Repost: The Royce Raid: The 3rd Bomb Group Wins Its Spurs

We’re wrapping up our Royce Raid trilogy today with the exciting finale. This post was first published in May 2014.

 

The morning of April 12th brought a raid by the 3rd Bomb Group on Davao, located on the southeast coast of Mindanao. This base became a primary target for the 3rd Bomb Group’s raids, as it had been under Japanese control since war was declared. Three P-40s from the Del Monte base made strafing runs, while two others flew on to Luzon to find shipping targets. A group of B-17s caught the Japanese by surprise when they destroyed runways, hangars, gasoline storage and warehouses at Nichols Field. The Japanese Army Air Force at Clark Field was taken by surprise and they were not able to mount a response until after the U.S. bombers were already back in Australia.

That same morning, the 3rd Bomb Group split up into two flights, led by Capt. Robert Strickland and Capt. Lowery, for their morning missions. They flew out separately to Cebu City, approximately 140 miles to the northwest of Del Monte. On the way over, the flight led by Lowery spotted a Japanese transport and Col. Davies decided that each plane should drop a single bomb on the ship. While they claimed it as sunk, Japanese records do not indicate any ships lost.

When Lowery’s flight arrived over Cebu City, the crews discovered Strickland’s flight had already bombed the airfield so it was decided that the five crews would split up: three B-25s would attack two large ships while the other two B-25s would bomb warehouses and onshore docks. They recorded a direct hit on a 7000-ton transport ship, which was probably the transport India Maru. Japanese anti-aircraft gunners shot at the B-25s and one bursting shell sent a piece of shrapnel into Lt. Petersen’s bomber where it failed to penetrate the armor plate behind the seat of Lt. Harry Managan. The B-25 gunners defended their bombers from attacks by four Japanese seaplanes, two of which were claimed shot down. The B-25 flight left for Del Monte with the Cebu docks and nearby buildings on fire.

Royce and Davies

Brigadier General Ralph Royce (left) and Col. John Davies, two commanders of the Royce Raid (April 11–16, 1942), pictured in Melbourne soon after their return from the Philippines.

Both flights got back to the dispersal fields at Valencia and Maramag without incident and the planes were quickly hidden in the jungle to keep them from being spotted by Japanese planes. The 5th Air Base Group’s efficiency refueling and reloading the planes for the afternoon mission greatly impressed the men of the 3rd Bomb Group. Everyone wanted to help wherever possible, and thanks to the cooperative efforts, the B-25s were back in the air at 1330 hours for a second strike.

Not long after takeoff, the single flight was intercepted by two Japanese seaplanes. One of the seaplanes was hit, while the B-25s flew on unscathed. The crews also attacked a large transport on their way to Cebu Harbor and left it listing. When the crews arrived over Cebu the second time around, the Japanese were ready to greet the B-25s with heavier antiaircraft fire. The 3rd Bomb Group persisted in their attack, dropping 25 500-pound bombs on various targets and strafing buildings.

The next day, the crews flew two more missions, this time to Davao, where they targeted floatplanes and ships in the harbor. After the missions on April 13th wound down, it was time to get the B-25s back to Australia before the Japanese were able to locate the base and launch a strike against them. Upon their return to Australia, Royce, Col. John Davies and Lt. Jim McAfee flew to Melbourne for interviews and to report to Gen. MacArthur. All the B-25 crews received medals for their participation in the raids and the media pounced on their success.

“The raids obviously threw the Japanese into a terrific panic,” Royce told reporters. “You can imagine their bewilderment when suddenly out of the sky appeared a bunch of bombers that let loose everything on them. They didn’t know where the bombers came from.” A few days later, the Doolittle Raids would reduce the Royce Raid to a brief moment in the Pacific war, but morale was still high. After all, the members of the Royce Raid participated in the longest mission to date without a single death and Australia was proven to be a good point to launch offensive attacks. “We have won our spurs,” wrote McAfee. “We can do a job no matter how much politics there is to it!”

