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.

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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.

Shot Down at Kokas

July 1944 was a rough month for the 312th Bomb Group. In the first two weeks, the unit lost eight men and four A-20s. Two more lives and one more A-20 would be lost before the month ended. On the 22nd, Col. Robert H. Strauss led the 387th Squadron to Kokas, Dutch New Guinea to take out antiaircraft guns and other targets in the area. The geography of Kokas and the Bay of Sekar presented a unique challenge for Allied aircraft: the region was surrounded by hills, which forced the A-20s to approach the area from a higher altitude and drop rapidly before they could attack.

The 387th dropped 250-pound bombs on buildings, personnel areas and antiaircraft positions and strafed the target. Acting as a wingman for flight leader Capt. Jack W. Klein was 2/Lt. Melvin H. Kapson. His A-20 was hit multiple times by antiaircraft and machine gun fire. Kapson returned to Hollandia with 128 new holes in his plane, one of three damaged on the mission. Klein’s other wingman was 1/Lt. James L. Knarr. Flying over the water, Knarr’s A-20 was hit by flak and crashed. Kapson and Klein realized that Knarr’s plane was missing after they reformed to head back to Hollandia, but no one knew what exactly happened. It wasn’t until the photos from Klein’s belly camera were developed that everyone got to see the crash as it was captured on camera. The four photo sequence, soon named “Death of an A-20,” was published all over the world.

Death of an A-20

(Richard H. Ellis, Ernest Fuller Collections)

Knarr was flying his 70th combat mission and finished his 12-month tour of duty, and he was scheduled to go home soon. His gunner, S/Sgt. Charles G. Reichley was on his 46th mission.

Pilot and crew chief

1/Lt. James L. Knarr, on the left, and S/Sgt. Wilson J. Metcalf, his crew chief, stand in front of Knarrʼs A-20. (Edgar R. Bistika Collection)

Flight map: Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943

Today, we thought we’d take a step back from specific mission stories for a bigger picture of the Southwest Pacific region. Specifically, a map of the region as it was in the thick of the air war in February 1943. Many of the places involved have changed names, shifted locations or been abandoned entirely (especially emergency airfields), so a contemporary war map can be a more valuable resource than even the full extent of today’s technological mapping tools. This map shows the distance in a straight-line flight between the more important locations in the region, which was essential information for fuel conservation. Combat aircraft always had a reserve buffer of fuel, but that could be eaten away by flying through storms, flying in combat, damage to a fuel tank or engine or a broken component—so an aircrew needed to know all their options for landing short of their home base. In order for you to fully explore this map, we uploaded the full size on Flickr. Click on the map to see the larger version.

Flight map: Aerodromes and Landing Grounds February 1943

Shortages in the Pacific Theater

Paul T. Jones enlisted in the Army in October 1940 and made the journey overseas with the 43rd Bomb Group. For much of the war, the U.S. adopted a policy of putting the fight in Europe ahead of all other theaters, leading to a lot of anger and frustration from the men in the Pacific who felt they were not getting the resources and relief needed to fight the Japanese. The shortage of men and equipment was often noted in diary entries like these.

April 6, 1943 — Sometimes I wonder, I have mentioned before how badly we need planes. Some of our combat crews have over 300 hours combat. Seems like if they are going to keep us over here they could send us some new planes and men. Gen. Kenney went to Washington to see what could be done and I understand they are sending some damn senator over to look things over. A hell of a lot he knows about it. I believe the people at home think this front is a joke. If they could be here working to keep these ships in the air and then seeing them take off and come back with some of their buddies missing it would cease to be so. At times you can’t help but get disgusted with the whole thing. Then again I know a lot of fellows and myself included wonder how things will be when we get back, taxes, and a thousand other things. Well I guess things will straighten out in due time.

Oct. 5, 1943 — A couple of days ago Gen. Kenney had us up to group for a little talk. The whole thing bills down to the fact that we can’t expect to go home in the near future. He can’t get any replacements over here. One percent a month is all for sick etc which isn’t enough. Combat men have good chances of going as they have, after 300 hours. Miserable ground men can expect to stay here until they are bush happy or physically unable. The Gen. said that he was working on a deal whereby we stay up here five months and go back to the mainland for one. It is rather plain that the German situation will have to be cleaned up before we can expect any relief…

June 17, 1944 — …The going home deal looks bad. Here it is the middle of June and the May men haven’t even left. [Jones was on the list for July.] Have been writing a few little shorts for the band in my spare moments. Shelton finished up his time and his going home orders are in. Good on him.

Jones would be transferred back home in October 1944, after almost 4 full years overseas.

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!”

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.