the New Guinea coast and off the islands of New Britain and New Ireland. Their eyes were on Kavieng, a staging base and important part of the Japanese supply line, located on the western tip of New Ireland. The preliminary plan was to capture Kavieng, but Gen. MacArthur wanted to push for the Philippines as quickly as possible. To do that, it was decided that Kavieng should be neutralized with airpower, isolated by seizing the Admiralties to the west, then bypassed with a move into Dutch New Guinea. With the coordination of Admiral William F. Halsey in the South Pacific and forces from the Central Pacific, the Japanese would come under heavy fire at Rabaul, lose the Green Islands and ideally suffer a serious blow to their shipping fleet base at Truk.

B-24s were the first aircraft sent to bomb Kavieng on February 11, 1944, and continued these missions until the 14th. The next day, the 38th and 345th Bomb Groups’ B-25 crews were ordered to strike shipping and warehouse facilities on Kavieng. A-20s from the 3rd Bomb Group also participated in the attack, mainly focusing on shipping and a float-plane base. Captain Michael Hochella of the 500th Squadron, 345th Bomb Group was leading a three-plane formation to the right of the lead plane flown by Capt. Max Mortensen. The Japanese opened fire on the B-25s, with Hochella’s B-25 STUBBORN HELLION taking multiple hits along the left side.

Hochella was too busy to notice the significant damage until he looked down at this tachometer and left engine gauges, then started receiving damage reports over the intercom. Coming off the run, the plane quickly fell behind the rest of the formation. The left engine was spinning out of control and every attempt to feather the engine failed. Hochella descended to just above the water because he knew it wouldn’t be long before STUBBORN HELLION would crash. The pilot notified the crew to prepare for a water landing, which happened approximately three minutes after the announcement.

Attack on Kavieng, New Ireland

Fifth Air Force launched a major attack on the key Japanese supply base at Kavieng on the northwestern tip of New Ireland on February 15, 1944. The 345th’s 48 strafers followed the 38th Bomb Group over the target in a devastating but costly low-level raid. Four planes from the 345th were knocked down by flak or flying debris from an exploding fuel dump. The smoke plume in the right background is from a freighter set afire by the 38th Bomb Group. The photo was taken from AVOCA AVENGER of the 500th, which was next over the target. Three of the Squadron’s planes were fatally hit as they flew through the dense smoke cloud at left. Captain Cavoli was forced to go on instruments as he passed through it. (Maurice J. Eppstein Collection)

As the plane hit the water, the still-buckled in pilot was thrown through the windshield from the force of the crash. He lost consciousness, then revived underwater long enough to unstrap from the seat and inflate his Mae West. Hochella drifted out of consciousness again during the journey to the surface, but revived once again when he broke through. This time, he stayed awake and swam to the plane to do a quick crew count. One man, navigator 1/Lt. John J. Howard, was missing. The pilot released the life raft on the plane, then he dove down to search for Howard. Other crewmembers, even the injured ones, also swam around in hopes of finding the missing navigator, but no one was able to locate him. Crewmen piled into the raft or hung on to the side and they set out for a nearby island.

They landed outside of an impenetrable forest of mangroves and vegetation without a beach to camp on. From their vantage point, they watched Lt. (j.g.) Nathan G. Gordon’s PBY Catalina rescue crew after crew shot down in the area, hoping and waiting for their own rescue. No one saw STUBBORN HELLION’s crash landing, and the noise of the American planes soon faded away, only to be replaced by the occasional explosion from the Japanese base ten miles away. The pilot and co-pilot swam back to their plane to clear the crash site of any floating debris so as to keep the Japanese unaware of their presence in the area.

As the day went on, the men stayed hidden and mostly quiet, except for the occasional pained cry or moan from the injured crewmembers who were in pain from the constant movement of the water, which soon became unbearable. To alleviate the suffering of the injured men, it was decided to move to a beach about three miles away. They paddled all night, reaching the beach before dawn the next day, then hauled the raft ashore to hide it from any unfriendly eyes.

Meanwhile, back at Dobodura, the 345th was scheduled for an early morning mission to New Hanover on February 16, 1944. They were to help the 38th Bomb Group destroy a 14-ship convoy. News of the disappearance of STUBBORN HELLION had spread and Capt. Keith Dougherty of the 500th Squadron had been mulling over the mystery since he heard about it. After dropping his bombs on the New Hanover mission, he acted on a hunch to fly over the reefs and sea swamps near Kavieng in hopes of finding the fellow members of his squadron.

Hearing the familiar engines, one of the men raced out from their hiding spot and waved furiously at Dougherty’s B-25. The pilot flew over again, and one of his crewmen dropped a box of rations that was promptly recovered. Dougherty then set a course for home, happy to know that they hadn’t been captured by the Japanese. The next morning, he flew to Finschhafen where he climbed aboard the Catalina assigned to rescue the airmen. Around 1130 hours, Hochella and his crew were loaded onto the Catalina and soon on their way to the hospital at Finschhafen.

 

Read this story in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.

Parafrags on Rabaul

painting of 345th Bomb Group B-25s attacking a Japanese flying boat on November 2, 1943

Limited Edition of 200 Giclee prints

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 22″ x 17″

Paper Size: 28″ x 24″

Reconnaissance reports having found Rabaul crowded with ships and more than 200 enemy aircraft parked on its airfields, Fifth Air Force launched a major aerial assault on the installation on November 2, 1943 with nine squadrons of B-25 strafers advancing under heavy fighter cover. Since success of the subsequent bombing attack on shipping depended on neutralizing the defensive firepower, two squadrons of B-25s from the 345th Bomb Group first skirted the harbor coastline over the heavy antiaircraft defenses, dropping 100-pound bombs filled with phosphorous – “Kenney’s Cocktails” – that produced a covering cloud of dense smoke to screen the main B-25 attack force from antiaircraft fire. Seven squadrons of strafers followed, dispensing their deadly ordnance on the town and harbor shipping.

Among the targets parafragged by this flight of B-25s from the 498th Squadron was an H8K1 Emily Flying Boat that was undergoing an engine change along the shoreline. The lead aircraft, PRINCESS PAT, was being flown by the Squadron Commander, Maj. Chester A. Coltharp. His left wingman was 1/Lt. Milford M. Magee, flying LITTLE NELL, while 2/Lt. Edward H. Browne piloted GREMLIN’S HOLIDAY, on the right of the formation. The 345th Bomb Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for the mission. This artwork is published in our book Warpath Across the Pacific.