Advertisements

Repost: The Royce Raid: Journey to Del Monte

Continuing with our revisit of the Royce Raid. This post was first published in May 2014.

 

After they heard the news of the surrender of Bataan, the 3rd Bomb Group was told the details of their secret mission. They would be staging out of Del Monte, Mindanao, over 3000 miles away from their current location. The men knew the lengthy flight would be risky for the medium B-25 bomber. Only the most experienced pilots were selected for this mission, with eight of the 11 crews coming from the 13th Squadron. Five of them had flown on the mission to Gasmata earlier that month. Out of the 11 crews, 16 of the pilots and co-pilots had been evacuated from the Philippines. The B-25 crews lacked trained navigators, however, which were vital for the 1000-mile flight to Darwin and 2000-mile flight over the ocean to Mindanao. To remedy the situation, they were assigned experienced B-17 navigators from the large pool of planeless flight crews from the 7th and 19th Bomb Groups. Finding an adequate supply of maps was another issue.

The overnight trip from Charters Towers to Darwin was an adventure for a few of the air crews. After Lt. Hal Maull had left Charters Towers, his navigator, 2/Lt. William K. Culp, realized that their map to Darwin was missing. They would either have to circle until dawn or figure out a route on their own. Lt. Culp decided to chart a course by using a small reference map of Asia to determine the latitude and longitude of Charters Towers that way. His method was successful and the crew made it to Darwin around dawn the next morning. Lt. Al Heyman, the navigator in Lt. David Feltham’s B-25, plotted his course by taking celestial fixes of the night sky and mapping them. Col. Davies, Capt. Lowery and Lt. Wilson arrived later that morning after getting lost over the Timor Sea. Lt. Schmidt flew with Lt. Maull’s B-25 after he couldn’t find Davies’ plane, and after they landed, was surprised to learn they flew without a map of Australia.

Upon landing, Lt. Schmidt and his co-pilot, Sgt. Nichols discovered a gash in their tire that would keep them grounded until a new one could be delivered. With all the supplies on board the planes, there was no room for extra tires and other spare parts. Schmidt would have fly to Mindanao alone. The other crews stuck around Darwin only long enough to refuel and attend another briefing. This time, they were told that if Del Monte was socked in, they would have to fly low enough to find it or to crash land. There was no alternate airfield to land at if they could not find the complex at Del Monte. Everyone then got back in their planes and settled in for the seven hour flight to Mindanao.

The flight itself did not go without a hitch for some of the pilots. On Capt. Bob Strickland’s B-25, the navigator did not know how to use the type of sextant on the plane in order to get a line of position and was using a map taken from a National Geographic magazine. Luckily, Strickland recognized an island chain north of Australia, flew parallel to them, and made it to Del Monte without further incident. Lt. Bennet Wilson’s crew had a very tense moment when they were flying through a thunderstorm and both engines cut out. Col. Davies and Lt. McAfee briefly got lost over the ocean, and Lt. Smith flew within view of Davao, a Japanese base. Eventually, all the crews made it to Mindanao, where they were able to rest and catch up with old friends.

Continue to part 3, The Royce Raid: The 3rd Bomb Group Wins Its Spurs

Repost: The 3rd Bomb Group’s Combat Debut: Prelude to the Royce Raid

This month marks the 77th anniversary of the Royce Raid, an early attack on the Japanese that is not very well known because it was overshadowed by the Doolittle Raid a short time later. Due to the target’s distant location, the mission required careful planning and staging to pull it off. First, the 3rd Bomb Group needed a little combat experience. This post was originally published in April 2014.

 

By April 1942, the 3rd Bomb Group was about two weeks into training on the B-25. This training was suddenly put to the test when an order came through for any operational 3rd Bomb Group B-25s to fly to Port Moresby for a raid on the Japanese airfield at Gasmata on April 6th. These planes and crews came from the 13th Squadron, since they already had their new bombers. Six B-25s took off from Charters Towers, Australia on April 5th for a night’s stay in Port Moresby, prepared to hit Gasmata on the 6th. The 13th Squadron C.O., Capt. Herman Lowery, would lead the strike.

The next day, five of the B-25s took off (the sixth was unable to) without a fighter escort due to the distance to the target. This was the official combat debut of the B-25. The 350-mile flight from Port Moresby to Gasmata was pushing the operational range of the B-25. Any delay over or near the target area would mean the crew(s) would not be able to make it back to Port Moresby without running out of fuel. The planes made their runs on Gasmata between 4500 and 5000 feet, and the three crews that decided to hit the southeast portion of the runway came in under heavy antiaircraft fire. Some of the planes suffered minor damage, but none of the crews were injured. All returned to Port Moresby and later to Charters Towers without incident.

Gasmata Airdrome 1942

Gasmata Airdrome in March 1942

Not long after this mission, rumors about a bigger raid started floating around camp. General Jonathan Wainwright wanted to see the Allies take out the Japanese blockade around Manila Harbor so troops on Bataan could receive badly needed supplies. General Brett was reluctant to put MacArthur’s idea into action, as he felt that the limited resources of the Allies would be better used to build up air power in Australia. Brigadier General Ralph Royce was more enthusiastic about the prospect, and decided to write up a mission estimate for a possible raid on “Miami,” the code name for the Philippines. He quietly urged Gen. Brett to supervise the raid, pointing out that it would enhance Brett’s position with MacArthur. When Brett declined, Royce said that since no one else had the experience for this sort of mission, he would oversee it. Brett agreed to let him lead the raids.

The mission was offered to to the 3rd Bomb Group and accepted by Col. John Davies. With that, the Group’s B-25s were sent to Archerfield at Brisbane, Australia where they were outfitted with 1200-gallon tanks in the bomb bays in order to safely make such a long flight. Originally, there were plans to add smaller fuel tanks to the bombardier’s compartment in the nose as well, but those were scratched. Just as they had done when they ferried planes from Hawaii to Australia, the crews would rely on the auxiliary bomb bay fuel tanks. Afterwards, they flew back to Charters Towers, where the planes were loaded with food, medicine, and other long-awaited supplies for then men on Bataan.

On April 8th, MacArthur wired Gen. Wainwright about his desperately-needed support finally being on its way. Unfortunately, that day also marked the surrender of Bataan to the Japanese. Even with the shock the news generated, the men were more determined than ever to do what they could to help out their friends and colleagues. “We’re all sick over Bataan,” wrote 1/Lt. Jim McAfee in his diary.

Continue to part 2, The Royce Raid: Journey to Del Monte

Project Sunset: Home Alive in 45

After World War II ended, the United States initiated Project Sunset, a program to bring as many crews and airworthy airplanes as possible back to the States for salvage, storage and smelting. Just like the days of ferrying aircraft to the Pacific Theater, crews would island-hop across the Pacific Ocean to their destination: home.

Each bomb group chose a crew to fly a plane back, and each crew spent several days getting ready for the flight ahead of them. They packed up, went on test flights with their planes, checked equipment and plotted courses. After Typhoon Louise roared through Okinawa from October 8th through 10th, some men discovered that their B-24s were damaged and would need to be repaired before they could go anywhere.

Captain Charles “Chuck” Fogo was one of the pilots whose assigned B-24 was in need of some repairs. His plane had been renamed HOME ALIVE IN 45 and the whole crew was determined to get back. As Fogo and some of his crew surveyed the B-24, they found signs of stress and a dangling aileron, among other things. A new aileron was procured under the cover of darkness and put in place soon after. The crew was ready for a test flight by October 18th.

Much to Fogo’s chagrin, the test flight of HOME ALIVE IN 45 was not as easy as he expected it to be. It took nearly the entire length of the runway before the B-24 could be coaxed into the air, hung low when cruising, didn’t fly straight and consumed roughly 25% more fuel than the average B-24. The crew figured that the typhoon had warped the fuselage structure, which would account for the rough ride. Still, they were going to bring it home, and began the journey two days later.

Capt Chuck Fogo Heading Home

A smiling Capt. Charles “Chuck” Fogo has the Golden Gate Bridge in sight. The crew and passengers collectively breathed a sigh of relief. In a short time they would land in the good old United States. HOME ALIVE IN 45 had lived up to its name. (Don L. Evans Collection)

Just like the test flight, the B-24 didn’t lift off until the last second and the flight to Guam wasn’t any easier. From there, they flew to Johnston Island, five or six hundred miles away from Hickam Field, Hawaii. If the fuel consumption rate hadn’t been so dire, they would have skipped Johnston Island and gone directly to Hickam Field. After landing in Hawaii, they hung around for several days in hopes of flying with a good tailwind to boost their chances of getting home. Captain Fogo didn’t think HOME ALIVE IN 45 would make it back without running out of fuel. The Base Operations Officer wasn’t happy with their delay and forced them to move on.

Before the flight on October 25th, the crew got to remove the ball turret, lightening and streamlining their plane. About six hours away from Mather Field, California, the fuel situation was looking uncertain. With 1000 gallons left and 200 gallons being consumed per hour, the math was not in their favor. Fogo reduced the RPMs as much as he could and put the B-24 into a shallow descent to conserve the remaining fuel.

Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, the crew felt like they could make it to Mather Field instead of making an emergency landing at Hamilton Field. Upon landing, Capt. Fogo recommended that HOME ALIVE IN 45 be salvaged at Mather Field instead of continuing on to Kingman, Arizona. He and his crew celebrated their return home with a steak dinner and cold milk, then fell asleep on real mattresses.

Officer of the Day

In 1999, Clayton A. Dietrich, veteran of the 89th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group sat down for an interview that covered his service in World War II. Prior to his war assignment, Dietrich graduated with a B.A. in 1940 and completed his first year of law school in 1941. As an undergrad, he joined the ROTC because all able-bodied males attending the University of Maryland were required to have two years of military training. Dietrich was commissioned as a second lieutenant and later notified that he would have to complete a year of active duty in the military to meet the equivalency requirement. Within a month or two, he found himself in the 89th Squadron at the Savannah Army Air Base in Savannah, Georgia and was assigned the squadron supply office. With a year of law school under his belt he was also immersed in the court happenings on the base.

About once a month, men were assigned to be the Officer of the Day. As such, the officer had to make two rounds of the posts on base, one before midnight and one after midnight. Dietrich wasn’t the type of person to lazily fulfill his duties and came up with his own ways to keep the guards on their toes. He felt that the general attitude on guarding the base was too lax, so he always lectured the men before they went on guard duty on how he expected them to conduct themselves. “Then I’d find out from the sergeant of the guard — because they were like the old-timers — they knew how things worked … I found that usually what most officers did was go from post 1 to post 20. You make the rounds in the Jeep. The sergeant drives it, you ride with him, you get out and you check the guard on the post and you go back.”

 

Clayton Dietrich with 3BG HQ and Squadron COs in Dobodura

Clayton Dietrich (2nd from the right), stands for a picture with members of the 3rd Bomb Group HQ and the squadron Commanding Officers in Dobodura. (John Henebry Collection)

 

When he made his rounds, he started earlier in the evening when guards wouldn’t expect the officer to show up. Coming up to the posts, he tell the sergeant to turn off the car’s lights and park about a football field’s length away from each post, then walk quietly toward the guard. “Anybody in their right mind would be apprehensive. It would make guards quite nervous as to who is this somebody — a wrong doer.” When the guard would yell, “Halt! Who’s there?” Dietrich would remain silent and continue to walk toward the very nervous guard. He wanted to see how they would react in the tense situation. “The next step was they’d put a shell in their rifle chamber. When I heard them put the shell in their chamber, then I’d identify myself. I wasn’t a fool.”

He would then ask if the guard knew the special orders of the post, then the general orders. “It’s like a little Bible for guard duty. I don’t remember what they are myself today, but I knew them by heart then.” The guard was then quizzed on about three of the general orders before he would leave them and go on to the next post. If he caught a guard not paying attention, he’d walk up behind a guard, grab them, and say “I got you.” to get an idea of what could happen if someone tried to infiltrate the camp. To Dietrich, this was training for life in active duty and a chance to remind guards that their job, as boring as it could be, was still very important.

Finding the Lost Ships

Since 2017, R/V Petrel’s team has been locating wreckage of Japanese and American ships that were sunk during World War II. To date, 23 ships have been discovered, the most recent of which is the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier from which the Doolittle Raid began. A reporter from CBS This Morning tagged along on the hunt for the USS Hornet, giving us an idea about the process behind finding one of these ships.

Part 1:

Part 2:

 

Want to read more about the work of the R/V Petrel team? Read this captivating article on the discovery of the USS Wasp.

Close Call over Astrolabe Bay

In a diary entry, William M. Ahl of the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group recounted a particularly tense mission to Astrolabe Bay on December 18, 1942.

 

Friday, December 18, 1942
No missions flown as yet still there is something in the wind. A large Japanese convoy is to be approaching New Guinea northwest of Madang. We are sitting and waiting patiently knowing full well we will be called upon to go after it. All available bombers in Australia have been sent for by the Fifth Bomber Command.

Everything was quiet last night. It seems as though the nips dislike the moonlit nights.

About eleven a.m. the call came by for everyone to come to operations, that is pilot, navigator, and bombardier report to operations, the rest of the crew reports to the airplane and prepares it for take off.

The convoy had been sighted by a reconn ship about two hundred miles west and north of Madang. It was heading for Madang. All the airplane commanders were given necessary information and the navigators were given the position 02-05S 145-12E to work out an interception. We had six airplanes on flying status. [Capt. Folmer J.] Sogaard took off about twelve-thirty the others close behind. We gave Lae a wide skirt and took a direct course to the assumed position of the convoy. A sort of extended search was made after clearing the mountains at sixteen thousand feet. We were first to sight the convoy at three p.m. There were seven ships (two transports, four destroyers, and one light cruiser). Our buddy, [Lt. James T.] Murphy wasn’t in sight and our common radio was not working. The radio part proved to be our down fall later.

B-17 crew of Folmer J Sogaard

The crew of Capt. Folmer J. Sogaard had an almost-fatal encounter with five Zero fighters protecting a convoy over Astrolabe Bay on December 18, 1942. They were saved by Lt. James T. Murphy and crew, who flew close to Sogaard’s bomber, FIGHTIN SWEDE, and guarded it from the intercepting Zeros. Sogaard had done a similar favor for Murphy’s crew earlier that month. The crewmembers pictured are, kneeling, left to right: Capt. Folmer J. Sogaard, pilot; 1/Lt. William E. Ward, co-pilot; Capt. William M. Ahl, navigator; Capt. Marlin W. Ditchey, bombardier; and standing: T/Sgt. Charles E. Green, engineer; Sgt. Charles C. Haftman, assistant radio operator; Sgt. John F. Frazee, assistant engineer; Sgt. Dale W. Allton, gunner; and an unidentified man. Ditchey was not a regular bombardier with the Sogaard crew, but was assigned with them when this photo was taken in mid-April 1943. (Lloyd Anderson Collection)

While I was checking the position of the convoy, it happened, five Zeros came screaming out of the sun. Murphy, who saw us, tried to tell Sogaard on command but wasn’t heard. I was still gazing at the charts when Lindsay started firing the fifty caliber over my table. I took over for him. His thirty cal. was out and the right fifty caliber jammed. The Zeros shot out our no. 1 engine and oil started spraying out. They made one more pass at us but Murphy came diving down to protect us. I shudder to think what would have happened had he not come in guns chattering and drove them off. With one engine out and our bomb load were losing altitude. Bill Lindsay salvoed the 8 – 500 lb bombs. That helped a bit but Sogaard ordered us to throw ammunition overboard to lighten our load. We lost forty gallons of oil from No. 1. One of the Jap slugs hit our prop hub preventing the feathering of the engine. Thusly the flat blades were making resistance to the air and our speed was cut way down. Murphy protected us all the way back to Seven Mile but we weren’t attacked again. We limped along climbing to sixteen thousand feet at one twenty mph. We landed at six PM and were interrogated by the I.O. We inspected our airplane on the ground. It had thirty holes in it.

Squadrons of B-17s and B-24s attack the enemy throughout the night, the result being one transport and the light cruiser sunk.

 

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

Repost: The 38th Joins in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea

It’s been 76 years since the Battle of the Bismarck Sea took place. A team effort to keep Japanese ships from reaching their destination led to a fierce multi-day battle that ended in an Allied victory. Below, we follow one bomb group’s participation during part of that battle. This post was first published in March 2017.

 

After spotting a convoy of reinforcements sailing from Rabaul to Lae on March 1, 1943, Fifth Air Force sprang into action as General Kenney ordered the 43rd, 90th, 38th, and 3rd Bomb Groups to sink this convoy before it could reach its destination. The RAAF also joined the fray in their A-20s by raiding the airdrome at Lae to prevent any enemy fighters from taking off, and 30 Squadron Beaufighters also attacked the convoy. Attacks on the Japanese ships began on March 2nd, sinking one transport ship, with the bulk of the strikes taking place on the 3rd.

March 3rd began with the 71st and 405th Squadrons making low-level attacks on the convoy, which, as of that morning, consisted of eight destroyers sheltering seven transports. Although the B-25s were flying through heavy antiaircraft fire, none of them came away heavily damaged. By contrast, many of the ships were left stalled and smoking by the time the two squadrons headed home. This was to be a two-mission day, as the crews were to return to the Bismarck Sea that afternoon after their aircraft were reloaded with bombs and fuel. General Ennis C. Whitehead, the deputy Commander of Fifth Air Force, made a personal appearance at the 38th Bomb Group camp to get a full account of the morning’s events from the men. Back at Rabaul, the Japanese prepared to send additional fighters to aid in the defense of the convoy for the afternoon rematch.

Heading back to the Bismarck Sea, the 38th crews began their search for the convoy. They soon arrived, first encountering two ships dead in the water, then a few more burning away. As Capt. Ezra Best lined up for an attack on a destroyer from medium altitude, gunners on his B-25 GRASS CUTTER began firing at Oscar fighters from 11 Sentai that surprised the 71st Squadron. While there was an exchange of gun fire, it wasn’t as intense compared to the battles at high altitude earlier in the day.

Battle of the Bismarck Sea

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea resulted in the destruction of the Japanese fleet that carried troops to reinforce Lae. The 71st Squadron bombed the convoy from 5000 feet. Pictured here is one of the transports with palls of smoke rising from its decks after the 71stʼs attack. (Brian O’Neill Collection)

Meanwhile, pilots from the 405th Squadron decided to target a cluster of three ships, two of which were still moving. Several bursts of antiaircraft fire were thrown at the incoming B-25s with one exploding right in front of FILTHY LIL, piloted by 1/Lt. Adkins. The plane filled with smoke and the nose was jerked upward by the blast, knocking it out of formation. Briefly, the pilot and co-pilot thought that FILTHY LIL received severe damage and would have to be ditched, but it turned out that the nose only had a small hole. The pilot and co-pilot went off in search of a target, only to come across a destroyed transport with survivors floating in the water. They were strafed by the gunners* until their ammo ran out, then FILTHY LIL turned for home. Co-pilot 1/Lt. John Donegan wrote about his state of mind during the mission: “our destruction was not for mercy: it was simply that to us all Japanese soldiers had become things to be annihilated, not necessarily cruelly, but always thoroughly.”

For the Allies, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a resounding success. All eight Japanese transports and four destroyers were sunk. This raid also demonstrated that a relatively new tactic, low-level bombing, was an effective method for attacking enemy ships.

*Note: If you’ve read our previous Bismarck Sea post, you have read about the Japanese shooting at 43rd crewmembers who bailed out of their B-17. We cannot determine if the 38th knew about these events prior to their afternoon mission.

At Great Expense

Limited Edition of 199 Giclee prints, ten Artist’s Proofs, and ten canvas reproductions (same dimensions)

Signed and numbered by the artist

Image Size: 16.5″ x 20.5″

Paper Size: 24″ x 26″

Central to the success of Fifth Air Force during the war in the Southwest Pacific was commanding general George C. Kenney’s mastery of long-range bombing operations. Well before April 1945, the 345th Bomb Group pushed their medium bombers to the limits of their range on minimum-altitude bombing operations, and great pride was taken by all squadrons at the destruction of distant Japanese bases. In April 1945, a number of exposed cargo ships were discovered to be at Saigon, in French Indochina. Medium bomber units from Thirteenth Air Force attempted strikes on the base but turned back before they could reach it, and Kenney, unhappy with the result, assigned the mission to a crack medium bomber group, the 345th, for April 28th.

The Air Apaches’ group commander at the time was Col. Chester Coltharp, who had a reputation for achieving the impossible. Coltharp was to lead the 501st and 499th Bomb Squadrons to bomb and strafe Japanese shipping targets just east of Saigon, about 30 miles up the Dong Nai River. Auxiliary fuel tanks were loaded aboard 15 B-25s at San Marcelino before they were taken south to a staging base at Puerto Princesa, 800 miles east of the Dong Nai. After an early morning departure, two 499th (Bats Outta Hell) B-25s left the formation with mechanical problems, leaving 13 aircraft to finish the strike. Colonel Coltharp, in the 501st B-25 “MY DUCHESS,” led them to landfall at Phan Thiet, about 100 miles WNW of Saigon. The plan was to join up with a P-38 fighter escort, then approach the target from the north and egress downriver, skirting the heavy defenses that protected Saigon. But when Coltharp and the other B-25 pilots made landfall, the P-38s were nowhere to be found. The bombers would have to go in alone.

The primary objective of this anti-shipping strike was a 5800-ton freighter known to be anchored alongside a riverbank studded with flak guns. This ship was attacked by one of the youngest pilots in the 345th Group, 20 year-old 1/Lt. Ralph E. “Peppy” Blount, Jr. who was leading the 501st’s third flight. Blount’s aircraft, B-25J-11 #43-36199, is seen in the foreground having released its 500-pound bombs, one hitting the vessel amidships, another hitting the well deck and detonating, and the third landing long, exploding against the riverbank. Following Blount was his wingman, 2/Lt. Vernon M. Townley, Jr. His aircraft was hit by flak and set afire while approaching the target, but he still managed to line up on the ship and release his ordinance, only to be hit by another flak burst, causing his B-25 to snap-roll over and dive into the ground, killing all aboard. Blount’s #199, also hit by flak, continued to attack target vessels downriver, next shooting up a large sailing vessel, which left a seven-foot long piece of its mast embedded in the horizontal stabilizer. With substantial structural damage to his aircraft, Blount had to struggle for the next five hours to reach Palawan, 750 miles distant, which he did with only a few gallons of fuel left in the tanks. The 501st Bomb Squadron successfully attacked and destroyed the targets assigned to it but at a high price: three B-25s and their crews were lost on this mission. A Distinguished Unit Citation was awarded to the 501st for their bravery.

Additional details about this mission can be found in this post. This painting is published in our book Warpath Across the Pacific. Purchase a copy of this print on our website.

Repost: That Saga-Writing Kavieng Cat Crew

Seventy-five years ago today, a PBY Catalina pilot performed a series of daring rescues. His bravery was the subject of a post back in June 2014 and is being reposted today.

Meet Lt. (J.G.) Nathan Gordon. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing three aircrews near Kavieng on February 15, 1944. His crew received  high praise for the daring rescues made that day. Admiral Halsey sent a telegram saying, “Please pass my admiration on to that saga writing Kavieng Cat crew.”

Here’s a short video of Gordon talking about how he saved the men. One of the crews that was rescued by the men on his Catalina was the subject of the previous post. Don’t forget to read their story after you watch the video.